When I knew it was World Toilet Day I couldn’t resist posting this piece. I wrote it a while ago and, of course, try to include every word for a toilet that I could think of and because I’m English have always enjoyed a good bum, poo or fart joke, except this is a serious matter.
Hi-tech, low-tech, disabled, men’s, women’s, multi-gender, eco-friendly, manual, auto, septic, pit, drop, half-flush, dual-flush, cubicle, urinal…
Australia is a world power when it comes to the disposal of shit. We’re so comfortable around the subject that we make films about it. Just ask Kenny. At the same time 2.6 billion people around the world do not have access to a decent bog. We joke about stuff giving us the shits without pausing for a second to consider the billions whose lives in developing countries are cut short because they really do have the shits.
Diarrhoea alone claims two million lives every year from diseases like cholera and dysentery. More people die from lack of a clean toot than from war and most of these victims are children. For many, their education is affected. It’s not hard to imagine why pubescent girls stay home from school, (if they’re lucky to go to school in the first place), when they’re having their period.
The privileged in developing countries make sure they park their posteriors on proper toilets so why are they so constipated when it comes to installing decent sanitation for their people?
It costs money, organization and compassion and would leave less for Mercedes, mansions and stockpiles of loot. And people living in countries with fancy flushing toilets also demand other things like education, public health and free speech.
Excrement is not trendy or sexy. It’s embarrassing and smelly and entrepreneurs may not see the financial returns they would expect that would encourage them to invest in such technology or infrastructure. At the same time, many people living in what we would consider squalor, don’t always see the value in working sanitation. I was surprised to learn that while millions in the developing world have mobile phones, they often have little interest in having a toilet.
Jack Sim, the Singaporean (where there are among the best self-flushers in the world) who established the World Toilet Organization, has said that it’s not easy persuading people in developing countries of the benefits of good sanitation.
He says if you build a room for a toilet, it will often be converted into a store room or some other space. He knows that selling the idea of good clean sanitation often has to appeal to emotions such as fashion or status before you go into features and benefits.
He thinks that toilets should be trendy in style and colour and promote interest in this way. He gives the example of how a company like IKEA would be well placed to design and distribute mass volume of smart, stylish designs.
We are preoccupied with food security and providing clean water, noble and necessary, but we need to consider both ends (of the argument) because in the meantime we are losing valuable effluent which could be going towards something useful like saving lives and powering machinery with methane and doubtless a lot of other ingenious technologies.
There has always been money in muck as the saying used to go. World Toilet Day sees rich countries encouraged to appreciate the dollar potential in the sheer volume of demand for sanitation in developing countries. It’s a hard sell because while everyone loves to be able to say they’ve installed running water and a tap, nobody wants to boast of installing a pan and a ballcock.
A Potted Histoire of the Pissoir starting in Oz
Empires have risen and collapsed under the weight of gross human product. It’s a long and winding sewage system that has got countries to where they are today. And we shouldn’t sit on our laurels if we have the latest dual flush integrated system because world powers, like the efficiency of their WCs, come and go.
A milestone in the history of Frankston occurred in April 1991, when the last three pan-closet toilets or ‘thunderboxes,’ were removed. Typhoid, dysentery and cholera had been eradicated. Melbourne used to be called ‘Marvellous Smellbourne’ in the 1800s because of its open drains and lack of reticulated sewage. Not any more. Most of our toilets are clean, easy to use and okay. The weirdest addition which I hope doesn’t take on is the Tardis usually found on the outskirts of small country towns or out of the way places. Large metal boxes that lock you in, watch you do the business, flush automatically, self clean and do everything except wipe your arse. These are terrifying.
It’s hard to believe that a fully reticulated sewer with stone drains was found in Knossus on the island of Crete dating back 4000 years when you look at the curious and woeful plumbing arrangements in Greece today. Perhaps it was an earthquake that blew everyone’s brains out and in the aftermath they remembered how to make moussaka but forgot how to make a lavatory. The sanitation hasn’t changed for 2000 years.
Pythagoras shouted ‘Eureka,’ not when he discovered the formula, but when he found the plastic waste bucket to put his toilet paper in. Anyone on a Contiki tour of Corfu will have exactly the same experience, unless they’d thrown up in it first. I suppose you could think of these waste baskets as not so much dual flush as dual purpose, so not all bad. Alexander the Great would not have put up with a waste basket because he lived in a time when Greece enjoyed hot and cold running water, like the Romans, and not just in the toilet.
