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.
- 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 for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.