Monday, 28 April 2014

19th-Century Toilet Letter: A Delight from Start to Fin(n)ish!

Delightful things keep happening! Being keen Dane enthusiasts we're prone, at the Privy Counsel, to sing the praises of Hamlet's countrymen and their toilets. The question is, though, if we haven't discovered a new favourite people: the Finns! We spent a very festive evening in the company of a whole cohort of Finnish historians recently, and have concluded that they know an astonishing amount of drinking songs. Other delightful things have also happened: we were sent, for instance, a charming example of the 19th-century earth-closet-obsession!

Woof! Yes, it's true! An intelligent and delightful friend of ours, who has spent inordinate amounts of time going through the Malmö City archives recently, came across these amusing toilet-related writings, and sent them to us post-haste!

An enterprising Swedish agriculturalist by the name of Mathias Weibull wrote, in 1889, to Malmö City Council to seek permission to erect "simple but neat" "cleanliness kiosks", provided with "self-operating peat-dust machines". Mathias Weibull expressed concern with the dangerous evaporations of human waste products, and the epidemics they may give rise to if left untended. Weibull generously offered to arrange for the carting away of the waste and the peat, and explained that he intended to charge the public 5 öre for use of the peat closets, and 2 öre for the pissoirs. The author even got the professor we love to hate, Seved Ribbing (his opinions on peat toilets may be sound, but his views on syphilitic women were shocking), to write an endorsement of the hygienic suitability of the plan!

Whether the cleanliness kiosks were ever erected we don't know, but wasn't it a spiffing idea!

Letter from Mathias Weibull to Malmö Council, 1889.
Inom de flesta större samhällen i utlandet, liksom i flera af Sveriges städer, har det visat sig vara ett oafvisligt behof att vid starkt trafikerade platser upprätta offentliga s.k. kabinett till allmänhetens beqvämlighet och gagn, hvilka dock, sådana de hittills varit inrättade, kunna medföra verklig fara genom smittämnenas spridning vid möjligen inträffade farsoter. Numera torde det emellertid icke vara obekant, hvilket mäktigt hjelpmedel torfmullen, på rätt sätt använd, erbjuder samhällsmyndigheterna i deras sträfvan att upphäfva de stora obehag och sanitära vådor som åtfölja nuvarande renhållningsväsende hvad särskilt latriner angår. För att bereda allmänheten, särskilt den stora mängd trafikerande, som dagligen besöker Malmö [...]

[...] ofvan antydda beqvämlighet på samma gång som faran af dess begagnande fullständigt upphäfves derigenom, att exkrementerna omedelbart efter uttömningen aföstes med ett tillräckligt tjockt lager torfmull, tillåter jag mig vördsamt anhålla om tillstånd att på egen bekostnad till en början få å plainen eller å vestra sidan af stortorget i Malmö, som deraf synes vara i stort behof, samt hvar öfrigt det kan finnas vara behöfligt, uppföra enkla, men prydliga Renhållningskiosker, af sten och trä, i hvilket afseende bifogas en förslagsvis uppgjord ritning. Dessa kiosker skola inrymma sjelfverkande torfmullsapparater af konstruktionen "Ceres" (patent no 1742) jemte torfströpissoirer samt förses med värmeledning, toiletter, dricksvattenfilterapparater och vad öfrigt kan befinnas för ändamålet nödigt och lämpligt, emot en afgift för klosetterna af [...] och 5 öre och för pissoirer af 2 öre [missing text] bortförslingen av torfmullspudretten att besörjas af undertecknad. Intyg af professor Seved Ribbing, med doktor Anders Bergstrand och Emil Södervall biläggas.  
Malmö den 31 December 1889. 
Mathias Weibull

The endorsement by professor Seved Ribbing, notorious syphilitic-woman-hater:

Att undertecknad efter noggrant pröfvande af de "sjelfverkande torfmullsapparater", hvilka torfmullsaktiebolaget Ceres i Malmö söker införa i städer, enskilda hem och offentliga anstalter, funnit desamma fullt tillfredsställande, och att jag anser deras allmänna användning medföra betydande sanitära fördelar, är mig ett nöje att få intyga. 
Lund den 11 November 1889. 
Seved Ribbing 

Flag of Skåne.
Image from Wikipedia.

