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...