Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Toilets! Huh! What Are They Good for?

 For various reasons to do with the obsessions of a close acquaintance, we end up reading a lot of soldiers'  autobiographies and war accounts. We have quoted Andy McNab, that stalwart of the ex-soldier action thriller, on the odd occasion, and have furthermore done one or two reports on military bogs. Today, however, we up the ante by giving you photos of genuine field toilets, not those pansy-arse, toilet-paper-providing garrison toilets!

As much as we'd love to be able to travel to Afghanistan to give you an in-depth report on toilet conditions there, we will have to content ourselves, for the moment, with viewing them by proxy. We came across a most interesting book called Infidel (London: Chris Boot Ltd, 2010) by Tim Hetherington, a photojournalist. Hetherington spent time with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the U. S. Army in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, in 2007 and 2008, making a documentary called Restrepo.

He says,

"Burning the poop" was even more unpleasant than actually having to use the "shitter". During the summer, when temperatures in the valley could soar, I'd often avoid having to use the facility for as long as humanly possible. Eventually, lower-ranking soldiers would be assigned the task of stirring and burning the tank when it was full. (p. 236)

The shitter

"'Piss tubes' at the main Kerengal outpost" (p. 236)
 We also, for the same various reasons to do with the obsessions of a close acquaintance, recently watched the Ross Kemp Afghanistan documentary. We recall one of the soldiers saying, when asked what he would miss most on going to war: "Bog roll. A nice bog to sit on."

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Tap into Pain

 A most interesting book came our way recently. It is called Pain: The Science of Suffering, and is written by Patrick Wall (London: Weidenfeld &Nicolson, 1999). An interesting chapter refers to pain thresholds. Making the point that pain thresholds are higher for experiences with which we are familiar, Wall says,

A very careful Canadian study [...] showed that women had a higher treshold for heat pain whereas men had a higher threshold for electric shocks. In our society, women have far more experience of handling hot plates with apparent impunity while men, with their enthusiastic fiddling with car engines and electrical gadgets, are usually familiar with tingling or stabbing electric shocks. (p. 68)

The dangers of separate taps are manifold
While we don't actually know any men who habitually fiddle with car engines or expose themselves to electric shocks, this resonated with us because we find that, since taking up residence in Britain, we have become far more tolerant to scalding hot water than we were formerly. The bewildering, inexplicable insistence on separate taps in this country means that one becomes used to doing the dishes or washing one's hands under the hot water tap, scalding oneself in the process. This is all the more frustrating because we have noticed that disabled toilets usually have mixer taps, often even functioning ones. How come it's possible to install mixer taps (often functioning) in disabled toilets, but not in ordinary bathrooms and kitchens?

An old favourite: the mixer tap in the disabled toilet at Catterick Garrison; read more about it here
 To calm ourselves down and stop ourselves from frothing at the mouth with frustration, we add a calming picture of Crown Prince Frederik and  Crown Princess Mary of Denmark enjoying some art. Mixer-tap art.

At the Sculptures by the Sea exhibition in Sydney.
(If you like this, you might enjoy our other toilet-related royals; see them here and here.)
Related Reading
A Note on Desperate Measures 
Mixer Taps - The Great Controversy, or, When Will Britain Enter the 21st Century?, or, You Are Not Alone! 
Are You British? Does Tap Sanity Elude You?
The History of Plumbing: A Recap 
Terminator Toilet

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Privy Counsel Helpfully Sort Out Christmas!

The end of November is approaching way, way, way too fast. December is hurtling towards us at an alarming speed, and will soon hit us smack in the face with enforced jollity, family members we'd rather avoid, and alarming weight gain. Bet you're sitting there wishing you could just hibernate, or at least emigrate to the Bahamas for the winter, and wondering what in the name of all that is saintly you're going to give Uncle Darren and Auntie Ruth for Christmas!

Well, you needn't worry any more - we at the Privy Counsel are friendly, benevolent sort of people, and have helpfully sorted out Christmas for you! Here's how:

World Toilet Day inspired us! We got quite carried away reading the Oxfam Unwrapped leaflet, and thought we'd share som good deeds and happy news with you, in anticipation of Christmas.
If you're from York you can pat yourself on the back and award yourself a biscuit, since the good burghers of this town are among the top ten cities in the UK for buying Unwrapped gifts. Plenty of bogs have been built thanks to York - well done! (Read all about it, and see the dudes in the fancy chains, in The Press.)

