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For a nation that helped lead the way in the industrial revolution (see Watt on the steam engine, MacAdam on roads, Smith on capitalism, etc.), the Scots seem surprisingly oblivious on certain matters of basic engineering. Notably, plumbing.

Once upon a time a very long time ago, the advent of indoor plumbing replaced the idea of having a water ewer on a table in the bedroom. Because they had been doing so for a very long time, people ran a little bit of water into the [bowl] sink and splashed their hands around and declared them clean.

Nowadays, in the same way people have transitioned to showers as a way of not wallowing in increasingly chilly, grimy and/or soapy water, people have transitioned to washing their hands in running water.

With superb indifference to comfort, the Scots have let this transition flow past them, leaving their hands scalded or chilled according to personal preference. Mixed water taps—or taps, as they’re called in the rest of the world—are a radical and entirely optional innovation. Of the places I visit regularly, only the newer University buildings have mixed taps in the loo.

(Theoretically speaking, we have do a mixed tap in our kitchen. I say theoretically because it doesn’t so much mix the water as cycle rapidly between hot and cold. I constantly get the feeling that my hand is about to be scalded, but is plunged under cold water before actual cell damage can occur.)

Last night, we played a homemade version of Apples to Apples with some friends, mostly expats from around Europe. Every group of people has a few cards that are likely to win, no matter what circumstances they’re played under. We had one last night that reliably ran away with the point whenever it came up, garnering adjectives such as elegant, innovative and fantastic. The card?

Mixed water taps.

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