toilet paper

(march 2009)

Childhood memory or shopping list? Who’s been taking the toilet paper or loo paper from the bathroom? Sheila says two rolls have just disappeared. Have the lodgers got colds?  240 sheets to a roll (where did you get that number from?) and she bought a twelve roll pack just a little while ago.  That’s 240 x 12 = 2880. If it’s four sheets to a shit that’s 720 sessions, between four people! 180 shits each! About six times a day! if Sheila bought those rolls about a month ago. (if.) But you have to  take a way a few sheets for nose blowing – and all sorts of other things –

The stories of my childhood are snap shots. One liners . They could be haikus but they aren’t.  In French cliché means snapshot. They could be like crystals growing out of molten rock, but they’re not. It’s usually the stand up comic who stands before me offering encouragement.

It’s like being in my own museum, writing captions.

My father once came into the toilet before I could pull the chain to see how much toilet paper I’d used. Much too much. Well, you’d pull and the roll would spin and soon you’d have an armful. But it couldn’t have been like that. The paper was like grease proof paper, stiff and shiny, and the idea was, we were  told, to crumple each  sheet and then straighten it out again, to roughen up the surface and make it more absorbent and less harsh to the delicate anal membrane, is it a membrane? So how could you do that to an armful, especially if your father was waiting at the door?

I think it was called ‘Bronco’, unless my memory is playing tricks. But that’s what memory is for. A jumping off point for invention and story telling. And what was ‘Izal’? and was it ‘lavatory paper’ then? Or toilet paper? later becoming ‘bog paper’, and then ‘loo paper’ which at first seemed insufferably bourgeois  (although of course you have to be bourgeois to find something ‘insufferable’) but gradually lost all association with class struggle as it became the term of choice even for former revolutionaries. At the same time, of course, our loos became cleaner, pinker, and the skirting board stopped falling off to reveal black mould and perished plaster. Soon, some of us began to attack unpleasant odours with the same aerosols our parents used.

You think your memories are like quartzite crystals intruded into sandstone, slipped into the bedding planes, then hard for all time, but in fact they keep on growing. But mine don’t. Mine really are fixed for eternity; I’ve seen them in the geological museum. The pick of the gems are viewed through port holes in a long dark wall, recessed, sheltered and brightly lit from within. The glass is thick as if to contain that  deep ocean pressure, to keep the past in its place.

And we haven’t even mentioned outside WCs. They bring great riches to the memories of the elite, the elite we edge towards joining as we grow older and there are fewer and fewer people ahead of us to contradict us. Soon we will become the unchallengeable authorities no one listens to.

The brick shit house. The cold, the spiders. But I have to admit, I don’t remember that much about them, I was  only a visitor at the time, in Liverpool. It’s a class thing, of course, which makes the extinction of ‘bog’ and the almost universal acceptance of ‘loo’ all the more impressive. But the neglected, unheated, unskirted bog of the 1970’s was an intermediate form between the properly exterior back yard WC and the triumphant loo of modern times.

The dog barked and I lost my thought.

To go back to those port holes in the geology museum – sometimes you come to one and it’s just a dark, empty space. Well, dark anyway. could be dark and full, I suppose. It is dark and full. Until you get to the point where the memories – I’m thinking of words really, remembering words – until the word never returns, and  there’s only darkness, just a dark, empty space.


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2 Responses to toilet paper

  1. Caro says:

    This is such a good idea. Good for all of us…

  2. Caro says:

    I thought I’d left a comment but maybe I didn’t, it doesn’t seem to be there… Just to say what a good idea to start a blog, that it’s great for us all to be able to read these bits… and also to say that I think that when we were scrubbing our bottoms with Bronco, so was the rest of the country. I don’t think it was a dastardly Trustram plot to toughen up our arses. Or was it? No excuse for the tight-arsedness of it of course. My toilet memories of around the same age I imagine (the same toilet, at South Mill House?) is of sitting on the toilet praying for help, to God I think, or maybe Jesus, to stop sucking my thumb. I was getting fed-up of the bitter almond and the little face drawn on my thumb nail, see if it’s still there at the end of the day. I think the prayers must have worked. I did eventually stop. Though my right thumb is still thicker than my left.

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