Thursday, 30 June 2011

Do It If You Must

We were stuck in a supermarket queue the other day, behind a lady who was buying all kinds of stuff that we find simply revolting, including Andrex toilet paper.  (As regular readers will know, we have vented our annoyance with the British obsession for soft toilet paper on a number of occasions.) At first we sniffed self-righteously and glared at the offending product, but, all of a sudden, we nearly cried out, “Well, strike us pink with a beach towel soaked in brandy!”, when we noticed that Andrex has an FSC label!  When this happened we don't know (or rather we do: it was in 2008, according to WWF), but we are quite annoyed at having lost one of our chief pleasures: complaining about how bad Andrex is for the environment.  

We hereby regretfully inform our readers that they now have our blessing if they must insist on buying Andrex toilet paper despite its revolting fluffiness.  

If you find puppies and toilet paper a palatable combination, then by all means indulge
 For information on the Andrex FSC label and pictures of adorable puppies, click here
For slightly more fact-based information from the WWF, click here.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Finer Points of Roman Hygiene

We've been spending a lot of time at the Roman Bath Museum recently, and consequently find ourselves in possession of new information regarding Roman toilet paper.  Regular readers will recall that we in a previous post referred to the vinegar-soaked sponges used by Roman soldiers to attend to their hygiene.  However, James Crow, in an intriguing passage from the book Housesteads (B. T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1995), would argue otherwise:

Ancient writers such as Martial and Seneca refer to the use of sponges in lavatories and there has been considerable discussion and illustration in popular reconstructions of the use of sponges on sticks for this purpose, so the water channel at Housesteads is frequently called the "sponge channel".  This, however, raises a major problem since the "bath sponge" is a Mediterranean sea creature and is not native to the seas around Britain.  A possible sponge fragment was identified from the Roman sewer at York but this is uncertain and it does not confirm the widespread use of sponges.  What material was used as a substitute for this ancient lavatory paper is not clear.  Recent excavations from the fort of Bearsden on the Antonine Wall suggest moss was used, and there are a number of suitable plant-based degradable materials available in the area around Housesteads, including bracken.  In Siberia, snow suffices.

Sea sponge; image from

While we are a bit worried by the cryptic comment about Siberia (did the Romans go to Siberia? And if so, what might they have done there, apart from going to the lavatory?), we find this input from James Crow interesting, and welcome further contributions to the discussion.

Outraged? Bewildered? Tired of talking of ducks flying to Siberia? Got an opinion on the use of sponges as lavatory paper? E-mail us at

Related Reading:
The Roman Bath Museum - Crap on a Stick
Wasting Away: More Roman Bog Roll
Wasting Away: More Roman Bog Roll II

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Let Us Wash, for the Germanic Hordes May Appear at Any Moment

A frivolous update today, but continuing the archaeological theme from yesterday; a friend alerted us to this amusing bath-related Roman re-enactment. (Did you enjoy Gladiator? Then you can't fail to appreciate this.)

If you haven't yet been to the Roman Bath museum in York, by the way,
it's well worth a visit (it's underneath a pub!)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Nunc Est Lavandum - Bath-time!

We had planned yet another delightful article about toilet paper today, but something happened that, believe it or not, entirely took our mind off cellulose and virgin fibres. It was pointed out to us that another Roman Bath has been found in York; in the civilian part of town this time.  We learn from the BBC website that it was briefly exposed by vandalising Victorians building the train station in the 19th century, but has lain undisturbed ever since. Being fans of Roman plumbing, we find this terribly exciting, and caper with unbridled joy at the thought of seeing another Roman bath!

Image from
To enjoy a soak in our post about the Roman Bath museum in York, see

Our desire to experience modern British plumbing as good as that of the conquering Romans two thousand or so years ago remains, needless to say, futile.

Thanks to Mother and Quasi-Intellectual Friend for helping us with our Latin grammar

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Privy Counsel Map of the World

 We've created a rather thrilling map of the world, marking the locations of the toilets we've reviewed, for the delight and edification of our readers. This was requested by Semi-Intellectual Friend; cred and honour to that bizarre bundle of hair and nerve synapses.

