Monday, March 5, 2012

Let’s talk about shit. Hey, whoa there, boy! Why would anyone want to talk about shit? It’s something naice people do not mention. Well, for one thing it makes a change, not necessarily the most agreeable one, but a change nevertheless and, after all, we all have to do it, even the Queen of England. What made me think of it was, we watched again that delightful television series, ‘The Victorian Farm’ in which a Shropshire farm, derelict for 150 years was brought back to life by an intrepid trio; with local assistance when necessary and, when we got to the end of it, I said that something was missing. We had every aspect of Victorian farming life both agricultural and domestic but never was there a sight of or mention of a privy. The closest we got to any form of personal hygiene was Ruth in the bedroom standing in a basin having what passed as a shower by pouring water over herself from a ewer –and it was cold! Brrr! Now in an earlier series, ‘Tales From The Green Valley’ where our intrepid trio plus two went further back in time, to 1620 in fact, and lived the life of a Welsh farm of the period, we did actually have a privy. In fact we had a derelict privy that had to be demolished and replaced. So why was such an important aspect left out of the Victorian one I wonder? Maybe it was just nobody thought of it or considered it to be unimportant. But, whether you like it or not, it is a subject to be discussed.

In China twenty women invaded a gent’s toilet as a protest at the lack of facilities for women and have threatened to take their protest to Beijing. In one Indian state where there simply are no toilets at all, an official said women should not be expected to defecate in public. Presumably that means it’s okay for men to defecate in public. I remember as a boy at boarding school, a group of us walking through a wattle plantation, if one was taken short, it was down with the trousers and squat right there and then while the others stood around and waited, and wiping one’s arse with a clump of grass. There was no feeling of embarrassment or shame. It was just something one had to do. After all shitting in public is nothing new. Which palace or castle is it in England that has a privy, or a ‘necessary house’ as it was called with a row of eight seats? Presumably my lords could talk of weighty affairs of state whilst relieving themselves. I mentioned in an earlier Blog about the guy somewhere in Asia (I can’t remember where) who won a prize for producing the biggest dump and I believe the palace of Versailles has fifteen hundred rooms and not a privy in sight. With a couple of thousand or more people shitting it soon mounts up. Presumably when one part of the palace became uninhabitable they simply moved to another part while the servants went in to clean up. And I have sometimes wondered how theatre audiences managed in the days before theatres had toilets. I presume the ladies had their servants provide them with a chamber pot and the men could go outside and piss against the wall (where the chamber pot no doubt could also be emptied) – but what did they do if they were suddenly taken with a dose of diarrhoea? It doesn’t bear thinking about. And what about early doctors studying a patient’s faeces in order to make a diagnosis?

Also growing up in South Africa one was warned never to eat fruit or vegetables bought form itinerant Indian farmers without washing it thoroughly as they fertilised their land with their own faeces. But there is nothing knew in that. In Georgian London and other cities, and even earlier, night soil men collected the town’s sewage to cart it into the countryside where farmers used it as fertiliser.

Privies of course do come in various shapes and sizes from a hole in the ground to Turkish: that is just two places to put your feet while you squat, not always easy for the old and infirm, to ones one which you sit down in comfort and read a magazine. I believe when the Greeks first heard of flush toilets they were aghast that anyone would want such a thing inside the house. Then there is what I call my magic privy which was in Liberia. In the early morning I was directed to this little hut inside of which all I found was a floor of clean white sand. On being reassured that this was indeed a toilet I used it and, when I visited it later in the day, all I found was a floor of clean white sand. When the old flush toilet in the courtyard here was pulled down the builder went everywhere trying to discover where all the shit had gone and failed to find any. Where oh where could it have gone to? So you see, it is a fascinating subject with many ramifications, hardly any of which have been touched in this little essay. For example I have ignored the sexual aspect of shit (yes, we’re back to sex) euphemistically known as chocolate by copraphiliacs, one story of which goes, I don’t vouch for the veracity of it, that in Victoria’s glorious reign a certain member of the royal household who was of a somewhat fastidious bent but also into shit had a special bed made with a glass canopy so that he could lie there and watch the young lady squat and do her stuff without the necessity of wallowing in or swallowing it, dabbling or paddling in it. Good clean fun wouldn’t you say?

I don’t know just how many expressions there are using the word shit but the Italians have a good one which is ‘Eat shit and die!’ And on that note I’ll call it a day.

1 comment:

Lewis said...

In the palace of Schönbrunn as late as the early 1920s, the servants could be seen carrying steaming chamber pots out of the imperial bedrooms through the throngs of courtiers. At the levees du roi in Versailles, Louis XIV used to receive the officers of his etat while seated on his commode.
The 17th C. palace in Brühl near Cologne had a clever arrangement of narrow back stairs and corridors, allowing the Prince Archbishop so use quite literally a built-in closet and the pot to be emptied unobserved.
In Verulam, a town outside Durban, my father once in the early 1950s saw and Indian woman simply hoist her sari over he knees, squat at the edge of the pavement and do her big and little business into the gutter. Perhaps she had just arrived from the "Old Country".