We're all for hygiene, and thought the story of Kolisara in Nepal was inspiring!

Read more about Kolisara here
 As we mentioned yesterday, clean water and hygienic toilets really are crucial in the fight against poverty. An easy way to give both the planet and a plumbing-less person a helping hand is to eschew buying that bubble-bath giftbox and reindeer tie, and give somebody an Unwrapped gift for Christmas instead. As we may have mentioned already, our favourites include the Build a Bog and the Safe Water for Ten People gifts, but we thought we'd highlight a few more today, for you to mull over!

We may have posted one or two rants about toilet paper in the past. To make up for all that environmentally hostile, bleached, scented bog roll, why not Save Trees!

Hygeia keeps butting in, wringing her hands about handwashing. To help her struggle, buy someone a Hygiene Kit, or Hygiene Hints!

What good is a hygiene kit when you have no water to wash in? Fix a Well or Drill a Borehole and give someone the gift of safe water!

Last but not least, if you have so much money you just don't know what to do with it, buy a Water Tank! A bargain at £3,214.

There you go, Christmas sorted!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

World Toilet Day 2011: Taking Our Baths and Our Women

Hooray, hooray, today is World Toilet Day!

Toilets and sanitation are very important, and, believe it or not, lacking in large parts of the world. Taps and toilets save lives! Today we'll be illustrating what happens when you mess around with sanitation.

A Jorvik Viking toilet. Read more about Viking hygiene in Jorvik here
We're feeling not only sanitarily minded but also ever so slightly intellectual today, and so we've decided to treat you all to a riveting story about a Viking toilet feud in 10th-11th-century Iceland! Below are a couple of extracts from chapters 4 and 9 of Eyrbyggja saga, the saga of the people of Eyrr, first in Icelandic, then the English translation. Both versions are from the Icelandic Saga Database.

Chapter 4

Þórólfur kallaði Þórsnes milli Vigrafjarðar og Hofsvogs. Í því nesi stendur eitt fjall. Á því fjalli hafði Þórólfur svo mikinn átrúnað að þangað skyldi engi maður óþveginn líta og engu skyldi tortíma í fjallinu, hvorki fé né mönnum, nema sjálft gengi í brott. Það fjall kallaði hann Helgafell og trúði að hann mundi þangað fara þá er hann dæi og allir á nesinu hans frændur.
Þar sem Þór hafði á land komið, á tanganum nessins, lét hann hafa dóma alla og setti þar héraðsþing. Þar var og svo mikill helgistaður að hann vildi með engu móti láta saurga völlinn, hvorki í heiftarblóði og eigi skyldi þar álfrek ganga og var haft til þess sker eitt er Dritsker var kallað.

(Now Thorolf called that ness Thorsness which lieth between Swordfirth and Templewick; on the ness is a fell, and that fell Thorolf held in such worship that he laid down that no man unwashed should turn his eyes thither, and that nought should be done to death on the fell, either man or beast, until it went therefrom of its own will. That fell he called Holy Fell, and he trowed that thither he should fare when he died, and all his kindred from the ness. On the tongue of the ness whereas Thor had come a-land he made all dooms be held, and thereon he set up a county Thing.
And so holy a place that was, that he would nowise that men should defile the field with blood-shedding, and moreover none should go thither for their needs, but to that end was appointed a skerry called Dirtskerry.)

