Saturday, February 06, 2010

Toilets of Rhodesia and other Number Twos of Notice: Part Three

I would like to point out that in my 51 and a bit years, I have had a lot of experience regarding toilets. I have used them, installed them, cleaned them, and even thrown them out the window…

I suppose the average white mans toilet in urban Rhodesia,was very much what we could now purchase today in any British DIY.

As a kid, (in Rhodesia), I can’t remember when I first noticed a square flannel type object hanging from the latrines chrome handle. I certainly was never told what it was for, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to ask. I think it was to wipe splashes, which I sort of did. I must remember to ask my Step-Mum one day what the hell it was really for.

As for the brush, I think we had one of those, but little bowls, uncharged with beer, tended not to explode in such a way as to necessitate using the thing. This was all pre-Chinese plastic versions. Ours were Made in Rhodesia and had real wooden handles, and bristles like a death row electrified old mans beard, intertwined in a braided oval steel wire. Eventually that would go rusty, and leave hairs floating in the pan.

The domestics who lived in the ‘kia’ (usually a two room, small abode , built at the bottom of the back garden, with shared ‘kitchen’ and ablution facilities), had a different toilet to ours. Ours was white and called Shanks and was made from China, but not in China. Theirs was black (actually, very dark grey), and made from solid concrete.

Ours had really fancy works in its water box. I would take the lid off, which was rather heavy, and watch as the water screamed in, (never met a silent re-load yet), and watch how the copper bubble on its long thin arm, slowly raised until the hissing jet stream was cut off. At school they never explained the fascinating engineering that went into this.

The domestics had a different system. Theirs was a cast iron box mounted high above the head and a lever stuck out with a chain attached. Pull the chain and water whooshed down a pipe into the cavernous dark hole (no lid, or bum-hole seat).

In 1966, when at the age of eight and half, I spent Xmas with my biological mother in a working class city within a city – Salford. She lived in a condemned Victorian terraced house. There was no bathroom or in house little room. A bath was a large tin bucket with water heated from the coal fire.

I remember that, but more so, when in the confusing time as my parents split and I was shuffled backwards and forwards from the UK, I landed up staying with an Auntie. This is exactly as I had to bathe –

The biggest fear was that no one had a schilling to put in the gas meter!

Having a number two was scary, for the depository was in the back yard.

It looked a bit like this –

I recall that the flush refused to work one evening, no matter how my little shivering frame hung on it, but my mother’s husband sorted that out by beating the tank with a large stick. It was frozen stuck!

You can imagine how relieved I was to get back to Rhodesia!

To be continued…

A wonderful article from the Gazette (where I lifted some of the pics), about toilets and bathrooms 40 years ago in urban working class UK, can be found here.

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