A Modest Proposal (Part II)
Now, people may never have heard of Thomas Crapper (1836 – 1910) but if you find it hard to believe that he developed the flush toilet, go ahead and Google him. I have never ceased to marvel at the perfect association of name and function. Honestly now, with a name like that, what else could you have enriched civilisation with if not the flush toilet?
Theoretical Physics? (The Crapper Effect)
Art? (The Crapper School of Impressionism)
Literature? (The Crapper Second Novel Prize)
Music? (Crapper’s Fifth, “The cacophony”)
Politics? (The Crapperite Rebellion)
You see? It just doesn’t work. When Thomas Crapper was just ten, his teacher would have noted in his report card:
Unusually serious young man, with a keen understanding of hydrodynamics. Should go far in the field of municipal engineering. Must improve his handwriting and spelling. He is talented but must learn to master his carelessness.
Do I detect a degree of skepticism in the reader?
Please. I can look up Wikipedia too, and see the hatchet job they have done on poor Crapper. OK, some nonentity actually came up with the idea of flushing, (in 1596) but Mr Crapper came up with many absolutely critical improvements and was the first to obtain a Royal Warrant for the provision of thirty lavatories with cedarwood seats at Sandringham Palace in the 1880s.
I’m sorry to have to say this, but Crapper’s Influence was altogether too great, and the development of sanitary appointments which take into account the natural physiology of defecation, was for a time unrecorded and centered in a little known restaurant, au petit coin, in the XVIIeme Arrondissement in Paris, France. There, a totally unknown veteran of the Foreign Legion, Emile Foirar, who had returned from the Algerian disturbances, decided to invest in a nice little brasserie in the rue Crotte. There he installed a mechanism based on things he had seen in his days among the Bedouin, who always squatted when performing the Grosse Commission. (or, as the Legion poilus used to say, pour poser sa pêche.)
Now of course, the Bedouin had lots of open space, and quite a sufficiency of sand for doing things, which in the pampered salons and brasseries of Europe require water, which the Bedouin do not have in abundance. They had no need of enclosures, and in fact preferred to perform their necessary tasks in the open where they could keep an eye on their camels and make sure thugs from the next oasis didn’t sneak up behind them in their most vulnerable state, to cut their throats, before making off with the camels. Such were the insecurities of the life of primitive folks in the land of Scheherazade.
Nonetheless, Foirar realised from his observation of the Bedouin, that their custom of squatting was entirely sound, physiologically, and needed only minor modification for life in the bustling métropole that was Paris in the nineteenth century.
He had a cousin, who had a ceramic factory in Angoulême, create a fitting that was basically an ovoid hole with decorative footprints on either side, and incorporated Crapper’s flush system so that Parisians could benefit from the healthy Bedouin way of doing things with the brilliant modification of doing it with water, as importing all that sand would have required an import permit and would have been prohibitively expensive.
I actually visited Au petit coin, in the rue Crotte in my student days, when it was still a functioning brasserie. Somebody had installed an amusing electrical device sometime just after the War, which played a reproachful little tune if you didn’t flush and wash your hands. It was embarrassing to have the patron tell you to go back and get it right, to the loud amusement of a barful of French drunks. I was only caught out once, I can tell you!
Anyway, we are digressing.
Foirar’s ideas caught on in France, and his cousin made so much money with his decorative footprints that he was able to buy a château on the Loire and staff it with retired girls from the Folies Bergères. But, success was ephemeral and Foirar died, penniless and a broken man, just after the Paris Exhibition of 1937, when his invention began its steep decline in popularity, and Crapper’s much inferior product took off. North American tourists thought the Bedouin way was indelicate and Crapper’s allowed for reading whilst on the job, as it were. Although the Bedouin way was much more physiological, it did require some care and a good sense of balance. It would certainly have been risky to try reading the paper whilst poised on your toes over the plate-forme céramique! Nonetheless, I failed to find any mention of serious accidents in publications of the time.
So Crapper’s star rose as Foirar’s sank into oblivion, and we are left with the uncomfortable and totally un-physiological facilities we have today. It was ever thus.
For aeons, primitive man performs some task in the simplest, most scientific way imaginable, then some plumbing contractor comes along with an idea to make a quick buck, and all of a sudden we are tripping over each other to shovel money into his pockets.
I alluded to this phenomenon in my post on Runny Jam (q.v.) where I reminded my readers that in the days before the Drug War, in The Land Of The Free, people could take all the opium they wanted (we were free to do bad things to ourselves).
Now it’s an orgy of Socialism and social engineering, and a philosophy of let’s take care of the incompetents, even if the incompetents prefer to continue to live their lives incompetently. During the six years of the presidency of Felipe Calderon in Mexico, 60,000 Mexicans died in the crossfire of the Drug War, and another 40,000 disappeared. That’s about a 1,400 a month. (Google “juarez, mexico”)
But it does cost a lot of money to have that kind of success, so that’s good too, since drug interdiction is in the top three of the engines of the economy in North American countries, and you have to have those wheels turning.
In a Drug-War free world, the police would have to go back to investigating rapes and murders, and finding some of the thousands of women and children who are abducted every year.
But sometimes, when you are used to the womb-to-tomb embrace of government, freedom is tough to handle!
Dean Swift used this title quite some time ago, to suggest that starving Irish people should get off their duffs and find what nourishment they could by eating their own plump children during the potato blight and famine of the mid nineteenth century. Well, I have this to say to Mr Swift: Dean, you cannot copyright a title, so whether you like it or not, I plan to issue my own modest proposal. This time, the proposal will be a cogently argued plea for better Men’s restrooms.