Mathias Weibull was most likely a shrewd agriculturalist and businessman; human excrement mixed with peat powder was, Lantmannens uppslagsbok informs us, widely used as fertiliser. (A council debate on whether to create a peat powder factory in Sundsvall led to a violent debate in 1907.) However, according to Riksarkivet Mathias Weibull, who ran the farm Sofieholm in Fosie, went bankrupt in 1904. Weibull then started the amusingly named pig-breeding company AB Särimner, which also went bust, and died in 1906. According to his nephew, the historian Lauritz Weibull, Mathias Weibull was the first to use the red and yellow Scanian flag.

Obligatory festive video:

Festive video: Monty Python, Finland Song

Related Reading
Intellectual Friend's learned post on a toilet in Helsinki, with delightful Finno-Ugric suffix of negation:
Finnish Mania: Despite Negligence, We Forgive Intellectual Friend
Moule's delightful earth closet, at the Castle Museum in York:
Historical Toilets, Baths and Kitchens - a Useful and Humbling Lesson
Victorians were usually grateful if there were any toilets at all:
The Historic Toilet Tour of York
We should all, actually, be grateful for plumbing:
Plumbing: Blessed, Blessed Plumbing
Lack of plumbing leads to cholera:
Woof! Cholera Babe Parade!
We have a toilet-related beef with Malmö City Council, actually:
Venting Our Spleen (Right Down the Drain)

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Toilet Etiquette, or, Ominous Verbs, or, Shit Happens

We encountered an eminently readable post on the Vagenda blog, about toilet etiquette. This touched a chord as we recently came across this amusing expression of discordant toilet philosophies, sent to us by a friend who lives in a flat with a shared kitchen. Flatmates cunningly communicate using the "Kitchen Bitching Book", in which one can air one's concerns and, if the mood takes one, indulge in some ranting - whether the gentle, common-or-garden kind, or the full-on, vixen-from-hell verbal assault. Entries usually go along the lines of, "Please, please, please turn the fan on, especially when cooking bacon!", "We're out of kitchen roll again", or, "Who the hell left the oven on? Do you want us all to die in a fire?". On one spectacular occasion, however, the Kitchen Bitching Book sported this innovatively decorated rant, and the accompanying laconic reply.

If you and your flatmates don't currently have a kitchen bitching book, get one, pronto!
Entries turn out most amusing!
[Editor's note: the illustration at the bottom is supposed to be a cannon,
aggressively firing cannon balls of etiquette. Read more about festive cannon here, by the way.]

We were previously unaware of the verb "boyfriend-blame", and find it disturbing and ominous. Are boyfriends more likely than girlfriends to leave traces in the toilet? What's the problem with this, anyway? When did obsessive use of the toilet brush become a thing? We were puzzled and confused. Then we chanced upon this blog post which assured us that, though the world may be a bewildering and hostile place, at least we weren't the only ones to be confused by boyfriend-blaming.

The Vagenda article reads as follows:

