The analysis of whether people’s toilet habits are funny or not is an interesting subject.
I’ve encountered a wide spectrum of opinion over the years. There are those that are utterly horrified if they stumble into the telling of an anecdote involving white jeans and a stomach bug and there are those that find stories of ‘Midnight Firemen’ and behemothic turds absolutely hilarious.
The rest of us are somewhere in between. It will come as no surprise to those that know me, that I place myself closer to one side than the other. A funny story, well told, is just that.
Going to the toilet is something everybody does, every day of their lives, yet for many, it’s taboo to make jokes or laugh at anything to do with the process. Abstract references are used, to disguise the actual event. People ‘spend a penny’ or ‘pay the water bill’ when actually they are, ‘going for a piss.’ They are ‘nipping upstairs’ or ‘feeding Jim Davidson’ instead of ‘going for a shit.’
In our second book, The Map of Africa, one of the characters decides to defecate into a top loading tumble dryer, for a laugh. It was fairly throwaway for us. It was the kind of thing that went on in the army all the time. In single soldier’s accommodation, the combination of boredom and young men would ensure that barely a week went by without someone unearthing a Devil’s Coil in any number of places that weren’t identifiably toilets.
I found the reaction to that bit of the book quite interesting. Quite a few readers were offended enough by it, to be put off the rest of the book, whilst others commented on it being their favourite bit. I suppose that you can’t please everybody and perhaps describing the noise as ‘like a bag of cement being dropped into an empty skip’ was a little bit too graphic for some.
I like toilet humour, it’s a great leveller. I’ve been amongst groups of people where someone will tentatively relate something about a recent ‘accident’ only to find that, once the taboo has been lifted, everyone in the group is falling over themselves to go one better with their horrific anecdote about the time they found themselves caught short at Glastonbury, with only a couple of tent poles to use as toilet roll.
I like the fact that everyone seems to have their own toilet protocols within the house. I knew someone in the army who, at the age of 28, was still appalled by the fact that his mum liked to leave the door open and carry on chatting whenever she was lighting a bum cigar.
Though I found this quite disturbing, it didn’t prevent me a couple of years later, doing exactly the same thing. We were so bored on a UN operation in Africa, we’d end up going for what came to be known as a ‘sociable.’ There was really nothing to do in the evenings, so we’d find ourselves wandering down to the toilets, which were a pit dug by the Royal Engineers with a couple of rudimentary traps built over them.
We would sit down next to each other then have a nice conversation, which was exactly like other conversations, except that there would be the occasional over emphasis on a particular word. In a way that can never be adequately described with words, witnessing somebody’s face distorting with effort, whilst saying the word ‘birthday’ is truly a sight to behold. I still get flashbacks.
In our house, a place where farting was considered the noblest of the art forms, there was but one rule. Never when mum was in the room. My sister and other female visitors received no such concessions, but my dad was unwavering. If mum was out of the house, we could happily conduct our own brass band which consisted entirely of human tubas. All the events in the flatulent Olympics were included at 18 Gatley Avenue. The Cup-a-fart was something at which we all excelled. This involved farting into your own hand, then ambushing the nearest sibling with the contents. It was a gruesome practice, which was later banned by the European Court for Human Rights. Dad would generally turn a blind eye, occasionally awarding points for ingenuity or pungency. As soon as mum walked in though, it was all over and we became paragons of trumping virtue, going in to the back garden to get rid of our hooberstanks or one-cheek-sneaks.
In the same way that it is said, that the Queen thinks the whole world smells of fresh paint, my mum must have assumed that our house permanently whiffed of Glade air freshener and Shake and Vac, with a slight undertone of cabbage.