Initially I was going to cover simply the problems of the Urinal, but I have since realised that there is a rich subject matter here. This richness demands that I spend some time on the Cubicles, which are available for what the French coyly refer to as La Grosse Commission, and for the convenient and private injection of intravenous drugs. I may have to deal with cubicular problems in a separate article. We’ll see how it goes.
First, I have to apologise. This is a perfectly serious contribution to the exponential growth of Knowledge, but many people are going to conclude, unfairly , that after a promising start to my second career (“Wise Man” or “Old Fart”, take your pick.) I have completely dropped the ball and allowed sleaze and obscenity to cause a dramatic drop in the intellectual tone of my writing.
But I will not be provoked; I am taking the high road.
A warning to women: You are might be puzzled and repugned by my revelations. You really don’t need this and you will learn nothing of value. I suggest you move on and read something else. That way I will have only half as many people to disgust.
Yes, unfortunately this is about urinals. Let’s move past the usual complaints: the odour, the frothy turbid fluid, of an unattractive deep amber shade overflowing onto large puddles around my feet, the cigarette butts blocking the drain and the scarcely coherent graffiti.
But I want to move on, past the not always impeccable hygiene of the Standard Urinal, and concentrate on more philosophical matters.
We have to start with a rather idealised picture of our ancestor of three million or so years ago, Archeopithecus jedensis, as he bestrode the Olduvai, stalking Lucy and lusting after her somewhat hairy bosom. At some point, perhaps after she has given him the bird or copulated with him, (it doesn’t really matter which, by the way.) and she has wandered off in search of berries or small, defenceless mammoths, he is left alone to commune with nature and reflect on the difficulty of pleasing women. He experiences a powerful urge to relieve the tension in his bladder.
Archie (as we may call him) is a simple man, of simple distractions. He needs to urinate. He urinates. Nothing more complex than that. I can (discreetly!) summarise the protocol involved: Archie is not encumbered with the complication of clothes, so he simply has to point his appendage at some handy bush and let go like a veritable fire hose. He fastidiously shakes himself off and resumes his aimless ramblings to see if he can make it again with Lucy.
Now, my modern male readers will probably be experiencing a lively degree of envy. Of course, few Archeopithecines of Archie’s generation got to be older than twenty, so right there he has an advantage over us. His prostate gland is probably the size of a cherry, with a channel the size of his finger, so he can empty the whole bazooka in about two seconds flat. Not so his miserable, remote descendant, whose gland is the size of a grapefruit, with a channel that might allow the introduction of a tiny sapling twig, should one wish to embark on such a disgusting experiment. Anyway, no matter.
The point is that our fire-hose days are long gone. Our bladders have to be cajoled and caressed into doing what they were initially designed to do without such humiliating blandishments: pass urine.
Nowadays the conditions have to be perfect. The ambience, the lighting (soft, mellow) the background music, (Mozart’s later quartets and Enya are OK.) Somebody called Snoop Doggy Something is definitely not recommended. Much too nervy and discordant.
The state of mind is crucial. Think what might be going through the mind of the Dalai Lama in a moment like this and try to emulate that. Meditate on the Buddha and his ineffable wisdom.
And if you think you’re going to be able to piss after a session with your ex-wife’s accountant’s and lawyers, forget it. It’s not going to happen.
The other place where urine is guaranteed not to flow, is in the standard restroom which has small or no dividers between the stalls.
Think about it. Archie and his contemporaries were well aware of the need to find a private place where they could relieve themselves, secure from the threat of sabre-tooth attack or being beaned by a large rock.
I know. You are saying that this is all a crock. There are no longer any sabre-tooths, and we have much more efficient ways of killing each other than hitting each other with rocks.
Yes, but it’s the feeling that is important!
We are all hard-wired to fear the Jabberwock and the Frumious Bandersnatch, however unlikely their appearance in our men’s restrooms.
So here you are, Modern Man. The restroom has soft, mellow light. Mozart is playing delicately from discreet speakers disguised as cupids. You stand there with a preoccupied but confident expression, as if you are solving the problems of the Higgs Boson, or the Unified Field Theory, smiling tolerantly as you list the arguments you might have marshalled against Einstein’s sketchy reasoning. Your bladder feels close to bursting and your pulse is a hundred and twenty. Your opening has clamped down like the Finance Department auditors on your expenses for that last conference in Bali.
So it’s getting embarrassing.
The guy in the next stall is a 200 lb linebacker for a CFL team. He shakes himself off and gazes ironically up the wall, completely aware of your predicament. Then he goes away, whistling triumphally.
Then you think, At last!
There’s an infinitesimal easing of the tension and you think that your problems are over. Then a new guy appears, with possibly even more antisocial and violent designs on you, whistling softly at the stall on the other side. He starts to micturate copiously and loudly. You cannot bear to turn your head to check out his equipment.
Ah, forget it. You can always go home and pee in the shower, or onto one of your wife’s geraniums, which are always grateful for a little extra nitrogen.
I cannot believe that there were men involved in the design of men’s restrooms. At least not men with normal urinary plumbing. Perhaps a few younger men whose systems were still in fire-hose mode, and who have no idea what is in store for them when their flow is reduced to a trickle, as is the experience of normal men over forty.
The other thought that occurs to me is that there may have been women involved in the design phase. This would explain a lot.