 Chapter 9

Það var eitt vor á Þórsnessþingi að þeir mágar, Þorgrímur Kjallaksson og Ásgeir á Eyri, gerðu orð á að þeir mundu eigi leggja drag undir ofmetnað Þórsnesinga og það að þeir mundu ganga þar örna sinna sem annars staðar á mannfundum á grasi þótt þeir væru svo stolts að þeir gerðu lönd sín helgari en aðrar jarðir í Breiðafirði. Lýstu þeir þá yfir því að þeir mundu eigi troða skó til að ganga þar í útsker til álfreka.
En er Þorsteinn þorskabítur varð þessa var vildi hann eigi þola að þeir saurguðu þann völl er Þórólfur faðir hans hafði tignað umfram aðra staði í sinni landeign. Heimti hann þá að sér vini sína og ætlaði að verja þeim vígi völlinn ef þeir hygðust að saurga hann. Að þessu ráði hurfu með honum Þorgeir kengur, sonur Geirröðar á Eyri, og Álftfirðingar, Þorfinnur og Þorbrandur sonur hans, Þórólfur bægifótur og margir aðrir þingmenn Þorsteins og vinir.
En um kveldið er Kjalleklingar voru mettir tóku þeir vopn sín og gengu út í nesið. En er þeir Þorsteinn sáu að þeir sneru af þeim veg er til skersins lá þá hljópu þeir til vopna og runnu eftir þeim með ópi og eggjan. Og er Kjalleklingar sáu það hljópu þeir saman og vörðu sig. En Þórsnesingar gerðu svo harða atgöngu að Kjalleklingar hrukku af vellinum og í fjöruna. Snerust þeir þá við og varð þar hinn harðasti bardagi með þeim. Kjalleklingar voru færri og höfðu einvalalið.

(On a spring-tide at Thorsness Thing these brothers-in-law Thorgrim Kiallakson and Asgeir of Ere gave out that they would not give a lift to the pride of the Thorsness-folk, and that they would go their errands in the grass as otherwhere men do in man-motes, though those men were so proud that they made their lands holier than other lands of Broadfirth. They gave forth that they would not tread shoe for the going to the out-skerries for their easements.
But when Thorstein Codbiter was ware of this, he had no will that they should defile that field which Thorolf his father had honoured over all other places in his lands.
So he called his friends to him, and bade them keep those folk from the field by battle if they were minded to defile it.
In this rede were with him Thorgeir the son of Geirrod of Ere, and the Swanfirthers Thorfin and Thorbrand his son, Thorolf Halt- foot, and many other thingmen and friends of Thorstein.
But in the evening when the Kiallekings were full of meat they took their weapons and went out on to the ness; but when Thorstein and his folk saw that they turned off from the road that lay skerry-ward, they sprang to their weapons and ran after them with whooping and egging on. And when the Kiallekings saw that, they ran together and defended themselves.
But those of Thorsness made so hard an onset that Kiallak and his men shrunk off the field and clown to the foreshore, and then they turned against them therewith, and there was a hard battle between them; the Kiallekings were the fewer, but they had a chosen band.)

And so a feud kicks off that kills off most of the inhabitants of the entire district - because some dudes couldn't be bothered walking all the way to the very inconveniently located Dirtskerry, and so decided to do their business on some other dude's holy ground, instead!
And so you see, having somewhere clean, private and convenient to go to the toilet is extremely important!

A modern-day Viking toilet
 On a side note, may we add that a Very Special Friend of Intellectual Friend's points out that according to the 12th-century historian John of Wallingford, one of the reasons why the English carried out a foul and treacherous massacre of Danes was - wait for it - that they considered them too clean!
John of Wallingford says, in translation,

[The Danes] had also either seized, or prepared to seize, all the best towns in the land, and caused much trouble to the natives of the land; for they were wont, after the fashion of their country, to comb their hair every day, to bathe every Saturday, to change their garments often, and set off their persons by many such frivolous devices. In this manner they laid siege to the virtue of the married women, and persuaded the daughters even of the nobles to be their concubines. For these and other like causes there arose many quarells and wars in the realm.

The Vikings were, in fact, "coming over here, taking our baths and our women"!

In case you haven't had enough of Viking toilets (personally, we can NEVER get enough
of Viking toilets!), here's another one, from the Dublin Viking Centre
We would once again like to point out that, with Christmas drawing relentlessly closer, an Oxfam Unwrapped gift might be a planet-friendly alternative to the usual tie and bath salts. Our favourite, naturally, is the Build a Bog. Another good one to contemplate on World Toilet Day is the Safe Water for Ten People gift.

Happy Toilet Day!

