Sunday, October 20, 2013

A short history of toilets


When I was four and living in Greensborough my family’s toilet looked like an upright coffin in the back yard.  It had a hinged flap on the lower back wall of wooden palings which the dunny-man lifted weekly to drag out the pan.
   
I looked up through the flap one day and watched the stuff come out of my little sister’s bottom.  And she watched mine in turn.

In our next house in Camberwell our toilet was stuck outside at the back of the woodshed, alongside the briquettes shoot.  I collected discarded cigarette butts from my father’s ash tray and stole a pack of matches from the kitchen mantel near the stove.  I learned to light the scrap of cigarette left above the butt and used the lit stump as a soldering iron.  I pressed it lightly onto the toilet paper to form the letters of my initials.  The edge of my ES had a tiny frilled border in copper brown.

In our next house in Cheltenham, an AV Jennings special on the Farm Road estate, we had two toilets, one inside and one out.  My mother brought outdated Readers Digests from the old people's home where she worked along with the cast offs from dead people, things she thought might one day prove useful.  Old spectacles or empty spectacle cases, faded pink nightgowns, matinee jackets, and hair rollers that had lost their pins. 

My mother brought home leather belts for my brothers and father and sometimes the combs and hairbrushes that had moved through and across old peoples’ heads of hair in a way that made me cringe.  My mother had no self respect when it came to freebies.
 
I refused to touch anything but the Digests.  I took them outside with me into the toilet above the back veranda and read about life in America.  I looked always for the salacious, which I usually found in the movie star section.  To this end I also collected my father’s discarded Truth newspapers for the thrill of naked bodies.

When I was in primary school, a Catholic school policed by nuns, I took it into my mind that the nuns never needed to go to the toilets, nor did they eat.  Under their habits their bodies were like those of my dolls, rigid and unyielding with no holes for peeing or pooing and no digestive system at all.
 
The memory of potties – those enlarged cup like containers which we kept under our beds to spare us the need for travel outside in the middle of the night – stays with me, not so much for their beauty, as for the stench they left in the bedroom when we woke and the dangers of spillage en route to the outside toilet where we emptied them each morning.
 
It was hard to flush unwanted things away then.  They tended to hang around longer.  
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