Toilet Tales: number two

“Qu'ont-ils utilisé pour une toilette?”

The estate agent shrugged, and gestured around the back garden.

We were in rural France, proper. We had crunched along the road in the estate agent's Citroen, and pulled up outside the stone house, narrowly avoiding chickens who darted out of the way, clucking their annoyance. A dog and it’s octogenarian mistress stared at us from the adjoining house. When we waved she answered with a toothless grin, and a raise of her hand (the woman: not the dog, who ogled us for a moment, dismissed us with a shake of his head, and returned to the all-important task of ball-licking).

The inside of the house looked as though its owners had left in a hurry. We had visions of men in white coats dragging someone away, leaving the belongings exactly as they were. Or worse the owner going out: feet first in a box. Certainly there was no evidence that any caring relative or family member had cleared away belongings or furniture.

There was a magazine sitting on the table in the dining/living room. I snuck a look at the date: September 1972. Had the property been vacant for so long, or did the owners have a penchant for out of date, and out of print publications?

There were three rooms: the dining/living room; and next to that the bedroom which had no bed as such but a garden lounger - set up in front of an old electric heater - which we presumed had been used as both a chair and somewhere to sleep; and then finally the kitchen which consisted of a sink, and an old oven. There were stairs that led up to an attic which stretched across the length of the house.

Out in the garden, thick with vegetation, there was a covered well. Nothing else. Not even an outside toilet.

I tried to imagine life in this house. The winters in particularly, where the temperature can reach minus 16. I wondered if people had used chamber pots, or perhaps they had just braved the elements and bared their arse to the cold and the snow.

And then we wondered about the old woman next door.

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