It started with poo stains. Yes, poo stains. In the communal toilets of my office. And it escalated into a feminist nightmare, an overgrown petri dish of patriarchy vs. matriarchy madness that lasted for days.
On Monday morning, a sign appeared on the door leading to our toilet corridor. ‘Toilet etiquette has been slipping’, it said. ‘Can people please remember to use the toilet brush after use.’
It was a fair point. I’d had to wield the loo brush a few times myself on behalf of less considerate colleagues and, just before Christmas, I’d had to take my managerial role to new levels after someone become hysterical over a particularly dirty protest. Nothing gets you in the festive mood more than grimly scrubbing away at the leavings of another, I have to say.
However, I’ve never been a fan of the homemade workplace sign, mainly because they usually involve clipart, but also because they always fire up a storm of office bitterness and consternation.
This one was no different. Not only was there a cartoon picture of a toilet brush, but within ten minutes it was being frantically whispered about in quiet corners.
It’s a small office, there are just twelve of us – nine girls and three boys. I’m no boffin, but probability states that there’s a fair chance our phantom poo-leaver is a woman (more women = more poos of female origin). However, later that morning, another sign appeared – a ‘women only’ sign on two of the four toilets.
Now ladies, you may have your own opinion on whether men are statistically more likely to leave poo marks in the bog than women. If you’re inclined to do the maths, please feel free to do so and send me your working, but for the purposes of this article, I’m giving the guys in our office the benefit of the doubt.
The ‘women only’ sign in the bogs got the blokes rattled. They were pissed off and I could see their point: nobody wants to be falsely accused of a poo-and-run.
But let’s set the guys’ feelings aside for a second, because what you really need to hear about is what happened once the toilet became a vagina-only zone.
Nature called and I went to answer. I saw the sign on the door, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to encounter in what I’ve come to think of as ‘The Cubicle of Shame’.
There was a calendar hanging by the mirror, featuring half-naked firemen and the head of Mr April had been cut out and replaced by a photo of a male colleague – that’s a whole other article about the female objectification of men right there – but that wasn’t all, oh no.
There was a cuddly toy. A CUDDLY TOY – like at the end of the Generation Game, except small enough to sit on top of a paper towel holder.
What woman wants to extract their tampon while being stared out by the grinning face of a middle-aged man you don’t know that well and a grubby yellow rabbit? You may call this anthropomorphic whimsy, but that was not a happy bunny.
There was a new hand cream too, but I’m going to let that go.
Who was responsible for this? It was, it turned out, a perfectly lovely female colleague in her late 30s. You’d actually struggle to find a nicer person and I have no idea what possessed her to perpetrate such an atrocious attack on the sisterhood.
It actually makes me a little depressed that while one woman is starting the Everyday Sexism project, another is spraying a toilet with metaphorical shit, thus reinforcing the stereotypes everyone else is trying so hard to stamp out.
If we label blokes as dirty poopers who leave their droppings around willy-nilly, while decorating every ‘female’ space with inane girly accessories, then we open ourselves up to men painting us all with the same pink-wearing, kitten-stroking (toilet) brush.
When I brought this up (very nicely) with the lady in question she told me it was ‘just a bit of office banter’ and I wanted to chew my arm off.
‘A bit of banter’ has been the excuse of insalubrious males in offices up and down the land for decades. Groping, offensive jokes and wholly inappropriate conversations that have made women’s lives a misery for decades have all been stuffed under the ‘banter’ fig leaf.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander you might say. Except it’s not going to get us anywhere. I know it’s tempting as unwilling residents of a patriarchal society to think ‘FU GUYS, JUST DEAL WITH IT, WE HAVE TO!’ but strategically it’s a no-hoper and a sure-fire way for feminists to be sidelined as sour-faced bitches who just need to get laid. Also, I like the blokes in my team and I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. Everyone should have the right to poo in peace – a future manifesto pledge if ever there was one.
Debate within the feminist movement about what we should/shouldn’t be doing rages on, but I think that those of us lucky enough to feel part of it need to have a look around and bring other women with us. It’s not about never having a laugh in the office, or even our attitude towards cuddly toys – that’s a personal choice we all have the make. It’s about keeping our noses clean enough in public so that people can’t throw shit at us.
Only when we have all women on board the F-bus will we be be able to drop our knickers safe in the knowledge the only crap we’ll find in our toilets is the kind that’s supposed to be there.
And quite frankly, I could definitely deal with a few more poo-stains in my life if it meant I never had to wee eye-to-eye with a disgruntled-looking bunny again.

The toilet brush issue is apparently an international problem,
affecting people of all faiths and creeds.
Image from

This might be a solution...
Image from

...although this is our personal favourite.
Image from

We agree with the respondent in the Kitchen Bitching Book: We don't give a shit as long as everyone washes their hands! And nothing - NOTHING - justifies putting soft toys in the bathroom.