Here it is:

We know you're just dying to know what Semi-Intellectual Friend looks like - here's a picture!

Can't find the spot of your lair? Privy Counsellor not been marking your territory? Got a toilet picture you simply must share with the world? E-mail us at

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Plumbing: Blessed, Blessed Plumbing

We have had critique directed in our general direction to the effect that all we do is complain. While this could of course not be further from the truth, we have still decided to make the subject of today's blog update gratitude. Gratitude for plumbing. While it's true that most of this country's plumbing at best puzzles and, at worst, horrifies us, today we acknowledge that we are grateful to be living without fear of cholera, typhus and other unpleasant plumbing-related afflictions.

People in this country are off their rocker but sometimes they get it right despite themselves

 We mentioned John Snow the other day, and here take the opportunity to stuff your ears with some more information about this remarkable man. (We hereby also acknowledge our gratitude to Wikipedia for making it possible for us to appear as though we know what we're talking about.)

John Snow was born in the blessed city of York but, like many other unfortunate people, ended up living in London. Imagine his dismay when, in 1854, he found himself in the middle of a cholera outbreak - as if life in London wasn't already bad enough! There was no wide-ranging sewerage system in London yet (the main sewers, which are still working well-ish, were constructed from 1859 onwards), and most people had a cesspit under their house. If you have any pretence to education you will know that one of the sources of cholera on this occasion was a pump in Broadwick Street. Turns out that the nappies of a baby who died of cholera had been discarded into a leaking cesspit in the vicinity of the pump.
John Snow's investigations and statistical calculations, although at first ignored, proved to be the first step towards the acceptance of germ theory as opposed to the miasma theory (though personally we find the idea of miasmically transmitted chlamydia much more amusing), and eventually led to safe drinking water in Britain.

Hard to believe that something so pretty can be so unhygienic

Prince Albert died from typhoid, another plumbing-related disease, in 1861, and thus unwittingly became the cause of some unhealthy Victorian customs, as well as setting off a fashion for Whitby jet. We learn from that, "Ten years later, Victoria's son, Edward, almost died from the disease. A plumber traced the contamination to the lines of a newly-installed water closet and fixed the problem. Edward, the Prince of Wales, was very grateful to the plumber. Word spread of this episode and is thought to have hastened the acceptance of the indoor water closet in England".

If you're feeling the gratitude, buy some Oxfam Unwrapped gifts and help people who still have no plumbing and risk contracting a lethal disease every time they drink water!

Related Reading:
Hurrah for World Toilet Day!
Oxfam Unwrapped: Build a Bog!
Historical toilets
Viking toilets
After all this, can you believe that there are still people who don't wash their hands after they've been to the toilet?
Victorian Servants Have Taken over the Book Club

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Dirty People: We Wash Our Hands of Them!

We went to the gym the other day. Going into the changing room, we were absolutely gobsmacked to see a person coming out of the toilets and walking out, as cool as a cucumber, without washing their hands! (We hardly like to think what Hygeia would say!) Our instincts urged us to grab that Neanderthal and push their head down the toilet (instincts are often unhelpful and counter-productive) but, not being the confrontational kind, we merely uttered a snide remark for the benefit of the room at large, not that anyone actually cared. We now feel dirty and not a little naive for believing that since Joseph Lister, John Snow, etc, people know better than not to wash their hands.
This observation has really not helped our burgeoning OCD.

A reminder of the NHS guidelines for handwashing:

An effective handwashing technique involves three stages: preparation, washing and rinsing, and drying. Preparation requires wetting hands under tepid running water before applying the recommended amount of liquid soap or an antimicrobial preparation. The handwash solution must come into contact with all of the surfaces of the hand. The hands must be rubbed together vigorously for a minimum of 10-15 seconds, paying particular attention to the tips of the fingers, the thumbs and the areas between the fingers. Hands should be rinsed thoroughly prior to drying with good quality paper towels.

