At the time of writing, the U.S. is not alone in suffering from excessive heat. It’s much the same over the water, where British newspapers are dusting off the traditional headline “It’s A Scorcher!”, complete with photos of people paddling in the Trafalgar Square fountains or shots of beaches packed pale shoulder to shoulder from the promenade to the shallows. So while this is a story of childhood in northeast England told before, it may be worth repeating.
One week-day during the summer holidays while the adults were at work, it started to get really warm not long after we’d spooned down our milk-mushy Weetabix breakfast. By dinner time it must have been in the low 70*s, because we reckoned it hot enough to have the calamine lotion bottle on standby for the anticipated bad cases of sunburn and kept sniffing the milk bottle to detect any suspicious aroma, the presence of which would mean anyone adding milk to their evening cup of tea would see lumps rising to its surface even if the bottle had been kept in a bucket of cold water all way — our version of a fridge.
Keeping cool in an industrial atmosphere heavy with smoke and grit and chemicals in a city where air conditioners were not so much unknown as undreamt of was a serious business. Once you’ve thrown up the sash windows to let in stray breezes, what else can you do? Eventually, having tired of throwing cold water on our faces and subsequently mopping up the flooded scullery floor, my younger sister and I were suddenly inspired. Indeed, one could say perspiration was the mother of invention.
Bear in mind this particular dwelling had no indoor plumbing except a cold tap in the scullery. Hot water was dispensed in small quantities from a wall-mounted gas-heated geyser although if larger amounts were required, a metal bucket was pressed into service to boil whatever was needed on the cooker. However, and it was perfect for our plan, we lived in an upstairs flat whose back door opened to a precipitous flight of outdoor steps leading down into our back yard.
So what we did was gather together several common household items from which we handily constructed a nifty outdoor shower. It was a good example of makeshift engineering, formed by suspending a colander by three pieces of equi-spaced string from the handle of a broom. The bristle end of the broom was firmly tied with a skipping rope to the railing at the top of the stairs, placed as to jut out over the yard below. Then a hosepipe was attached to the cold tap in the scullery, the sink being placed only a few steps away from the back door, and the other end of the hosepipe tied into the colander — although a close eye had to be kept on it as well as the kitchen tap since both ends had a tendency to slip out of their allotted place.
I now wonder why we happened to even have a hosepipe, given there were no gardens to water around our way and nobody owned a car or anything else that would occasionally need to be washed down. In any event, once the contraption was in place, having put on our prickly black wool one-piece swimming suits and rubber bathing hats, we took turns to stand under the cooling sprays of water coming down through the colander holes while the other sibling kept a close eye on operations.
It worked pretty well, all in all, not to mention the concreted back yard got a good wash down as well.
Nowadays swimming pools, water parks, and visits to rivers, coasts, and islands are very popular and attract thousands of holidaymakers. Bearing that in mind perhaps we should consider patenting Reed’s Miniature Portable Cooling System, which could be marketed with that wonderfully attractive slogan “No batteries required”. Even better, if its purchasers grew tired of standing around getting wet, they could press its various components — broom, colander, string, skipping rope, and hosepipe — into their usual everyday uses around the household and garden. Talk about frugal!
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