I finished my last post by alluding to the reliability of the Circumvesuviana train. A break down on this train is made more entertaining for the tourist as there are no announcements made. You are left to your own devices to guess why the train isn’t leaving the station. Eventually a member of staff will come past to find out why you didn’t get off the train. They are extremely nice (a characteristic I associate with the Italians) to the stupid English who haven’t noticed that the train isn’t moving – and just a little puzzled.
Strangely, I didn’t really go into train breakdowns in Runaway’s Railway. There was one allusion to a train failure when the Railway was herding Mark in a particular direction. There was also a locomotive that gradually fell apart due to accelerated entropy as the heroes passed through the Ghost region. Still, considering the thousands of miles travelled, the world of the Railway was remarkably reliable.
Unlike my shower.
Considering we are in lockdown, it has chosen the worst possible moment to fail. Not only that, but the part which failed is a little bit of plastic in the on/off switch. The shower itself is fine, and if you can manage to wedge the switch in place, it’s still possible to shower. You must accept that it’ll probably switch itself off halfway through, and then scold you when you jam it back on again, but it’s just about usable.
Normally, I’d call out someone to repair or replace it. In lockdown, that’s not possible, But! I am an Engineer! I am fully confident of my ability to repair the shower given the right parts. Except that the replacement has been discontinued.
No matter – contact the manufacturer directly. And yes, they have a few of these parts left in a box in the office. Wonderful! Except we’re lockdown. So, the office is closed. And my shower remains broken.
I couldn’t manage to find a suitable word to describe this sequence of events. Clearly, there should be a word for it – we’ve all had similar experiences – but there was nothing obvious. Finally, in desperation, I approached the writer of the Inky Fool Blog (and some rather excellent books), Mark Forsyth. He is an etymologist, a word guru, and a rather clever chap. Options for a suitable word are limited, it seems, so I shall settle for describing it as a multifail.
Consider, instead, this:
It looks like a bit of iron that someone has nailed to a couple of planks. It looks like the kind of thing that you would trip over and bark your shins. It looks like it will break at any moment.
Except it’s been there for about 150 years, and it still works. Not only that, but it’s kind of clever, too. In electronics or computing it would be called an inverting switch. If you push one side, it’ll make the other side pull, and if you pull, it’ll push. If you doubt that it’s clever, then cover up the picture and try and come up with a design yourself.
This demonstrates two things.
The first is that given sufficient cast iron, the Victorians could build anything, up to and including super-computers.
The second is that people would rather have something made of sleek white plastic in their bathroom, even if that means it won’t last 150 years.