It’s time to write about the bog. The john. The lavvy. The WC. Well, not just about that, but about some of the accoutrements that we meet in there. This is an essay about where we once were.
You can see I am inspired
I recently read a forum. I cannot remember now how I chanced upon it. In it there was a discussion. It was about scented toilet paper. Why, they all asked, was there such a thing as scented toilet paper? Why is scented toilet paper for sale? What could the intended effect be? I was so surprised by the question – and even more surprised by the reasons suggested, that I thought it was time to air my knowledge of toilet smells.
Toilets are funny anyway
Smells of all kinds often generate discussion. However I grant you that some world cultures are given to ignore the toilet. With some, the toilet never enters any kind of discussion. Others even pretend the toilet does not exist. For them, it is a taboo. But it is sometimes a point of interest or even fun. So if you might take offence then turn away from the page. Click elsewhere. Bye Bye for now. (I am locking the door anyway). (Like Enderby). But first – nostalgia.
The door to the outside toilet
– often green but without an old piano behind it – usually faced the back door of the house or houses to which it belonged. Above the door lintel – usually a ledge and brace door, with a latch (and sometimes a high cabin latch on the outside too) there was a gap of one or two bricks, which acted as ventilation. The roof sloped from the low back to the high front. That roof was slated or flagged.
The smell of the outside toilet
You see, the domestic outside toilet was neither stinky refuge nor whiffy cell. Flies did not congregate there. Outside toilets actually sometimes had an aroma of groundwater about them. A hint of wet brick (well, damp anyway) or mortar plus wettish whitewash. (Outside toilets were whitewashed yearly). Withal, outside toilets were fragrant with lamp oil or paraffin. This last came from the storm or hurricane lanterns that hung therein. Lit on cold nights, they cast spectral hues and a faint warmth – the better to stop the freezing of the water pipe in the winter.
Those were the smells that permeated the timbers of the little house. It is moreover this recollection that caused disaster in my only appearance in a Nativity Play. My lantern (as Innkeeper) was that from my Grandmother’s outside cludgie. That was enough to make me laugh. Uncontrollably too. I also set off our new teacher with the psychedelic hair a-giggle. Her shaking multicoloured chignon made me guffaw worse still. I was marked and in deep trouble for what seemed years. Among my punishments was that I was made to sing seven solo verses in another play of fantastical indifference. I still wake up shaking.
Another smell associated with outside toilets was Lanry, a local bleach. Lots of towns had bleachworks, where wagonloads of powdered sodium hypochlorite would be delivered and turned into locally made (and preferred) cleaning fluid. That smelled clean and was a wholly acceptable and effective killer of germs and bacteria. It still is. Later still, this mingled with pine disinfectant and sometimes, Jeyes Fluid, or similar creosote preparations. These were the odours of cleanliness. The soft scents of Grasse becoming later arrivals – even if they were from Huddersfield.
The outside toilet (bog, petty) was thus cleaned regularly. Slunged out with hot water (bowls emptied regularly) and scrubbed clean with soap and bleach, it also smelled of carbolic – that same which Sir Joseph Lister had used to disinfect hospitals (in the days when reliance on the dually convenient excuses of ignorance and acceptance had been the means by which microbes were not eradicated).
Somehow and sadly in the re-writing of recent history by those who were not there, the outside toilet has been relegated in folk imagination. It is thought of as if the outside toilet was neglected and dirty; a shameful place. People think that outside toilets stank. That outside toilets remained unwashed, unscalded, unhygienic. That somehow, our immediate forebears were not only ignorant of cleanliness, but that they did not even practise it. Don’t be silly. In the last forty years, the opposite has obtained. You are much less likely to see such devotion to cleanliness these days as formerly. I have yet to see one householder swill the flags down with hot water and bleach as formerly – and that in streets and avenues and roads which are awash with various kinds of crap and tons of chewing gum not to mention the unnecessary hawking of the sporty and the more excusable expectorations of the bronchitic.
So back to scented toilet paper (or toilet tissue if you would rather)
It is simple. First of all though, we need to think of toilet paper and the use to which it is put.
And by the way, I also saw in these forums, people having a good old laugh about the old fashioned sort of “hard” toilet paper. In England it is still often referred to under its trade name, “Izal” – or another sort “Bronco.” Such toilet paper was made to stay in the outside toilet – a room of high humidity. Thus, in the past, the paper that later on was reported to need a “cast iron bum” to use, because of its inability to soften in the centrally heated refined atmospheres of modern houses, was originally actually more pliable. Its principal requirement being more that it did not disintegrate and remained serviceable in the outside atmosphere.
It was scented with Pine; the same pine as was to be found in Zal Pine Disinfectant. Therefore although the hard toilet paper was less absorbent, it smelled clinically clean. It took a while to catch on though. In any case, most people could give you about fifteen reasons not to use it – the fifteen pages of the daily newspaper. (Which the more one thinks about it, is a fitting end to much that was then printed). Soft toilet tissue could never have survived this environment. The damp of the outside lavatory would have rendered it useless and unable to execute the burden to which it would be put.
So what is scented toilet paper all about?
It is simple really. The toilet moved indoors in more and more houses. In doing so, the old chemical cleaners begin to prove too strong smelling. People started to wish for something less pungent. So in the days before air fresheners in spray tins, and before the pot became pourri, we scented our toilets or our smallest rooms with scented toilet paper. The roll of scented toilet paper fragranced the room with a hint of talc. (Like Boot’s “Blue Fern” and Field’s “French Moss” – those sorts of scents).
Of course, I understand that earlier attempts to improve domestic happiness and sophistication may be met with incredulity by subsequent generations. And who has not laughed uncontrollably at a primitive vacuum cleaner, or fallen off their chairs upon seeing an old washing machine at work? Progress comes only through attempt. But the idea that scented toilet paper is to make your bum smell nice after doing a few stout and curry-related challenges to the gong scourer is not correct. It is sold as a means of scenting the room. The alternative was to strike matches in there.
Now wash your hands.