Newspaper and Sawdust

Newspaper and Sawdust

In the most recent flash fiction prompt posted on the Carrot Ranch on World Toilet Day, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that glorifies a toilet. Capture the marvel and status and love for a contraption we’d rather not mention. Go where the prompt leads!

Writers were given an extension, allowing 2 weeks for responses, which should have been enough to overcome inspiration constipation. Sadly, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about toilets and toilet situations, but writing little about them. Perhaps something will flow now that the block is cleared. Maybe constipation will turn to diarrhoea.

I am surprised to have few memories of toilets from my early childhood.

I lived on a farm until I was six and cannot recall what type of toilet we had or where it was located. I assume it was what we in Australia refer to affectionately as a ‘dunny’ or ‘thunderbox’ — an outhouse or outside toilet with a wooden seat over a metal can.

I also don’t recall the toilets at the first semi-rural school I attended. Considering I must have made a few trips at least each day, at home and at school, one tiny memory shouldn’t be too much to ask.

When we moved from the farm to a young growing beachside suburb, we definitely had an outhouse for the first few years, probably until sometime in the early sixties. It was located half-way down the back yard, about five metres from our high-set house. So, at night, or during storms or cyclones, we had to negotiate the outside uncovered steps (about 15), race across the backyard and into the shelter of the outhouse, our path lit by a torch or lantern, if we were lucky.

I never envied the job of the ‘night soil men’ (or ‘dunny men’ as we kids called them) who would come in once a week to collect the can of waste and carry it out to empty into the truck. What a job. I wonder if any complained about losing their jobs to flushing toilets.

I know that sewerage was connected to our home before I was twelve as I have a very strong memory of receiving an unjustified (in my opinion) belting behind it at that age. That toilet was also outside but at least it was at the foot of the stairs and not halfway down the backyard. Flushing water and soft toilet tissue replaced newspaper and sawdust.

There was no upstairs toilet added to the house until years after I left home. It was only added when negotiating the stairs became difficult for my mum. But even it was still outside, though thankfully, just outside the back door at the top of the stairs.

My only memories of school toilets are of flushing toilets, whether septic or sewered, I don’t know, and of not being allowed to go when I needed to.

Toilets have taken on a whole new significance as I’ve aged, and their cleanliness is of utmost importance. I worked as a consultant for an educational publisher for a few years. The role involved visiting school in my local and surrounding areas. I used to rate the towns by the accessibility and cleanliness of their toilets.

When I read the statistics published by World Toilet Day, my requirements are something many can only dream about. According to the website:

  • 4.2 billion of the world’s population do not have access to adequate sanitation — that’s more than half of the world’s 7.8 billion people
  • 3 billion people don’t have facilities like water and soap for basic handwashing at home
  • about 800 children under five die every day from diseases caused by poor sanitation or lack of clean drinking water

These and other horrifying statistics are available on the website. The humble flushing toilet that so many of us take for granted, is not so humble for many, but rather something for them to glorify.

For a few years now, I’ve been purchasing my toilet paper, tissues and paper towels from Who Gives a Crap. I chose Who Gives a Crap because they donate 50% of their profits to help build toilets for those who need them. So far, they have donated $8.3 million. I am pleased to be able to contribute in a small way, without any extra effort, to such a worthwhile project. Who Gives a Crap products are available in Australia, USA, UK, Sweden and Europe. Check out their website for more information.

I guess it’s time to share my flash fiction in response to Charli’s prompt.

The End (with apologies to Alan Alexander Milne)

When I was one and had just begun

Nappies were where my business was done.

When I was two, not nearly so new

A training potty was home for my poo.

When I was three, I was learning to pee

In a toilet that flushed away to the sea.

When I was four or not much more

I learned to be private behind a closed door.

When I was five, school days had arrived

And toilets were places to play and hide.

When I get old, or so I am told,

A clean handy toilet is precious as gold.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

36 thoughts on “Newspaper and Sawdust

  1. Jules

    A fun review of how one used (uses) the loo.
    Some many Suburban homes list their ‘baths’. In real-estate a whole bath is one that has a bath tub, sink and ‘john’. A half bath is now considered a bathroom that has a shower instead of a bath tub. And I truly forget if there is a special name for a ‘powder room’ with just a toilet and sink.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Hugh W. Roberts

    I love both your poem and your history of toilets, Norah. It’s a strange subject to talk about, but you did an excellent job. I can’t remember ever having an outside toilet although I do know of an old aunt who had an outside toilet. At the age of five, I was very amused by it, especially the bits of cut-up newspaper held together by string at the side of the toilet.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
        1. Norah Post author

          I wonder. When ours was an outhouse, Dad built a trellis with beautiful creeping plants like honeysuckle and bleeding heart around it. When it was no longer an outhouse, the trellis remained, but he built himself a little workshop inside the trellis. It was his escape.

