Monday, April 22, 2013

A Tale Of Two Toilets

Not sure why these two separate memories should have pushed themselves to the forefront of my thoughts today but rather than fight it I am going to do as all the best plumbers do and just go with the flow.

Back at the tail end of 1999 I realized an ambition I’d had since my teens and went to Egypt. Although the whole thing was an organized tour I went on my own which was a big thing for me at the time. The furthest place I’d been to on my own to before then was Weston-super-Mare and, believe me, despite the sand and the dodgy food, there is little comparison.

My one all-abiding memory of Egypt isn’t the pyramids, or Saqqara, or The Valley of the Kings, or even the limbless beggars that lined the streets of Aswan.

It is of the toilets in the Cairo Museum.

After a weeklong Nile cruise I had three days in Cairo. The Museum was a must and it didn’t disappoint though I will admit that by this point of the holiday I was mummied out. I had also succumbed to ‘gypy’ tummy. The first spell had hit me at the Son Et Lumiere show at the Philae Temple a few days before but a quick necking down of a couple of Imodium tablets had set the potential avalanche like concrete.

Unfortunately, all this did was ensure the infection stayed within my gut where it wore away at the halting effects of the Imodium until, days later, at the Cairo museum, that particular train of matter decided it was going to make a break for it no matter what chemical cocktail I attempted to throw at it.

Thankfully, the Cairo Museum toilets were near at hand. I recall at knee-clenched wait in the inevitable queue before the cubicle became free. I dived in, already sweating uncomfortably with the effort of holding back both time and tide and was immediately faced with the single desolating sight of my life.

No toilet paper. Nothing. Not even a newspaper.

I must have staggered out of the cubicle looking like a very unsuccessfully desiccated mummy. And instantly met my saviour: a young Egyptian toilet attendant who without a single word but an understanding nod handed me an entire roll of toilet paper all to myself.

When I was done I gave him the most money I’d given to any of the locals on the entire holiday. Money well spent. Wherever he is now I hope his gods are smiling on him.

My second toilet memory is the ridiculous to the above’s sublime.

‘Twas a day visit to Dover. Part of a weeklong family holiday to Canterbury and environs. I’m not sure why we elected to have a day in Dover as my memory of the town was that it was rather drab, rather dirty and rather smelly. I was possibly not seeing it in its best light.

Part of the trip saw us at some kind of terminal. I’m not sure now whether it was for ferries or boats or whether it was just some kind of all-purpose visitor centre. I do know it was as far South-East as you could go without dipping yourself into the sea and we had a decent view of the coast. As with all visits to places new – and the undeniable thread to this post – a trip to the lavatory was necessitated by a can of coke.

In the cubicle there, on the edge of England, the very cusp of Europe, I came to face to face with the most astounding example of human organic graffiti that I’ve ever seen.

Picture if you will an entire toilet roll wedged down the bottom of the toilet. Packed so tightly that the softening effects of total submersion in cold water had been unable to destroy the toilet roll’s shape. Now, picture if you will, the kind of poo that a horse would have been shaken to produce harpooning the cardboard centre of the loo roll down its entire length with a good four inches to spare emerging from the top and indeed from the very surface of the water. It looked like a postmodern representation of Thor’s hammer.

My overriding thought at the moment of confrontation was simply: how?

How had somebody physically achieved this singular feat of faecal protest? Did they poo first and then fit the loo roll snugly over the top like some kind of grommet? Or did they install the toilet roll first and then ease the poo out inch by agonizingly slow inch, micro-managing and fine adjusting the angle of approach, ensuring the nose cone was lined up perfectly before fully opening the bomb bay doors and letting her loose?

As with my adventure in Egypt, philosophizing ultimately had to be put aside: I had a burning desire to “go”. Thankfully this time it was merely a number one and, after a quick hosing, I left the sculpture all but intact. There was no point flushing, believe me. That monster was going absolutely nowhere.

I often wonder about it even now and for all I know it’s still there… pinning this country to the Eurasian plate like a tin tack through a giant post-it note.

It would be a fitting addition to the Natural History Museum’s permanent collection should they ever be scouting for one.

Toilets, eh? What amazing adventures one can have in them. It’s often the best penny you’ll ever spend...

20 comments:

Nota Bene said...

Obviously these thoughts were floaters....

Steve said...

Nota Bene:... and a bit nutty too.

the fly in the web said...

You should have written 'from the collection of Charles Saatchi' on the loo roll and telephoned the Tate....they'd have paid a fortune for the object and you could have claimed commission on the Dover Dung.

Vicky said...

One of the things that sticks in my mind of my trip to the UK in 1990 is having to pay to pee, I think I still have the ticket in my photo album LOL

Gorilla Bananas said...

I'm so glad you tipped the Egyptian lad generously: such deeds play their part in international relations. The good hotels in Cairo have douches, of course. As for the horse turd, the perpetrator must have rammed the toilet role into position before releasing the stool. I suspect it was a craft he'd perfected over many years and took great pride in. You paid it a fine homage by pissing on it - copulation followed by water sports, so to speak.

Keith said...

Now there is an image I am going to carry with me across the day. Thanks Steve.

Marginalia said...

A penny well spent? It a bog standard blog.

Steve said...

The fly in the web: I wish you were my financial advisor.

Vicky: it depends where you go to be honest. But, as with other things, you get what you pay for.

Gorilla Bananas: champagne and caviar has always been my style.

Keith: you need a mind enema.

Marginalia: but always at your convenience.

John Gray said...

Steve.....this made me smile so much
Welcome to my world x

English Rider said...

Visions of some poor soul who has never succeeded at a fairground game of toss the hoop over the prize, accidentally juggling an almost-dropped loo roll with such astounding success. The devastation that this was not a shareable moment...

Steve said...

John: a pleasure to be here admiring the scenery.

English Rider: if only that was the case... that would be almost poetic.

Trish Burgess said...

I live in fear of dirty toilets or lack of toilet paper or not being able to flush. The worst ones are the hole in the ground squat loos, which cause me to be literally anally retentive.
Taking Immodium can be a problem, as you discovered. It has to come out sometime. Oh and take it from me, don't take laxatives before going on a choppy sea journey. You won't know which end to concentrate on.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

TMI Steve, TMI!

Yeah, Indian airports in the 1970s never seemed to have any loo paper in the WC's. My mother learned never to go anywhere without a supply to distribute to us.

Steve said...

Trish: either way you chum the waters...

Laura: and a world full of Kindle's means you can't even rely on a cheap paperback.

Being Me said...

Why, indeed.

Don't worry, I have the same memories of Dover. Though actually, come to think of it, even less exciting memories than you.

Steve said...

Being Me: I guess ladies are far more restrained in the washroom...

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Isn't it strange how we dream of visiting exotic places but the memories once we've er... been, are so often lavatorial. They never show the toilet facilities in the travel brochures do they.

Steve said...

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden: I personally think Kuoni or Thompson's should offer a toilet tour of the world. Self catering obviously.

Janice said...

I have arrived here following recommendations from Fly. This wonderful toilet post has me hooked, and I'm looking forward to browsing previous and future posts. Having undertaken a Nile cruise, armed with more imodium than a Boots wharehouse, I really appreciate the Cairo Museum adventure.

Steve said...

Janice: lovely to have you hear. Upon reflection I believe dialorite (or whatever it is called) would have been better than Imodium... help the stomach right itself without trapping the infection inside in the process.