Related Reading
We defend gender equality pretty fervently at the Privy Counsel:
All posts on gender equality
Our favourite gender equality post:
General bathroom cleanliness, from a gender perspective:
(Don't) Aim for the Stars
Posts featuring toilet brushes:
The All-Singing, All-Dancing Bog Brush 
More Novelty Toilet Brushes
Coming Clean with the Privy Counsel
Statistical Musings
How to clean the toilet the fun way

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Whether You Believe in Jebus Or Not: Unbelievably Rampant Linguistic Musings!

Heigh ho, another religious festival is upon us. We woke up this morning feeling like we'd been hit by a bus - the phrase "death warmed up" sprang to mind with alarming alacrity. Considering the symptoms, we decided that we were suffering from either a) tertiary syphilis, b) post-traumatic stress, or c) a vile hangover. Recalling yesterday's events, we then deduced that c) was the most likely cause of our malaise, though we haven't absolutely ruled out a) and b).

Be that as it may, we consider ourselves, as usual, blessed in having such helpful, intellectual friends. Intellectual Friend, especially, has been more than usually rampant in his intellectualism recently. Round about Christmas time, we made a remark about Jebus, a dude who, we understand, is frequently implicated in religious high days and holidays. This remark caused Intellectual Friend to go off on a philological rant of remarkable, almost alarming, intellectual pizzazz. We reproduce it here, with permission:
Enjoyed very much your report from that family church venture: many wholehearted blessings on your role models! [Editor's note: said indomitable role model would be granny who, with unwavering fortitude, insisted on complaining loudly about how boring the Christmas sermon was, ignoring all hints from relatives that the preacher was standing right behind her.] Also, this sparks two philological remarks. Firstly, I appreciate quite deeply those typically Germanic and (I think) especially Scandinavian verbal structures which effect some kind of messing about the intransitiveness of intransitive verbs, like "sjunga julen in". Another among many would perhaps be "to die into the mountain", cf. Eyrbyggja saga [editor's note: deyja í fjöll].
My second remark is about Jebus, a dude who indeed tends to be laboured on and on about in sermons and related contexts a tad more than warranted by the Christian mythology and tradition as a whole. This remark I think I shall now split into two sub-remarks. 
The first of these is that I wonder whether you were aware, when saying Jebus, that the implied derogativeness of such a name would actually reach very deep dark bottoms in a Polish context, if used, because 
1) the -us suffix can be used in Polish as a pseudo-Latin suffix which, when added to native words, is a bit like -ard in drunkard but tinged with fleeting connotations of the referent being a potential asshole, and 
2) because jeb- is a common Polish verbal root among the lower classes with the primary denotation "to fuck", and furthermore the root is otherwise mysteriously rare in other languages, although it can be shown to derive from Proto-Slavic *jebati with the same meaning, and a related proto-verb was an iterative ("to fuck repeatedly"?). Indeed the root is of very great antiquity while also evidencing remarkable semantic stability. A PIE [editor's note: Proto-Indo-European] root *yebh- can even be confidently posited, also referring to some kind of proto-fucking, since there are cognates in Sanskrit: yabhati "to fuck", also a reduplicated form yiyapsatiwhich was a desiderative ("to desire to fuck"??). 
The Polish etymological dictionary whence this word-wisdom mostly springs from also offers examples of late medieval personal names or nicknames Jebak, Jebyl and Jebur (the latter was euphemistically glossed by a later lexicographer as "keen towards women"), consolidating the hypothetical potential of a name Jebus in Polish for signifying "Fucker". An interesting coincidence, if coincidence it is, which I thought you might perhaps appreciate (and indeed you would be the only person I know who could appreciate its potential multivalence). 
My second sub-remark is that there certainly is a need to renew many of the pagan-derived Christian traditions and beliefs fallen into oblivion, and to talk more about the demons, monsters, Gandalf-like vs Balrog-like angels, etc. Regarding this I was pleased to hear the priest at the end of the Polish Yule mass embark on an elaborate and clearly archaic curse-like prayer for the flock to be shielded against the evil forces and the hosts of Satan and all the malicious sprites who hover around or lurk greedy to bind or devour the good souls, and may they be knocked down into the dark pits of hell, and so on. Also those maledictions, together with the festiveness of the also archaic carols, made up for the predictably boring over-sweet sermon.