          Liked by 1 person

          Reply
  3. Jennie

    I enjoyed learning about the different facilities you had growing up. It never occurred to me until I was an adult that people my age used outhouses, unless they were camping. I assumed everyone had flushing toilets, but of course that is simply not true. Your flash is delightful! One of your best! Thank you, Norah!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      It’s easy to think that the way things are for us are the way they are for everyone else. The statistics tell us that’s just not true, though. Thanks for your kind words about my poem.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  4. Pingback: For the Love of Toilets « Carrot Ranch Literary Community

  5. Charli Mills

    I grew up with an outdoor toilet but it had plumbing. In my dad’s logging camps, he dug a hole and fixed a toilet seat on a box over it. He always set it up with a magnificent view. The statistics are indeed horrific, and thanks to your lead years ago, I’ve been buying Who Gives a Crap. Because I do. Love your poem!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Clever Dad! A loo with a view – can’t go wrong with that. One year we visited a snowfield (in the NSW highlands) and the toilet was a (I’ll say) drop toilet. I can’t quite remember just what it was called. But it was a seat over a very deep hole. It terrified me, even as an adult – the thought of falling in, or of my young son falling in. I’m a bit too used to my home comforts.

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      Reply
  6. calmkate

    lol your poem made me smile … the chronological view of toileting!

    Your stats are not in the least surprising to me Norah … having lived in remote Himalayan villages where most only had access to a communal tap for drinking, washing, etc … and their toilet was the mountainside with only hands to wipe!

    People have often remarked oh how wonderful to live in the Himalayas, what a clean pristine environment … when they had no idea! Had to buy wellies for Mondays as the village above was a main Indian tourist drawcard and the fancy hotels did have flushing toilets but their sewage just flowed downhill and swamped our roads when their tanks overflowed, every single weekend!

    Sanitation and flowing water are a real gift and we have no idea of just how blessed we are!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Oh my. How inconsiderate of those hotels. Such unpleasantness. Isn’t that like the wealthy to (you know what) on the disadvantaged.
      Yes, we are very fortunate to have so many advantages that we take for granted.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  7. robertawrites235681907

    I enjoyed your post, Norah. My mother had an outside toilet in her childhood home but it did flush. She has terrible memories of school toilets and so do I. In fact, I still have bad dreams about needing the toilet at school. The toilets leaked and formed large unavoidable puddles around every toilet. The smelled horrible and frequently got blocked.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  8. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    I appreciate the data and links you provide here. (I will come back for the Who Gives a Crap link later- a big hit with recipients last year) I’ve never heard of flush toilets outside but then where I am freezing would be a big concern. You gave me flashbacks to the toilets in a graded school, in the basement next to the sooty old coal cellar. Mrs. B somehow could tell if one was exploring the bowels of the old building rather than relieving one’s bowels. I enjoyed your fun poem.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for all your comments, D. Yes, teachers always knew when children were needing time out rather than needing to go. 🙂
      I’m pleased Who Gives a Crap was a hit last year.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  9. Darlene

    Great information. We had an outdoor toilet on the farm we called them outhouses. I hated it so much I would wait until I got to school to use the facilities. Grandma in the city had an indoor flush toilet and I loved to visit her. Your poem is perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Wow, you did well to wait until you got to school, Darlene. That’s control. Grandma’s flushing toilet sounds much more civilised.
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the poem.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  10. Miriam Hurdle

    What a fascinating post about toilets, Norah! You reminded me of the “night soil men.” He came about 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., I’m not sure, but they knocked on the door and made an announcement before coming in to empty the barrow. He sounded like an older guy with a hoarse voice. I still can hear it. I have quite a few toilet stories. Thank you for reminding me.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  11. Annika Perry

    Norah, who knew one could write such a fascinating and eloquent post about toilets! The stats are horrifying and I’ll check out the loo paper website! So much more needs to be done! Your poem has me smiling … access to a clean loo is so important, I feel! My nightmare experience of ones were at primary school … always freezing cold, flooded and running past the bullies! Thank goodness when I moved up into Grammar School and the girls bathroom was more reminiscent of a hotel and so warm!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Aw, thanks for your kind words, Annika. The stats are horrifying, but I’m pleased my poem gave you a smile in the end.
      I like the sound of your Grammar School toilets. I think the ‘nicest’ toilets I ever visited were in Singapore.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

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