Toilet Tales: number one

When my wife was a child she would travel down from Wales with her mother, and sometimes a friend, to visit her Nana in New Cross, London. London was exciting; with all it's history, bustling crowds and strange sights and sounds.

And yet there was one overriding memory of these trips: the toilet.

Little Miss H grew up in a public house in North Wales and was used to the luxury of a toilet in the accommodation above the bar, and the choice of many more downstairs, for the primary use of the patrons of the pub. In the 1970s she discovered, for all the Londoner's boasts and sneers and comments about how it was "grim up North", they were still, in some respects, far behind the times (and could benefit from making a little effort to keep up with the Jones'). Many properties had a toilet, not inside the house, with all its warmth, comfort and convenience, but outside. On many a cold winters night in 1970s London, people could still be seen nipping out to the back garden with a newspaper and a torch, before settling to bed.

Nana had her toilet housed in a little brick building at the bottom of the garden where the Victorians had ran the pipe, connecting all the terraced properties to the main sewage network; one of their many great achievements.

Located outside, unheated and unconnected to the main house, it was often cold but, even on a night thick with cloud, it was not always dark. Indeed, it was often illuminated from behind, and had a soundtrack of it’s own too. For Nana’s house backed on to the infamous "Den"; Millwall's football ground.

And, if Little Miss H timed it just right, the roar of the celebrating crowd would reward her toilet-related efforts, as passionately as they did any goal .

It seems strange to think that (even in a city such as London) it was not that long ago that people did not benefit from indoor toilets or bathrooms.

21st century rural France, we found, still had its surprises…

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