Clochemerle, loos, and all that …


What’s with the pissoir in Clochemerle?

WHEN I was a boy, I think my mother had a problem with toilets. Not the functions but the architecture.

Mum was quite “distressed” by the outhouse, which was situated some 10 metres from the house, out in the back yard.

Hence, the one horror story she recounted of my early childhood was that I would habitually knock on the outhouse door, while she was in there, and ask, rather loudly, “Mum, what are you doing?”

I was an otherwise perfect child if the lack of other or worse stories were any indication. I was inquisitive.

Equally, I remember her anguish and annoyance when a BBC production of a French story, Clochemerle, appeared on our television guide.

Clochemerle was a farce, originally political, which, I suspect, the BBC funded as a shot at the French.

It involved a small French town in the Beaujolais region, which put in a public urinal, a “pissoir”, in the town square, outside the Catholic Church.

Mum mumbled imprecations against the BBC for weeks.

They’re funny things toilets, aren’t they? More funny peculiar than funny Ha!Ha!; though not if you’re a little boy of a certain age or, sometimes, not so young.

In a way though, they define civilisation. The earliest sewer systems known were in the Indus Valley; a technology present in almost every house in the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro more than 8000 years ago. The Romans had them.

More than 5000 years ago the dwellings at Skara Brae, in the Orkney Islands, were all connected by a sewerage system.



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All that c@%$

I would like to clear up one misconception before I sign off. It is an urban myth that the flushing toilet was invented by Thomas Crapper.

Though he held patents on numerous toilet-related inventions, Thomas did not invent the flushing toilet.

His greatest claim to fame is that he invented and patented the ball cock system that made flushing toilets more efficient and is still in use today.

The wily amongst you will no doubt have discerned another connection between Mr Crapper and toilets.

Yes, it does seem that a form of his name has come down to us in a colloquial term for the function one performs when using the toilet.

As with all things, there is some debate about this but let us leave the topic entirely, as, I’m sure, my mother would have wished.


Clochemerle, loos and all that … first published in the Maryborough Herald, 24 June 2020. 

















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