We all know that fictional characters, like royalty, don’t have to suffer the indignity of urinating or opening their bowels. But, having marked World Toilet Day on Annecdotal every year since launching in 2013, regular readers know that clean and hygienic toilet facilities are something to celebrate. In last year’s post, I wrote about the advantages of gender-neutral facilities. For this year, while the official theme is toilets and jobs, I’ve collected a few quotes from novelists who don’t ignore this most basic of human functions. And if these aren’t enough to satisfy, Twitter is usually quite entertaining on 19 November each year.
Neither Hercules nor James Bond … interrupted their antics and missions because they had to visit the toilet … For Bond, saving the world took precedence over everything. The furthest he went towards his hygiene was shaving … even this one recorded act of his humble daily twilight was made tantalising by being never completed
Sometimes we only discover the value of something through its absence. Travelling to communities in which a toilet isn’t a given taught me to appreciate the humble lavatory. So I understand Dantala, the young Nigerian narrator of Born on a Tuesday, when he takes pride in the new toilets in the mosque where he works (p59):
I was thrilled to be using a flush toilet for the first time in my life. In some ways it was similar to the pit toilet I was used to—we still squatted— only now, you could see your shit after you finished and it only disappeared after you pulled the rope connected to the flush handle on the water tank above … I liked the sound of the water as it ran down the pipe and into the toilet, making it white again
Back in the UK, Stephen, the professional eavesdropper in The Long Room, gains a degree of perspective on the woman he’s idealised thinking that private functions (p65):
Helen, like any other earthly creature, perforce must eat and then excrete. He remembers playground titters about poo and pee and bums and asking his mother if Jesus went to the toilet too, like normal people, like the Queen. In response she scolded him for being blasphemous … Although he can smile now at the guilelessness of the child, he still believes that bodily functions can be problematic. There are things that women ought to do alone, their ceremonies and secret rites, which should not be seen by lovers.
I was a little surprised to find that my own debut novel, Sugar and Snails, has 14 mentions of the word toilet, perhaps because of its theme adolescent development. But the main toilet scene is when my character, Diana, discovers she has an infection (p188):
In my dream, Geraldine hitches up her skirt and squats. Urine streams between her legs onto the tarmac, all the way down Bessemer Terrace. I’m also aching to go, my bladder blazing with the weight of water, but I daren’t expose myself in public. I hop from one foot to the other, pressing my hand between my legs to hold it in.
I’m not quite awake when I throw off the duvet and dash to the loo. I only just remember to gather my galabeyah out of the way as I drop onto the seat. Instead of the expected torrent, there’s a shy, burning trickle. It brings no respite; the moment it stops I’m desperate to go again.
Here’s wishing you a Happy Toilet Day! I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed, but please do let me know if you come across any other toilet quotes.
Since Toilet Day is about combating the widespread cultural denial of our dependence on the lavatory, I feel duty bound to incorporate the theme in my response to the latest flash fiction challenge. Charli has invited us to compose a 99-word story that might be told around a campfire. Here is my interpretation of the theme:
Nature, she’d always thought, was best observed from the window of a passing vehicle. But she couldn’t bear to disappoint the kids. And really, it wasn’t anything like as gruesome as she’d expected. The tents were roomy and the long drop toilet even had a seat.
It was cosy in the evening sitting around the campfire, picking out constellations in the sky. But she was puzzled. Why, with all that wood around the campsite, were they using gas?
“Haven’t you heard of biogas, Mother? Why chop down trees when our bodies can make fuel for free?”
I’m not sure how my narrator has failed to notice the anaerobic digester located beside the lavatories, but never mind! Follow the link if you like to know about biogas production.