On that note, let us have a look at the not-archaic-in-the-slightest toilets at Lund Cathedral. We have mentioned before the charitable determination of the good people of Lund Cathedral in providing visitors with facilities in which to achieve physical cleanliness, while simultaneously striving towards spiritual purity. Please excuse the sideways pictures - consider them a parable on love and forgiveness.

An angelic combination of physical and spiritual perfection!

Knock-knock-knockin' on Heaven's door.
The eggshell-blue colour denotes, probably, purity.

The twin coat-hooks symbolise, possibly, the duality of the good-evil dichotomy.

An exemplary door-handle, easy to operate with one's elbow.
Useful for lepers who have lost a hand or even an entire arm.

The pure white colour of these paper towels symbolises their virginity.

There are lots of weird Bible quotes, but this is a surprisingly normal one:
"Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land."
This excellent mixer tap, of course, allows one to choose between hot,
cold, or an almost infinite range of pleasant in-between temperatures.

Funnily enough, Semi-Intellectual Friend has been rampantly semi-intellectual lately, and alerted us to this useful advice from the Bible, which you may wish to contemplate:
13 And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee:
14 For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee.
There. Next time you find yourself in need of a latrine trench, you don't have to hesitate, but can confidently get on with digging, safe in the knowledge that the good Lord is pottering around your camp, making sure that nobody's getting up to any naughty sodomy, incest, or shellfish consumption.

Happy Easter, ladies and gentlemen! There are more philological rants from Intellectual Friend coming soon!

Festive video - Homer Simpson, Save me, Jebus!

Related Reading
Last year's festive Easter post: Taps, Wine, and Elvis!
The festive Easter post from the year before that: Lighthearted Easter Musings
More festively intellectual posts about Lund:
Pure of Heart and Hand: Lund Cathedral
Lund University Library: Festschrift to Intellectual Friend
More quotes from Eyrbyggja saga, possibly our favourite toilet-related saga:
World Toilet Day 2011: Taking Our Baths and Our Women
Danger, Danger: Medieval Toilets
Crucial information for the biblically inclined toilet enthusiast: Toilet History Meets Biblical History (thanks to Semi-Intellectual Friend for sending us this interesting article!)
If you crave more Polish philology, these learned lectures from Intellectual Friend are also available:
Dirty Toilets and Dirtier Minds - A Nautical Theme
More Polish Plumbing: Pierogarnia Stary Toruń
If you really can't get enough, there's also this charming and fascinating Finno-Ugric suffix of negation: Finnish Mania: Despite Negligence, We Forgive Intellectual Friend

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Woof! Cholera Babe Parade!

It's no use struggling against the unavoidable: the Cholera Babe Parade has been conga-ing inexorably in our direction, and now it's here! It was bound to happen sooner or later, so we may as well bow to the inevitable and bid the Cholera Babes welcome as they thrust their way into our lives and take over everything.
Discerning readers may be scratching their heads, wondering what in the name of arse a Cholera Babe actually is. Put simply, it's a red-hot Victorian babe in the process of dying from cholera! The symptoms of cholera include, Wikipedia informs us,
[d]iarrhoea and vomiting of clear fluid. These symptoms usually start suddenly, half a day to five days after ingestion of the bacteria. The diarrhoea is frequently described as "rice water" in nature and may have a fishy odour. An untreated person with cholera may produce 10 to 20 litres of diarrhoea a day. Severe cholera kills about half of affected individuals. Estimates of the ratio of asymptomatic to symptomatic infections have ranged from 3 to 100. Cholera has been nicknamed the "blue death" because a person's skin may turn bluish-gray from extreme loss of fluids. 
If that's not sexy we're not worthy of gazing at pictures of be-cravatted Austen heroes!

Other symptoms of cholera include, as Unreasonably Attractive Friend noted, the sudden appearance of "a lower-cut dress".
Image from Wellcome Images.

