It’s been a weird month settling back into life in West Cork after six weeks in the US. Thankfully we’ve had some lovely sunshine to remind me just how beautiful this landscape that I call home is. It’s like a balm to be surrounded by the light green of new leaves on the trees. The hedgerows are bursting with bluebells and wild garlic. The first cutting has left fields looking like abstract paintings. I love the long rows of fresh cut hay, which make a field look like it has been draped in corduroy and which fills the air with the heady smell of summer. A weekend away on Cape Clear made my return complete. There are few sorrows that can resist the comfort of the North harbour.
Summer in West Cork is a busy season. The long days expand the available time for tasks and it is finally clement enough to ensure that paint dries and that scaffolding won’t blow away. This summer I have embarked on an ambitious plan of house repairs and renovations: Gutters and drains to check and repair, mysterious leaks that appeared in my bedroom over the terrible weather last Christmas to be investigated, and a long list of dripping taps and broken window hinges to fix. We have also decided to finish the last room in the house — my bedroom en suite shower.
When we moved in 23 years ago this summer, most of the rooms were building sites. Some were gutted down to the original stone. All the empty rooms were full of boxes. As we finished one room after the other, all the stuff got shifted to the unfinished rooms until only my bedroom en suite remained. It has been packed to the ceiling for years, having become the repository of all the boxes, books, old clothes, computers and TVs, that had nowhere else to go. This is probably why it’s taken us so long to finally put in a shower — where would we put the stuff once the room became a bathroom?
Having realised that this was the true impediment to finishing the house, my daughter shifted all the stuff into an unused (though finished) bedroom, and I went out shower shopping.
You’d think that shopping for a new en suite would be a pleasant diversion, but I find having to make infinite choices about colours, plumbing tiles and taps quite trying. There is so much choice! So many bells and whistles vying for your attention!
The last time I had to buy bathroom fixtures, I went into a store and selected three types of taps: bog standard, Victorian style with Hot and Cold in white ceramic, and very expensive Victorian style ones that looked exactly the same as the other ones, but had a fancy name. I lined them up in front of the salesman and asked him to explain the difference. A man of little words he answered: “The first one is €60. The next one is €120 and the other one is €280.”
“Why is that one so expensive,” I asked.
“It’s a designer tap,” he replied.
That was it. As far as their efficiency as a tap, they were all basically the same inside. The bog standard one had no bells or whistles. The bells and whistles on the ‘designer’ Victorian taps pumped the price up almost five fold. I bought the bog standard ones.
The trick when making important purchases is to root out the bells and whistles. Not that everything I buy has to be bog standard. I just hate paying a lot of money for a shiny chrome edge that is going to tarnish just as fast as its poorer cousin. Don’t get me wrong. I love my bells and whistles — in hotel suites and at the circus, where they belong. When it comes to plumbing I want something solid that works well and will last a long time.
As for ‘designer’ stuff, I tend to veer away from it. Sticking a designer label on anything is the nec plus ultra in bell and whistles. It is only there to scream and shout to the world: “I am more expensive than the others. Look at me being all expensive!” I love good craftsmanship, but I don’t need to walk around being an advertisement for the craftsman. It’s bad enough with a handbag, but the concept of ‘designer’ products really has no place in plumbing (There is a category on Amazon called ‘Designer Toilet Seats’!). I don’t want a Dior shower, or Chanel baby clothes, or a Marc Jacobs collar for my dog.
So far I’ve found a lovely sink (on sale), and am starting to know the difference between a quadrant enclosure and a pivot door one. I have made a tray choice (solid, longlasting and easy to clean). I still have to choose tiles, taps, lights, paint etc etc. The worst part is that when work is finally finished and we have our lovely en suite, we then have to figure out what to do with all the stuff in the spare room.