Further reading:
Þorsteins Þáttr Skelks: Medieval Toilet Anecdote

Jorvik: In Rude Health

Friday, 18 November 2011

'Twas the Night before World Toilet Day

Don't worry, we intend to amaze and dazzle you with a spectacular story tomorrow, to celebrate World Toilet Day! (It's only once a year, so you might as well mark the day with a bang.)
In the meantime, Canadian Friend has been hiking, and engaging in covert toilet journalism! Here's what she says:

Here are the Swainby loos from the pub there. I can't remember the name of the pub. I think it had the word horse in the name.
These loos were very clean, classy and elegant. It was a pleasure to pee there.

According to our friend Wikipedia, the pub was most likely The Black Horse, and very nice it looks too.

A classy decoration of some kind

Woof! A mixer tap and a creepy mannequin! What more can you ask on the night before World Toilet Day?

We love disabled toilets - they're always cleaner, better and less annoying than ordinary toilets

We don't however, love separated taps. Please stop this nuisance.

Canadian Friend, armed with dog and poo bags, enjoying the scenery around Swainby

At the risk of contradicting ourselves: lots of style points for the classy toilets and the mixer tap, and lots of minus points for the separated taps! Woof!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Safety at Work

 Safety in the workplace is an important topic in these downsized, speeded-up times. Technically, your employer is not allowed to let you suffer from preventable injuries or increase your workload to the point where you're so stressed you believe you're a tiny, speckled hamster named Harriet, and you can't remember the names of your children.
 But what about your right to be able to maintain hygiene
and not scald yourself on dangerously hot water?

This is a topic which is consistently ignored in the British Isles, as these pictures (WARNING: strong images. Children and those who believe they're a tiny, speckled hamster named Harriet must be supervised), from a brand-spanking new, refurbished workplace show. Britons never, never, never shall be slaves, apparently, but they are slaves to impractical, dangerous and annoying plumbing.

Looks like a nice, clean and freshly painted toilet, doesn't it?

Hygeia says no! And so does the fire warden!

This charming, freshly painted, olde worlde door...

...does not bloody well make up for the dangerous separated taps in the kitchen!
So, remember to take breaks (personally we enjoy tea breaks. And coffee breaks. And biscuit breaks. And pretty much any other kind of break), and lift with your legs, not with your back! And wash your hands!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

An Intellectual Toilet

  Intellectual Friend has been taunting us for some weeks now with stories of how brilliant the bog in his new house is. We thoght we'd better go and check it out.
  If there was any way we could pass on the address to you without breaking all the bonds of friendship and losing all hope of ever tasting Slovakian rum again (it's called "um" and is totally bloody delicious), we would, because this baby has to be seen to be believed. But we know what would happen: our esteemed readers would completely lose their collective head and run down there with a battering ram, demanding to see the mixer taps! So we won't say where it is. Sorry.

Look! Mixer taps! And a water-saving flush!
Look at this baby!!

And in the bath, too! PHWOAAARR!!
  We find the existence of no fewer than three mixer taps in a bog-standard, unglamorous student house in Britain nothing short of miraculous. Wow!

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Toilet Mystery

The Tornado toilet looks so exciting, but what the dickens does the stamp say on the porcelain?
  It is one of those spooky November nights, when one desires nothing more than to settle down with a glass or five of one's favourite drink and snuggle up to a good whodunnit. We sincerely hope that you, our readers, are comfortably ensconced in the sofa right now, with no intention of getting up in the near future. We ourselves are going to expose ourselves to all sorts of bad humours and cold, unpleasant night air, in order to photograph some toilets for your benefit. However, be that as it may.
   We don't pretend to any literary panache and couldn't dish up an Agatha Christie-style mystery for you if we tried. (Correction: Yes, we can! Not to blow our own trumpet with undue enthusiasm, but do check out our very own Poirot Mystery!) However, we are currenlty twirling our metaphorical waxed moustaches and purring with delight at being able to present to you a solution to a little problem that has been bothering us.
In a recent update, we were distraught not to be able to decipher the porcelain stamp on a toilet at Grays Court, despite Intellectual Friend's 57th-generation space phone. However, despair no more - modern technology has sorted it for us! We cunningly enlarged the photo until the stamp was visible. Voilà:

