Saturday, 11 April 2015

Sober As a Judge

This post is going to be all about retrospection. There's been a lot of reminiscence going on recently - a trip to York, where we misspent a portion of our youth; historical toilet-related ponderings; and happening upon some stuff we wrote years ago and which caused us to laugh heartily at long-forgotten memories of rickshaw-wallahs, goats, and Tiny Friendly Ladies.

The historical toilet-related ponderings were occasioned by a postcard we received at Privy Counsel HQ. It contained an appeal for enlightenment! We were, obviously, flattered to be appealed to as a source of wisdom and knowledge. We're highly susceptible to flattery, and prone, when exposed to it, to go off on a long, rambling tangent. Don't say you weren't warned:

We love beautifully written cards!

Dear Privy Counsellor, 

As a frequent traveller, I've come across many, many public toilets but I continue to be disturbed by those which charge a fee for use. I understand that this helps with maintenance but I find it galling to have to pay for a service which is unavoidable in any socially acceptable manner. One cannot just choose to not have to "go". The fact that these bathrooms charge via a correct-change-only system, without any was to make or receive change, is an additional problem. Also, when one needs the loo desperately, one does not always have time to search about for coins or fiddle around with barriers. Does the learned counsellor have an opinion on this issue? Are there any movements afoot to make toilets an uncharged right for all? 

Pissed-Off Traveller

We were thrilled to recieve this glorious picture of Cliffords Tower, in York!

Woof! Where to start? One is tempted, in these instances, to begin with historical precedence. Why not start in the Middle Ages? 
Having reached that comfortable eminence where one can quote oneself without embarrassment, we are going to scatter modesty to the winds, and ponder these singularly well-written words, from our post The Historic Toilet Tour of York:
During the Middle Ages, it was fairly common to stipulate the building of a public privy in your will. Thus, people could sit, shit and pray for your immortal soul. With the Reformation, however, this laudable practice was flushed away, and it wasn't till the 19th century that public lavatories started becoming common again - for men, that is. The assumption was that respectable women didn't roam the streets anyway, and so had no need for public toilets. Also, fashions dictating large skirts may have made it possible for women to do their business without anybody noticing.

We're not usually in favour of historical regression, but surely the kind of mindset where the institution of public toilets is considered a charitable, admirable act is laudable? (Though we advise against the building of toilets on bridges, jutting out over the water, medieval-style.) Maybe if more people were to leave money to the founding of public toilets in their wills, the world would be a better place.

One can also pause here, for a moment, to relish one's rampant dislike of the Victorians, that colonialist, misogynist pack of antimacassar-crocheters and wall-to-wall-carpet-obsessives. As usual, one can blame everything on them. They couldn't even handle the thought of women going to the toilet without fetishising it and turning it into a social problem. 
(If you want, by the way, tips on Victorian crinolines, and specifically how to turn a skirt spread over one into a private, one-woman discreet-urination-tent, then ask Tudor Friend. That woman possesses some serious life skills!)

To dwell briefly on the Victorian era and its penchant for making a profit from people's bodily functions, let us ponder, again, that splendid entrepreneur and chancer, Mathias Weibull. To once more quote ourselves:
[In 1889, Weibull wrote 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!
Basically, this dude wanted to induce people to pay for the privilege of producing manure for his farm. You can't help but admire his cheek!

Nor is the habit of charging money for public toilets limited to Europe; we spent a rupee to spend a penny on one memorable occasion in Bangalore. A useful tip, which we're giving away free, is to never, ever use the toilet marked "Western toilet" when in India. These loos are invariably filthy - using the ordinary squat toilet is infinitely more hygienic and enjoyable!

One final observation: When meeting up with Shewee Fiend Friend recently, we made the journey to our rendezvous by train, and found ourselves obliged to use a train station toilet in the Midlands. Exactly as described in the postcard above, we didn't have exact change, and were thus robbed of 20 p. Small change, perhaps, but an important moral and legal principle. However. We learned something!