The British Empire did not rise on the seat of a toilet. The Romans, bless them, gave us wonderful language but completely wasted their time laying down sophisticated plumbing systems in Britain two thousand years ago. The effluence of the Dark Ages which poured forth when they left saw Britons sink back into a sewer of its own making.
The plumbing in Britain still defies description, so does the toilet paper which is thin and ineffectual, like its House of Lords. The Brits have the hang of toilets but baulk at running water especially when it’s hot. Most would still prefer a shallow dip in a bath than stand naked under a shower. In any case you need a degree to operate the showers. Sadly, the Romans have since disappeared off the radar except to design a frock or a pair of shoes or make a lot of noise around soccer fields. Everyone knows Georgio Armani but only a handful remembers Mark Anthony.
Catherine the Great died on a toilet, true, and I bet it was travelling at 100kph on the Trans Siberian Railway from Moscow to Paris. They say she died of a stroke. Crap. The shock of relieving herself on that train would have been enough to kill her and the Russian Empire all in one go.
My husband as far back as the Seventies reports his experiences on this iconic train. He recalls opening the flap, parking his bare arse on its wooden rim and getting his meat and veg snap frozen in an Arctic whoosh from below. If any of you have difficulty imagining this scene, remember James Bond in Casino Royale.
Thanks to Jack Sim public toilets in Changi Airport in all their hi-tech splendour are a delight. (How do they know when you’ve finished and to activate the flush? Is there a peephole?) Whatever it is, it’s a wonderful experience.
Vietnam has the best of toots and the worst of toots. It’s on the cusp of Uranus, not knowing which way to turn. At the back of a restaurant you might find a flat tiled room to squat and pee on, communally, then flap dry in the absence of paper, and a cubicle for number twos. I didn’t venture into those.
There are signs on train toilet doors When train parks in station do not have bowel movement. Only the faint hearted could piss in those stink holes with the starting blocks, thank you France. Not.
However, up north, past Sapa among the indigenous people, the village toilets of the Hmong were the cleanest and most ingenious of all, built of bamboo erected over creeks taking everything down to the shit field that fertilizes the rice. I heard of some soldiers during the war finding themselves up to the neck in these at times. These village drop dunnies were clean, environmentally sympathetic and useful.
Japan has disappeared up its own arse and gone bankrupt by spending too much on its toilets.
- water jets that wash your arse
- arse blow dryers
- artificial flush sounds to mask bodily functions,
– urine and stool analysis for medical monitoring,
– blood pressure, temperature and blood sugar level testing
– digital clock to measure time spent in the toilet
– auto lift operation, heated seats
– deodorizing fans
– automated paper toilet seat cover replacements at the push of a button.
The trouble with all this paraphernalia is that nobody would ever want to leave the toilet to go to work. Maybe this is how great powers did it. Take over a foreign land, hi-tech it so it gets so happy that it never complains. It never wants to do anything except take a dump.
It’s almost impossible to find a public toilet in New York and when you do you have to have a key to get into it. They are shabby as all get out like the city, running down but not to worry, there’s enough methane coming from the Whitehouse to power the Developing World. The rest of the world, if it wants to become the next empire is going to have to catch the US with its pants down, pull their fingers out and stop pissing in the wind which brings us to…
The Chinese are going up market with fancy Japanese, US and European influenced cutting-edge toilets oozing high-efficiency flushing systems, heated seats and built-in bidets. Nearly nineteen million toilets are sold in China annually, about double the number sold in the U.S. all companies fighting for their share in this exploding market. Here is an empire the second time around, this time with a rush of plumbed water, hot and cold.
Napoleon was at his greatest outside France. He wasn’t exiled to Elba-he was avoiding the pissoir in the Bois de Bologne which is the filthiest toilet I’ve ever not squatted in, splattered as it was by every excretion made possible by the human excretory system. The Ottoman Empire rose to greatness on the rim of the Roman john but again, the same old story; Romans out, crap in.
We eat, we shit, but above all, we forget. The rise and fall of civilizations is like watching someone with Alzheimer’s-lights on, lights off, while
tracts of knowledge are flushed down the massive, neverending pan of time.