Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pulling the chain and other puerile joys

This morning at my Mum's house I found - finally! - my photo album from my first visit to Tasmania 11 years ago. I went there with a friend I'll call The Photographer. We spent ages seeking out perfect locations and framing our shots and the album is a stunner, even if I say so myself. Postcard photos!

Mixed in with the postcard shots of heavenly scenery are the pics of us having fun.

In one photo, I am balancing a chamber pot on my head. You'll be pleased to know it's empty. (Unfortunately my computer can't read the CD it's stored on, which is a bit of a worry and something I'll have to sort, otherwise you'd see it here in all its glory.)

I have always found chamber pots to be a wonderful source of amusement. I have a very advanced sense of toilet humour, which was the bane of my grandmother's existence when I was a girl. She wanted me to be A Lady. I wanted to be a tomboy.

My grandparents didn't have an indoor toilet until some time in the early 1970s, so my early childhood memories of staying there for holidays involved chamber pots. There was always one under the bed, as nobody wanted to head down to the back yard and the unlit outdoor dunny in the pitch black of night. If you needed a pee in the middle of the night, you squatted carefully over the pot. Even more carefully the next morning you took it through the house and down the back yard and tipped it into the loo. Or Mum did. Hilarious as I thought chamber pots were, the sight and smell of a semi-full one was a bit too much for me.

As for the outdoor dunny, it was a gem. The walls were of fibro, the roof of corrugated iron. The door had a gap top and bottom so the light could get in. The bog roll was on a hook that was always a little rusty. My grandparents lived by the sea.

My cousins and I used to delight in peeking under the door and teasing whoever was sat on the seat (which was made of utilitarian black plastic).

Best of all, it had a chain flush. A proper old-fashioned chain with a black bakelite handle which released a thunderous fall of water from the cistern near the roof. Pulling the chain was very satisfying - you'd give it a damned good tug, release it and watch it fly roofwards -  and one of the things I missed when the indoor toilet was installed, as its cistern was conventionally behind the seat and it flushed quietly with a discreet little button.

You don't see chain flush toilets much anymore. My other grandmother had one too in her old house in Clovelly. It was an inside toilet next to the scullery, on the covered in back porch.

At the primary school I went to chain flush toilets were still in place in the 60s and 70s. The newest school building, built in the 1960s, featured chain flushes. In the girls' loo there were two rows of toilets from memory, and it was a good game to have a race to see who could dash into each cubicle and pull the chain down the row of loos. Even better, you'd wait until someone was sat down, climb silently into the cubicle next door, reach over and pull as quickly as you could, trusting you wouldn't be seen by the unlucky girl who just got a wet bum.

This year's Tassie photos don't feature any chamber pots - but I did spy one in an antique shop and, looking at the price, wish we'd kept my grandparents'! I didn't encounter a chain flush toilet either, although I'm sure many still exist, hidden on farms and in older houses. If the chain flush toilet still exists in any number, it will exist in Tassie, my heart tells me.

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