I am quite delighted by the response to my very brief mention of the Outhouse Museum in Liverpool, NS. I have plenty of other stories of outhouses and public bathrooms of all sorts, this being one of those topics that I find more fascinating that prudery or common politeness would normally feel appropriate. The eschewal of these sordid everyday details is normally a good thing in stories, because it often breaks down the rhythm and distracts the focus of the narrative. But it really doesn’t stop me wondering.
What do Tolkien’s elves do all day?
I write about the mystery of magic, and it is; I also write about the daily lives of the people who are part of the mysteries in other people’s stories. And why I love things like outhouse museums.
The best public washrooms I have ever been to were in the small town of North Berwick, outside of Edinburgh in Scotland. I was going to Tantallon Castle, which is a couple of miles outside of North Berwick, with a couple of friends from the University of Edinburgh where I was studying that year. We got off the bus and asked at the tourist information for directions to the castle, and also where we could use the facilities. Along with directions we were proudly informed — and I do mean proudly, with all civic honour at stake — that the North Berwick public washrooms were the best in the United Kingdom.
Bemused is exactly the word for how I felt. We didn’t know whether to laugh along with this joke or take it at face value, so we simpered uncomfortably and made our way to the place in question. And, oh my, they really were the best public washrooms in the United Kingdom. As I said, the best I’ve ever been to — and I’ve been to many. But these ones had won awards.
Life is stranger than fiction, says Mark Twain, because we don’t make it up. It’s true. I had no idea there was such a thing as the Loo of the Year awards, but there is, and the North Berwick public washrooms had won them for something like the past twenty years. They had flowers. They had real towels. They had cheerful lights. Few private homes have half so pleasant or so clean facilities.
I’ll leave stories of the worst public washrooms for another day. Right now, I will give you a link to another city’s efforts at roistering up civic pride in their washrooms, in this case in the aftermath of disaster where the details of everyday life become desperately central once the initial problem is dealt with.
Christchurch, New Zealand’s, ‘long drops’, the home-made outhouses of a modern city whose sewer system no longer works. (I have to say I think I would have given the ‘Turdis’ a prize as well.)
As for the other element of what goes on in the privy chamber, I’m going to give you my list of July books, because this is honestly something more for my own record-keeping than your interest so you might as well delight yourself with the Long Drops instead.
Books Read, July 2012:
Just the Sexiest Man Alive, Julie James
Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris (borrowed)
The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale (library)
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, Jennifer Reese (library)
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver (library)
The Story of the Stone, Barry Hughart (mine)
Easy to Like, Edward Riche (library)
The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy (library)
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender (library)
The Legend of Nightfall, Mickey Zucker Reichart
The Return of Nightfall, Mickey Zucker Reichart (mine, owned and unread for several years! — read twice)
Midlife Crisis at 30, Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin (library)
Plato’s Swan, myself (not sure if I should count this, but read it over I did — and now I’m revising it again)
*The Defense of Poesy, Sir Philip Sidney (owned for some time)
All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye, Christopher Brookmyre
Coop, Michael Perry (library)
The Hallowed Hunt, Lois McMaster Bujold
All Hallow’s Eve, Charles Williams
Redemption in Indigo, Karen Lord (library)
Beast, Donna Jo Napoli (library)
Song of the Magdalene, Donna Jo Napoli (library)
The Secret History of Fantasy, ed. Peter S. Beagle (library)
The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss (library)
23 books, 17 of them for the first time, of which three were previously owned. Also, one for work — I’ve read a number of books partially for the course I’m preparing, but Sidney was the only one I finished in July. More to come in August!