Modern technololgy has not yet made it possible to turn the picture the right way round.
 Our keen eyes make out the name Doulton! Doulton, we learn, nowadays make little china figurines, but once upon a time they made toilets! Let's see what the Doulton website says:

  Royal Doulton is a classic English brand name in tableware and ceramics with a pedigree dating back to 1815, when John Doulton used his life's savings to launch a partnership with Martha Jones and John Watts at a stoneware factory in Lambeth, London. Today, Royal Doulton is a world-class brand in quintessential British tableware, collectable figurines, crystal, glass and giftware.
  Yet it had truly down to earth origins. Thanks to stoneware, the business that subsequently focused on the Doulton family name took full advantage of the revolution in sanitation during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837- 1901). It established the world's first stoneware pipe factory and went on to become Britain's top Victorian manufacturer of sanitary ware [that means toilets]. (

Exciting, eh? We're still none the wiser as to why the wrought-iron sides of the seat say "Tornado", as the Tornado was a Crapper-brand toilet, but maybe one of the components was once changed. We are feeling benevolent today, and so give you the chance to feast your eye on this splendid toilet once more:

It's a beaut, n'est-ce pas?
  Alors, one rather fancies a sirop, eh, Hastings?

Related Reading
Gleeful Antics at Grays Court
Right Up Our Alley

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A Liverpool-Themed Update

  We haven't been anywhere near Liverpool today, though doubtless many other people have. What we have been is busy, simply fran-tic-ally busy, which means we have had much less time than usual to devote to edifying and amusing those of you deranged enough to spend precious minutes of your spare time reading a blog about toilets - toilets, people! However, Enlightened Friend has come to the rescue, giving us a hot tip about Liverpudlian toilets. There is, or so the rumours say, a pub with such fabulous toilets that people come from all over the country to see them! And what's more - ladies are allowed in the gents' toilets! A bog this fantastic just has to be publicised, we think.

Ladies who wish to see the famous marble urinals may ask to be escorted into the gents',
if there are no gentlemen present whose modesty might be offended
 Apparently this pub used to be a favourite of John Lennon, who later complained that he was too famous to drink in it. (

On a side note, while researching these legendary toilets we came across this amusing little work of art:

Image from

We are certainly chuckling. Heartily.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Gleeful Antics at Grays Court

 We hoppeted (Old English hoppetan, to hop, to leap for joy) along to Grays Court the other day, in the company of our eminently intellectual Intellectual Friend, to partake of tea, scones and toilets. Our final verdict is somewhere along the lines of "Hot dog!" This dignified old building is simply bursting with panelled walls and mullioned windows, providing a highly cosy and venerably historic atmosphere. We seated ourselves in a nook, or cranny, one moody autumn afternoon, and passed a delightful hour or so discussing toilets, and also sometimes academic matters.
 We are pleased to be able to show you both the ladies' and the gents' toilets, thanks to a collaborative scholarly effort. The only drawback is that, due to the uncooperative attitude of Intellectual Friend's 56th-generation space phone, some photos appear sideways.

Intellectual Friend happily showing off a delicious cream- and jam-laden scone at Grays Court

A beguiling entrance

Sink with awful taps and splendid soap

A really exciting old toilet...

...with a lovely/horrifying (depending on your viewpoint) cistern

Alas, uncovered toilet roll!

We can't decipher the stamp on the porcelain, but the Tornado was a Crapper toilet model

Lovely, lovely soap and lotion!

Sturdy, unpretentious and reliable: everything a coat-hook should be

Eek! Eek! Eek! Eek! Separated taps!

This lovely stuff deserves another close-up

Amusing prints on the wall

The ladies' toilet isn't nearly as exciting as the gents'

 Due to the air-dryers, disability-unfriendly flush handles and separate taps, these toilets receive only 7 points. However, the scones and tea were highly scrumptious, and the Grays Court staff were probably the friendliest and most helpful we have ever come across anywhere!

Grays Court
Chapter House Street
York YO1 7JH
01904 612613 

Related Reading
A Toilet Mystery
Right Up Our Alley
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