Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The third in an occasional series about necessary houses, bogs, WCs, comfort stations, garderobes, heads, johns, ladies' rooms, latrines, lavatories, outhouses, potties, powder rooms, cloakrooms, restrooms, thrones, washrooms, and bathrooms.

Answering a comment from JCB on Friday's post I had one of those paralyzing moments when the eye turns inwards, reality is berthed, and the topography of the past is the byway one takes - the kind of situation when on a too-familiar journey in the automobile there's little recollection of how one arrived at the destination - the body on one journey, the mind on another.

JCB had written that she was comforted to know someone else's reading list is just as randomly diverse as her own, and in reply I was going to mention how I'd grown up in a house devoid of books and there I was, back in my grandparent's living room seeing my grandfather, a fag between his lips, reading the local newspaper - "the pink" as it was known. And pink it was, the paper of that daily with its list of football league scores - vital information in a Lancashire cotton and coal town where winning the pools was an undying hope - a town, deep in a valley, where "thee" and "thou" were still used in its dialect, as were Norwegian words left over from the Viking raids of the 8th century. A town where working men's clubs, nonconformist chapels, darts and dominos, whippet racing, pigeon fancying, growing sweetpeas, joining brass bands and coal miner's choirs that sent Jerusalem, the Hallelujah Chorus and Abide With Me thundering out over the cobblestones, enriched the lives of those staunchly socialist men and women - lives that had been portrayed a generation earlier in Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier, and in my youth in the films of the 1960s.

In this slide down the valley slopes of memory I have come a long way from my original intention of post about bathrooms so let me give you one more memory. My grandfather had cousins in the next town, who lived in a terraced (row) house without an internal bathroom. In the paved, walled area - the backyard - behind the house were two stone-built outhouses. One held coal, the other, the long-drop, or privy. I had never seen a water closet without a flushing mechanism and was totally charmed by the idea that not only was there a slate slab where wood should have been (hell-on-earth to sit on in winter, I would think), but also that the only way to flush it was to wait for the kitchen sink to be drained into it. I say I was charmed, but I waited till I got home, I seem to remember!

So via the flushing mechanism of my mind, I offer you the bathroom belonging to this house - I'm not necessarily continuing my theme of blue in decorating but I couldn't not show it.

Photographs by James Mortimer from article written by Elspeth Thompson for The World of Interiors, March 1994.


  1. I came up to my office to check on the weather forecast and here I am on Blue Street loving your sloping memory, and a few details of your youth and how books came to be a passion all muddled up in your delightful prose. Instead of reading books to me, my father read me newspapers. The editorials were a particular interest. My father had a beautiful voice, a great sense of inflection and more than a healthy dose of good humor. Our local paper (which is where I started my writing career) was a weekly. He liked to read this late at night with a bowl of cornflakes. Said it was the best sleep of the week because he could "go to bed with nothing on his stomach and nothing on his mind." While I know you might have wished for a childhood of books, think in your book-lined room, what a passion for reading your childhood has created. With great affection, your loyal reader, HBD.

  2. How long have you keept that blue Gothic bathroom up your sleeve? If I stood at the sink and turned about, there is just no telling. I didn't wake up this morning expecting to fall for a sink. I'd probably get a lot of reading done in there.

  3. dear home before dark, thank you. I remember my first English Lit teacher in secondary school reading Pride and Prejudice to the class - those were the days when going around the classroom we all read a paragraph or two - and it was her rendition that brought the book alive to me. All I can remember of her, physically speaking, is that she had heart-shaped lipstick that ignored the lines of her mouth. But she could dramatize,she had intonations the likes of which I'd only ever heard on the wireless as we called it, she made Elizabeth Bennett come alive, as she did Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and she made a working class kid, see that there was a whole new world of literature just for him. After Jane Austen we began on Mrs Gaskell and Cranford remains one of my favourite books. Perhaps had she tackled Thomas Hardy I might not have found his books so dreary - as I still do.

    Terry, I hadn't, oddly enough, planned to use it and I can't think why. I'd scanned the photos as part of the post of the library in that house and yesterday was desperate for something to post about. I'd tried to write something about it a few days ago but only yesterday did that room take on meaning.

  4. Really Blue, you come from a very special part of the world...those little towns with stalwart Mums and hardworking Dads. Those little towns with their memorials because they lost so many sons and the population that still pins a poppy to a lapel or jumper. The life isn't easy, but you wrote with affection.

    Heaven in a bathroom! Such a room needs another name!

  5. I love this bath, it is heavenly, and so unique!!

    Art by Karena

  6. Neither of my Southern grandparents' homes had indoor toilets and that was the case into the 1970s. Until satellite television was widely available, traces of Middle English was still common in speech.

  7. This was a wonderful evocation of oop north. I could hear the Dvorak in the background. But yours wasn't clichéd; it was authentic, it was touching. Something a touch contrived about the blue bathroom n'est ce pas? But editorially satisfying.

  8. I will always remember the home we owned on East Victory Drive in Savannah. As a child I was fascinated to peer inside a little room on the backside of the carriage house. It had a different kind of facility we were told explicitly NEVER to use, nor did we ever.