14 Feb 2014


I think I've discovered a new disability and, what's more, I think I suffer from it. I've called it taplexia and it's the inability to tell hot taps from cold,  unless they have an 'H' or a 'C' attached to them, or just maybe a red or a blue ring around them.

Now there is a convention here that the hot tap should be situated on the left and the cold on the right. It's even made it into the building regs: where hot and cold taps are provided, the hot tap should be on the left says Part GWhat could be clearer than that? But somehow this convention/regulation has passed me by all these 60 years and I still find myself turning on both taps to find out which is which. The more modern the tap, the worse it seems to get.

Mixer taps in particular leave me completely at sea because they are so designery these days that they eschew all that retro-chique details like red or blue bands. The other morning I was in a strange bathroom (don't ask what I was doing there - this isn't a confessional) and I was faced with a Noughties mixer tap set-up. One spout, two handles:  enough to induce a mild panic. I wanted hot but like the idiot-taplexic that I am I started on the right hand side. What was weird was that after five seconds or so it started running hot and I congratulated myself on guessing correctly. Only it turned out to be but a short burst of hot, presumably because the cold pipe had been inadvertently heated as it passed by a nearby radiator or something. It then ran cold on me and it dawned on me that I must have guessed wrong. Silly me.

So I then went left and ran that one. But after ten seconds or more it was still running cold. Could it be that the right tap was actually the hot one and that I just hadn't been patient enough to let the real hot water find its way to the spout? Should I try it again and see? So I turned off the still cold hot tap on the left and went back right.  Then I stopped myself mid-track. Surely there had to be an easy answer to this? How come I had been turning this pair of mixer taps on and off for more than a minute and still hadn't got a clue which tap was hot and which was cold?  This could only be taplexia in its severest form. A complete failure to adapt to the modern world. For some people it's passwords, for others it's TV remotes. For me, it's taps.

There is of course a simple cure for taplexia. Turn them both on and wait till the ensuing water turns lukewarm. Then you can simply turn one off and—hey voila— even I can work out which is which. But my inner greenie tells me that this is incredibly wasteful habit and I just don't like doing it. So I struggle on with my guesswork approach, often wasting as just as much water by guessing wrong.

Maybe writing about it will help. Maybe not. I won't know until I face another strange set of taps. Even if I do work out a cure, I am still faced with hotel shower syndrome.....or HSS as it's infrequently acronymed. This will find me standing naked in an unfamiliar environment fiddling with dials and levers none of which I have any idea about. It's like it's all been designed to make me feel inadequate.

Is it just me? Or is taplexia widespread?


  1. Mark, you are quite right ;

    There are far too many products of all sorts that are not at all intuitive.
    My wife always gets me to road-test strange showers first, to give a steer on how they operate ; with taps as well, this is far from sustainable, wasting more water than eco-measures can save.

    Perhaps the Building Regs requirement for tap flow rates, as part of consumption calcs should include deemed-to-satisfy design for Hot/Red & Cold/Blue markers.

  2. Simple - stay at home - or else take your own taps with you.