The Bog Roll Debacle
Updated: Oct 23
Now before we get started I thought I might warn you that some of the words in this blog may be a little confronting to some readers and I also cannot guarantee the accuracy of the info that is contained therein.
True or false, I do hope that it provides some amusement for you.
Ran out of toilet paper? Can't buy any at the shops?
There is an alternative and I think it should be an essential consideration for interior designers and architects.... for all future projects.
The big question
What interesting times we are currently experiencing as the latest in a string of nasty viruses virtually grinds the world to a halt, locks down cities and causes people to panic buy - amongst other things - toilet paper. Such is the need for packets and packets of whatever ply you can get your hands on, people seem prepared to queue for hours for it; pay exorbitant prices on Ebay for it and ultimately fight in supermarket aisles for it. This barmy behaviour got me thinking: What did we do before toilet paper was invented and do we really need it?
Well, can you believe there is a website called www.toiletpaperhistory.net and obviously being naturally inclined to question internet related information, I cannot rely conclusively on it's technical content so I did have to dig a little deeper to discover more. This is what I found......
Creative materials and cultural habits
Before the advent of Kleenex, Quilton and Who Gives A Crap, humans used some interesting and sometimes ingenious ways to wipe their bottoms using a vast resource of different materials. The methods and materials used much depended upon where on the globe you lived, the prevalent weather conditions and the social structure & customs of your society.
The proletariat would commonly use materials such as leaves (I’m assuming fresh ones not dried) grass (still used by our trusty pet dogs to this day), ferns, corn cobs, maize, fruit skins, seashells (don't ask me how), stones (don't ask me about that either) sand, moss, snow and most sensibly, water.
The wealthy people got to use less irritable materials including wool - presumably after it had been detached from the sheep - lace or hemp.
Dogs constantly remind us that they know the benefits of grass as such was the lot for the common man. Wool was reserved for a rich man's pleasure.
The Romans were undoubtedly the cleanest. Well-to-do Romans would use wool and rosewater, whilst the man in the street would use communal public toilets to do his business A sponge attached to a wooden stick called a Tersorium that was soaked in a bucket of salt water, or vinegar would be provided for 'cleaning up'.
The Greeks would use pieces of broken clay or stones…. but please don’t go breaking up your Crown Derby, the Wedgwood or the Royal Dalton. If you lived on the coast, people would often use what was close to hand such as mussel shells and sometimes coconut husks.
Britain effectively went backwards 2000 years after the Romans departed and went back to using... well anything they could get their hands on. Meanwhile, people from Islamic cultures were taught to use their left hand and water: a practice that is still used today and to great effect.
The Eskimos would use moss or snow instead of Huskies and the Vikings used wool, or the skulls of their enemies.
The Colonial Americans used the cobs from shelled ears of corn; where as the Mayans were purported to have used corn on the cob. It is also known that the Mayans mastered basic plumbing so there is every possibility like the Romans, they used water for their toiletry habits.
Um, all I can say is that the Colonial Americans must have been a tough lot:
at least the Mayans left the corn on.
The Chinese are commonly seen as the first to use toilet paper from the 6th century AD and it was in use throughout China by the 14th Century. Unfortunately it seems that this luxury was reserved for the wealthy, as it has been discovered that most people used leaves and sticks.
Even in the early 20th century toilet paper was still seen as a luxury item and it was not uncommon to see torn up newspaper and magazines hanging from a piece of string in the outside privy.
Commonly seen in a privy near you in the early 20th century especially in war torn Britain
However, we should all collectively put our hands together and applaud the French for inventing the Bidet in the early 1700's; initially a seat with a hole that you straddled with a bowl of water underneath it. The first bidets were made of porcelain and were a part of the bedroom furniture, until the advent of internal plumbing saw them moved - more sensibly - to the bathroom.
Early bidets had to be hand emptied until indoor plumbing was invented.
The award for the most imaginative item for wiping ones posterior goes to the 16th Century Frenchmen, writer and humourist, Francois Rabelais, and I quote:
"But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains.”
Btw.... a big thank you to my friend Ron Morgan, for finding this gem of a quotation!
Francois Rabelais and his apparent love of geese.
Now I’m certainly not advocating that people should go out and purchase geese, and I'm quite sure that Monsieur Rabelais was in fact joking. However, it is clear that there was life before toilet paper and it does beg the question of do we really need it. Is it possible for us to change our habits?
As an experiment I have stopped using toilet paper at home; after finishing my business I hop into the shower and the job is done. I'm now up to day 6 and all is well..... I haven't used a single sheet.
So what does all of this have to do with interior design?
Mother Nature is cussed, churlish, devious and - at the same time - extremely resourceful: it has once again tapped us on the proverbial shoulder and reminded us of who's in charge with COVID-19, the latest in a string of contagious viruses with no immediate cure.
It is, therefore reasonable to suggest that we will see more of these viruses occurring if the population continues to grow at its exponential rate.
So to avoid the future need to fight for toilet paper in the aisle of your local supermarket and prevent yourself from ending up on the evening news, why not take the opportunity to rethink your habits in the bathroom?
Perhaps a redesign of our home and public toilets is needed? Perhaps us westerners needs to take note from India, Japan, Indonesia and the Arab nations: lets return to the use of good old soap and water? It's better for your bum and it's also good for the environment too with the reduced need for paper.
I am therefore advocating for the return of the Bidet to bathrooms across Australia; or if you don't have the room to install one then a douche hose and tap fitted adjacent to the toilet will do the trick..... just as I did for a forward thinking client 8 years ago.
Our old friend the bidet - and the douching hose fitted in my clients bathroom
I really do hope that the trusty bidet is here to stay, and if you still have one in your home then I congratulate you for keeping it; remove the plant that's growing in it and start using it!