A teenage girl, entering the stile before us, showed her friend how to avoid having to pay: you pull the stile gently towards you. The locking mechanism will then be released, and you can comfortably push the stile forward and enter the toilets without spending a single penny. Provided that there is no attendant of course - we wouldn't want our readers to get caught in criminal activities! (Speaking of attendants, read about our favourite toilet attendants ever here and here.)

We hope that answers your query, Pissed-Off Traveller!

Now. This post is FAR FROM OVER. You can all sit prettily down again, and continue paying attention.

Our rendezvous with Shewee Fiend Friend took place in what was, in the carefree days of our youth, our favourite pub - The Judge's Lodging! Many is the evening we have spent here, quaffing beer until the Gothic grammar, with which we chose to occupy our minds in those days, made sense! (It usually takes a couple of pints at least. Needless to say, it's when Matthew starts waxing lyrical on the subject of fornication that he finally becomes lucid.)
We posted a couple of pictures from this notorious academic-infested drinking hole recently, and were promptly informed, via social media, that the toilets have been redone and look pretty damn splendid these days. (Indeed, the whole pub has had a makeover.) We set out to investigate. Here's what we found:

Pretty damn fine!

We apologise for the blurriness of this picture - we can't even give drunkenness
as an excuse, for reasons we will explain below. Does this black cast-iron heater
remind us of something, however? You bet it does - check out this heater in Worcester Cathedral!

There's certainly plenty of bog roll!

These tiles are very attractive.


Also, the toilet-roll holder would have benefited from having an actual toilet roll in it.

These sinks are beautiful, and no mistake! Woof!

Mixer taps are a balm to the soul.

This beauty is a Doulton's Improved Foot Warmer when it's at home.
Remember that time when we went on a Doulton rampage?
And that other time, when we also went on a Doulton rampage?

All in all, we were very pleased with the new toilets in the Judge's Lodging! They were clean and beautiful, and the sinks were a joy to wash one's hands in! Though of course WE FIND THE LACK OF A COAT-HOOK A SERIOUS OMISSION. However, THE GLARING LACK OF A COAT-HOOK TO HANG ONE'S BAG FROM was our only complaint. Three cheers and a roaring huzzah for the Judge's Lodging toilets! Also the staff were very nice and helpful.

Due to a medical emergency, Shewee Fiend Friend was unable to drink alcohol during our visit to York. Apparently, however, you can get beer that doesn't contain any alcohol.

Yeah, we know.

We don't understand the whys and the wherefores, either, but the fact remains that we were able to purchase said alcohol-free drinks in the supermarket, and park ourselves in the very warm and joy-inducing sunshine, in the soft grass, with our backs to the sturdy and protective Cliffords Tower! (Built to subdue the populace - on a sunny day, one likes to forget the cruel and bloody history behind picturesque erections.) Once again, however, we have to warn our readers not to engage in unlawful behaviour - it turns out that actually, sitting with one's back to Clifford's Tower while drinking beer, even if alcohol-free, is illegal. So don't do that! But take our word for it - it was HIGHLY ENJOYABLE.

Engaging in a very enjoyable illegal activity.

This, ladies and gentlemen, brings us full circle - back to Cliffords Tower, were we started our journey! Indeed, after being turfed off the tower knoll, we and Shewee Fiend Friend betook ourselves and our strange, alcohol-free beverage to the waterside, and ended up sitting in the exact spot that you can see in the postcard.

Let's have a festive video and get Saturday night going!

Festive video - Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, Going Up the Country

Related Reading
All posts about York
All posts about Shewee Fiend Friend
Our classic post on Mathias Weibull:
19th-Century Toilet Letter: A Delight from Start to Fin(n)ish!
Our classic post on the toilet history of York:
The Historic Toilet Tour of York
All posts about public toilets

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