Mr Saddlebags
I’m always deeply suspicious of - or at least, profoundly disappointed with - anyone whose toilet doesn’t have a pile of books for me to dip into (as it were) while nature takes its lavatorial course.  To my mind, the availability of reading matter, or the lack of it, in the cludgie (as they’re known in Sheffield) says a lot about someone’s personality, or lack of personality.  After all, you can’t be blessed with much of a sense of wonder or curiosity if all you want to do is just sit there and get it all over with as quickly as possible, can you?

On reflection, I’d say that I’ve had some fairly profound experiences in the jakes (as I think it used to be called in Gateshead) - both my own and other people’s.  It was in a friend’s toilet that I first read the poems of W B Yeats and another friend’s bathroom library introduced me to gardening - now, sadly, a skill I seem to have lost.

At present, the bookshelf in my own netty keeps me occupied, one way or another, for hours on end.  So much so that, if I didn’t live alone, there would always be someone knocking on the door asking if I was ‘nearly finished’.  (My Nana used to do this all the time; as a kid, I got no peace at all.)

For a start, there’s a cracking little book called Dirty French.  It lists the kind of phrases you don’t find in official French dictionaries but hear all the time on the streets of Lyon.  Such as…

Ce cassoulet m’a donné la chiasse
That cassoulet gave me the runs

Une louise
A long, thin, whistling fart

Il a une téte à claques
He has a face made for slapping

Un panier à salade
A ‘black maria’ - a prison van.  Literally, 'a salad basket'.

Watch out!
(Literally ’22!’ - nobody knows why)

Next to Dirty French is a wondrous volume called Queen Elizabeth’s Wooden Teeth.  It’s a digest of many historical facts which everybody believes to be true but which are actually complete fabrications…

Queen Elizabeth I did not have wooden teeth, Winston Churchill was not born in a ladies’ toilet, Sir Walter Raleigh did not introduce potatoes from the New World (or tobacco either, for that matter), Abraham Lincoln did not write the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope, King Cnut did not try to hold back the tide to prove his regal powers…

Good, solid, meaty, QI stuff like that.

Next, there’s a book called The Old Dog and Duck:  The Secret Meanings of Pub Names.  Hildie gave it to me as a birthday present years ago and it’s been in my toilet ever since.
It tells me why the pub near where I used to live in London was called The Eagle and Child and why there are two pubs in London called The Case Is Altered.  Then there’s The Cat and Fiddle (and in Rotherham, The Cat and Cabbage), The Pig and Whistle, The Bag of Nails, The Tumbledown Dick, The Swan With Two Necks, The Quiet Woman, The Trouble House, and The Tickled Trout.  To name but a few.

The next book on the shelf is called One Hundred Favourite Poems.  I love this book - it calms me down when I’m agitated (and who has never been agitated in the toilet?) and lifts my often beleaguered spirits by turns - which is what poetry is surely meant to do.

Who would have guessed - for example - that care for animal welfare is nothing new or that it could be expressed as elegantly and as simply as this…

'Twould ring the bells of Heaven
The wildest peal for years,
If Parson lost his senses
And people came to theirs,
And he and they together
Knelt down with angry prayers
For tamed and shabby tigers
And dancing dogs and bears,
And wretched, blind pit ponies,
And little hunted hares.

My book tells me that that was written by a man called Ralph Hodgson, who was born in Darlington in 1871.  That being the case, I’m ashamed never to have heard of him - especially as ‘he was one of the earliest writers to be concerned with ecology, speaking out against the fur trade and man’s destruction of the natural world.’  Reading just this one poem makes me want to know more about yet another of our forgotten local heroes.

As if all this weren’t enough - and to stop me pondering the meaning if Life, the Universe and Everything as I sit enthroned - there’s The Ivan Morris Puzzle Book.  I’ve had this vexing book for so long that I can’t ever remember not owning it.

The puzzles, mostly of the logic or lateral thinking type, are genuinely infuriating.  Here’s one to take to the toilet with you…

Three professors of philosophy have applied for a job at the university.  As a test of their logic skills, the Dean tells them: ‘I will draw a blue or a white dot on each of your foreheads.  If you see a white dot on anyone’s forehead, raise your right hand.  As soon as you know your own colour, lower your hand.’

He then puts white dots on each of their foreheads and of course they all raise their hands.

But soon, one of them lowers his hand and says ‘Obviously, I must have a white dot.’

How did he know?  (...assuming there were no mirrors in the room.)

But for quite some time now, my favourite toilet book has been The Book of 1,339 Facts - yet another present from Hildie.  I’ve quoted it on the the blog before - here’s a second helping…

*The longest recorded flight of a domestic chicken lasted 13 seconds

*The world’s largest jigsaw has 552,232 pieces

*The official State Dance of North Carolina is the Shag

*Nazi uniforms were designed by Hugo Boss

*The Arabic word for a hamster translates as ‘Mr Saddlebags’
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Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com


Sid said...

The White Dot thing....not wishing to sound smug, but if the other two raise their hand then they can see two other white dots each. Yours and one of each other.

Sid said...

I am truly longing for something to put in my toilet. It's not a book...but it could be. Some of it may be fact, but probably most of it will be fiction. I hope I live long enough to read it...
Please Mr Chilcott give me something for the loo.

Bentonbag said...

Once upon a time I was at a coffee morning at Glebe School.
Sitting near me was a young mum with her mum who were talking about her sister/daughter who was terrified of the Daleks.
Grandma had been to Blackpool and bought a lifesized poster of a Dalek and she and Mum were discussing where to put it in sister's house for best, most terrifying effect.
After a while I said "Put in on the back of the toilet door"
They looked at me questioningly so I said
"Well she won't see it until she's shut the door and sat down"
There was a moment's thought then Mum said
"Aye, and she'll be in the right place when she sh8ts herself."
Grandma looked at me and said appraisingly
"I like you: you're evil."

Ian Robinson said...

I knew this would happen! Pin back yer lugholes (as they used to say)...
You're right, Sid. But remember - the instruction was to raise your hand if you can see A WHITE DOT. So yes, we'd all raise our hands. BUT how does that prove that YOUR dot is white? The two other people COULD have raised their hands because they could (conceivably) only see EACH OTHER'S forehead dots.
Answer me that!
(Maybe we should foregather for a coffee before this comes to blows!)