For those who enjoy moving images, here's a video demonstrating the same:

We have also, for your benefit, hunted down some amusing but at the same time edifying information from another blog:

No go wash your hands.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Intellectual Friend: The Second Best Toilet in Iceland

 We are excited today to offer our readers a look at what, according to Intellectual Friend, is the second best toilet in Iceland! It is to be found in the basement of the café Bláa Kannan, in Akureyri. We are so delighted by this that we are going to show you all the photos, including one of a delicious-looking dessert that Intellectual Friend was lucky enough to have, even though it's not strictly within our subject area.

Bláa Kannan - looks like Pippi Longstocking's house!

Clean and cosy - we love Scandinavian interiors!

Bláa Kannan serves "amazing and generous coffee and chocolate cakes". Indeed!

"The toilets are in the basement, down a few steps by a mysterious black seeping/weeping rock (helpfully labelled 'bjarg' on the little grid), its seeping perhaps serving to confirm and intensify one's natural urge in case of a last-minute hesitation"

"This opens on a waiting/strolling area sporting a long, pleasantly wooden bench, another stone..."

"...and more privacy in waiting or meditating/concentrating on the job to be done here as a consequence of the house's amazing and generous coffee and chocolate cakes"

"There also is a hidden alcove, with a bench skulking in the corner, an impressive piece of pipework, and a dreary door to damnation."
Mixer taps! O, blessed mixer taps! And a tissue dispenser!

"The toilets proper are quite uneventful in comparison, though the wooden framing, more jumbo pipes (note the runic-style graffiti) and general cleanliness add a cheerful note."

Perfectly pleasant and hygienic

Ventilation! God, we love Scandinavian interiors! Oh yes, we do!

If you thought this was good, wait till we show you the BEST toilet in Iceland!

More Intellectual Friend Antics:
Intellectual Friend Goes to Iceland, Visits Toilets
Intellectual Friend, Still in Iceland, Visits More Toilets
Intellectual Friend Goes to Poland
Intellectual Friend Visits More Polish Toilets

 Bláa Kannan
Hafnarstræti 96
600 Akureyri
Sími: 461 4600

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Going Soft: Yet Another Post about Toilet Paper

We don't care and we wish you hadn't bothered

 We refuse on principle to buy toilet paper that isn't recycled. We also refuse to buy toilet paper that is "extra soft", "angel soft" "ultra soft", "luxury soft", quilted, decorated or in any other way perverted, evil and unnecessary. Trying to find unbleached toilet paper in Britain is like looking for the Loch Ness monster in your bath tub: futile. But recycled toilet paper, though never, alas, unbleached, is at least usually free of the frantic "softness" labelling. Until Nouvelle went and printed a nauseating "How did we get it so soft?" slogan on its packaging. We find ourselves asking once again: Where does this obsession with soft bog roll come from? Think about it: what do you use it for? Toilet paper does not need to be bleached, quilted or have little flowers printed on it!
At least Nouvelle isn't quilted any more.

"Well the most important thing is we select high quality recycled paper as only the best will do." Why? It's being made into toilet paper for god's sake!
Having a look at the consumer guides online, however, Nouvelle, though recycled and for the moment unquilted, isn't necessarily that good anyway. Here is what Ethiscore has to say:

"It might be surprising to see a recycled toilet tissue brand in the top three [on the list of products to boycott], but its parent, Georgia-Pacific, came out worst in a WWF report on sustainability in the tissue sector. Its parent company, Koch Industries, has been part of a team advising Bush on developing a conservative 'environmentalism for the 21st century'. This favoured deregulation and included Bush statements that logging was good for forests and that dams were good for salmon." (, accessed 1 June 2011)

The Ecologist quotes the same WWF survey and tells you what's what.

Picture from
The Guardian, always adept at giving you a bad conscience (in this case, of course, rightly so), offers a delectable little article which begins with the fantastic words, "The tenderness of the delicate American buttock is causing more environmental devastation than the country's love of gas-guzzling cars, fast food or McMansions, according to green campaigners".

The WWF have published a very helpful guide on their website, and also offer information on the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label.

For more information and the kind of unbiased factual analysis that regular Privy Counsel readers have come to know and love, see our previous posts Toilet Paper: A Pain in the Arse?, Toilet Paper: Puppy Love and, for something only slightly relevant, Immediate Action: Soldiers Use Toilet Paper, Too.
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