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Chalet de necessité

September 8, 2020

One of my first experiences of finding a bathroom that was not like the one at home, was on a holiday in France in the early 1950s. We were on a family low budget vacation in Brittany, in a 1935 Morris 10, which had lost its sunshine roof in the blitz. We stopped overnight at a cafe that said it had chambres, and rented two rooms, one for the parents, one for my brother and me. At the corner of the stairs, as we went up to the third floor there was a door that opened onto a porcelain floor with two places on which you placed your feet while doing whatever you had to do. The title of this piece reproduces what it said on the door. There was no lock, and the deal was that if you heard someone coming you cried out “OCCUPÉ”

It was the first of many formal variations of toilets that I encountered over the years. When we first arrived in Australia we purchased a house in the extreme suburbs, with no indoor facilities but an outside shed with a traditional wooden seat over a bucket collected once a week. I managed to get approval for a septic tank during a very dry season, so by the time our first child arrived midnight trips to the garden were no longer necessary.

During one of my field projects in North Queensland I was accompanied by my wife and one year old daughter. The loo was once more out doors, but tastefully screened from view by a wooden trellis on which clematis grew. It also provided an ideal perching spot for tree frogs who appeared to get their kicks from watching people relieving themselves. Immediately adjacent was a pawpaw tree which was extremely popular with the fruit bats, so a night time visit would disturb these creatures with a four foot wingspan to fly off noisily. It is not really relevant, but the same house derived its water from a windmill with a dry well about 6 feet deep. One day one of the neighbours pigs fell in it, which created a challenge, but the water seemed to be all right afterwards.

The following year I spent several weeks in a grass hut in a village in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. In this case someone had gone to a grat deal of trouble to ensure privacy for the hole under the wooden seat by constructing a large grass hut around it. While ideal from the point of view of privacy, it also provided a comfortable home for the tree snake living in the thatch.

Later that year I visited Japan and stayed in a relatively fancy hotel in Tokyo. The glossy porcelain with various options was a sharp contrast to what I had experienced a few weeks before.

Game set and match however must go to my wife. Who on visiting Tibet a while ago was in the Potala in Lhasa, which has high walls way above the ground. On one of the upper edges there is a comfortable spot for people to sit with an open seat, a different approach to aerial bombardment.

No recent experiences have provided quite same challenges as those days, and we even understood what was expected of us when encountering cans of water instead of toilet paper in Turkey

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One Comment
  1. 🙅🏼‍♀️🤦🏼‍♀️

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