Shewee Fiend Friend says:
"I like how she still does her hair. If I had cholera and was starting to look like a zombie,
I don't know that I would bother with making sure I had excellently coiffed hair."
Image from Berndt Tallerud's Skräckens tid: Farsoternas kulturhistoria (Stockholm: Prisma, 1999), p. 127.
Originally an etching by A. Gerardin, 1832, from H. Vogt's Das Bild des Kranken.

Woof! A (very attractive) friend of ours says,
"Haha, the first one looks familiar.... I believe I saw it in the bathroom mirror this morning".
Image from Wellcome Images.

Shewee Fiend Friend remarks, amusingly, "She didn't bother to do her hair I see. Standards are slipping".
Kick-Arse Suffragette Friend says, and we can only agree, "Them's some sexxy toes".
Image from Wellcome Images.

Shewee Fiend Friend continues her diverting quips, commenting,
"It looks like you're required to wear these hats if you're too dead to do your hair".
Image from Wellcome Images.

"A woman extravagantly equipped to deal with the cholera epidemic of 1832; 
satirizing the abundance of dubious advice on how to combat cholera."
Image from Wellcome Images.

"A mother looks askance at her daughter, whom she suspects of having contracted the cholera."
Image from Wellcome Images.

A French doctor delighted to have found a genuine cholera victim/babe.
Image from Wellcome Images.

The babe to out-babe all babes: Florence Nightingale! Here she is tending to cholera victims in the Crimea.
Image from Wellcome Images.

Dr Jekyll's vaporiser is effective against cholera, rheumatism and yellow fever.
Wouldn't surprise us if it was a hell of a hangover cure, as well.
Image from Wellcome Images.

London water - frequently the cause of cholera.
Image from Wellcome Images.

Turns out he knew something, John Snow.
7 September, 1854: Dr John Snow breaks the pump handle in Broad Street, to prevent the spread of cholera! HUBBA HUBBA!
Image from Wellcome Images.

Stay tuned for the Cholera Babe Pin-Up Calendar. (We meant to write a book about this in future, but it turns out someone already has.)

Other reasons a lady might turn black and blue:

Festive video: Jane Austen's Fight Club

Related Reading
More about John Snow and cholera: Plumbing, Blessed Plumbing
The Vikings had issues with clean water, too. Jorvik: In Rude Health
Help people get access to clean water: The Privy Counsel Helpfully Sort Out Christmas!
A comical tale about cholera in the wild, wild West: A Rootin', Tootin' Toilet Tale
More historic health hazards: Book Club: Cocoa and Corsets
Pestilence and Hygiene
Syphilis, Bathing, and Dentures. You know It Makes Sense

Friday, 4 April 2014

Festive Things That Are Red

The colour of the revolution is red. Red is also the colour, we've been told, of other useful things like love, ketchup, and British post boxes. And, what's more, we found a brilliant Danish toilet, decked out in the most rampantly red colour imaginable! This is, if memory serves and the Danish beer didn't blitz all our brain cells to smithereens, at the Maritime Museum of Denmark. The maritime museum is a very festive place with, as we may have mentioned, all kinds of exhibits. Some of the exhibits are about syphilis. The museum is also helpfully located right next to Kronborg Castle, so you can indulge in musings on Hamlet and syphilis at the same time! (Danes never cease to amaze us with their ingenuity!) Woof!

Are you salivating? We are!

Phwoarrrrr, coat-hooks!

The sink inside the stall: mixer taps, naturally.

What an excellent, excellent set-up!

This is the bin outside, by the communal sinks

Check out the crazy aesthetically-pleasing-yet-functional design of this sink!
Those Danes surely know how to make a girl's heart beat faster!


Other things that are red:

This Captain Morgan exhibit, at the maritime museum.

Our friend's creepy clown nose.

The lift in The Shining.
Image from

Red, red wine.

Related Reading
A festive maritime-themed toilet:
Put Him in a Longboat Till He's Sober: Sail-loo-rrr Lingo with German Friend!
Other toilets with funky colours:
Snyrt, Snyrt: Landnámssýningin
Maximum Toilet Satisfaction
We Go Underground
A toilet with a totally non-funky colour:
Passing Through the Loos at Kalamazoo
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