Saturday, 29 March 2008

Bog Psychology

What's your poo telling youA friend of mine, a psychology graduate, entertained thoughts of becoming a Poo Psychologist. 'So many people's psychological problems,' she claimed. 'Come down to their bowel movements. A healthy bowel leads to a healthy mind.' 


It comes as no surprise that I completely agree with her and encouraged her in her aspirations; alas, it was not to be. She still stands by her theory and we both hope that there's someone out there doing valuable research in the important field of Poo Psychology.


The Children's Hospital in Boston, USA has a Voiding Improvement Program (VIP - I kid you not) to help the parents of untoilet-trainable toddlers. The problem is not uncommon, and anxious parents pass their anxiety on to their anxious children, compounding it.


All that anxiety is pointless; as Dr Alison Schonwald, supervising paediatrician at "Poop School" poignantly says, 'No one goes to college in diapers, right?' But there must be a sense of inadequacy for parents who cannot 'train' their child to perform their ablutions. I'd bet a million dollars that their own toilet habits are adversely affected.


Kaidangku In China, there's no issue with toilet training. Babies and toddlers wear kaidangku (open-crotch pants - seriously) because relatives are cheaper and more abundant than nappies. This has problems of its own. I've seen a 2 year old crap in the aisle of a supermarket, but Grandma was there to quickly wipe it up and clean the floor. I've also seen a woman on the bus, laughing and running down the aisle with her grandson who was obliviously peeing, and holding him over the rubbish bin. Children in China learn from a very early age to associate their bladder and bowel urges with a physical act.


But back to those kids at the Toilet Hospital. Many of them actually have a fear of the toilet itself. And no wonder. They have no reference point for it. They might occasionally see Mum or Dad sitting on the toilet, but not often, and probably only in a demonstrative capacity. The bathroom is a strange place where adults lock themselves in and emerge minutes later with damp hands.


Ads on TV for toilet paper or air freshener will never show an adult, unless they are cleaning the toilet. Toilet paper companies use dogs or children to advertise their products, but never adults. Adults curiously never need to use the toilet - it's something that only children are forced to do; no wonder they are anxious about it.


As a daily bowel mover myself, I can't fathom those people who only crap a couple of times a week. If their bowels and intestines are so crammed full of shit, how can you trust them?

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Hundertwasser Toilets!

Last year The Bathroom Diaries Toilet of the Year went to the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa, New Zealand. I found this out shortly after I moved to New Zealand, and I wondered if I would ever get the opportunity to see them.

Well, I did, and here they are.

Hundertwasser Toilets

The view from across the street. Yes, that's a tree coming out of the roof.

The vestibule

The 'lobby'. And the trunk of the tree.

Bottle privacy wall

Most of these bottles are Jim Beam.

Wall mosaic by the ladies toilet

I was only able to take photos of the ladies toilet.

The ladies toilet

From the front door.

Pretty tiles!

From the toilet seat.

Gate to the boys toilet

The gate to the boys toilet. Forbidden territory!

I've read other blog posts that say 'meh' to the Hundertwasser toilets. I say, screw them. I think they're fab. And the fact that tour buses stop so that you can hop out and take a photo of the toilets is just brilliant. You couldn't make that up.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Tomb toilet users say no to roofless loo

A lot of news out of India this week about the use, misuse, abuse and disuse of toilets.

First up in Ainapur, an historic tomb is being used as a toilet by local residents, much to the fury of Raju S Vijapur. That reminds me of my trip to Pompeii back in 2000 - really, I'd never seen so much human excrement in a public space.

Over in Erode, The Hindu reports that an incomplete toilet has stood roofless for 2 years. There is a push on in the area to install private toilets in people's homes and so the building hasn't had the funding it needs to be completed. While locals say that the roofless structure can't be used for anything else, the story doesn't say if it's still suitable as a toilet - perhaps if the local government body renamed it the Pudur Panchayat Tomb locals would start using it.

In Hyderabad, the State government has responded to reports of poor hygiene in teaching hospitals by contracting Sulabh to maintain their toilets. Sulabh International is one of my favourite organisations; they provide user-pays toilets and hygiene facilities to Indian villages and use the profits to educate children who would otherwise be human waste collectors.

But I think the most interesting bog news today is a short story out of the US. A 13 year old boy has allegedly used his teacher's lunchbox to urinate in, when she wouldn't let him go to the toilet.

I hope he did so to make a statement about the ridiculousness of placing constraints on our bladders. I've been in meetings where I've been too embarrassed to get up and go to the loo, the expectation being that one should wait until the end of the meeting. I'm all for strengthening pelvic floor muscles, but don't tell me to hold onto a full bladder for three quarters of an hour and expect me to pay attention! There's an assumption that as adults we should 'know better', plan our toilet breaks appropriately and not interrupt public or social events with toilet calls, but I think that's unrealistic. Most of us simply aren't thinking about our bladders all the time. I still find myself saying, many, many years after being toilet trained, "But I didn't need to go earlier!"

And the really fab news is that when you do need to go in Japan you can use Microsoft Vista toilet paper. Honestly, you couldn't make that up.Vista bog roll

Monday, 17 March 2008

The Thinker

Often, when the world seems a bit much, I'll go to the toilet, sit down and have a long hard think. The toilet is a great place to have a 2 minute power nap at work, or a cry, or just a quiet sit down.The Thinker,

Kansas woman Pam Babcock sat down on her boyfriend's toilet for a quiet think two years ago, and was removed this week when her boyfriend finally called the police. New reports indicate that she may not have been sitting on the toilet the entire time, but may have actually managed to get up and bathe herself occasionally. Her boyfriend claimed that

his girlfriend moved around the bathroom, bathed and changed into fresh clothes he brought her. He claimed they had conversations and a normal relationship - except it all took place in the bathroom. (Telegraph)

After the initial report of "woman spends two years on toilet" the excitement around this story has died down and the coverage has been anything but journalistic. A satirical columnist at The Times brands Pam as the world's first "half woman, half toilet". Commenting on a woman's apparent prerogative to be irrational he asserts that "it is every woman’s very real right to become a woman-toilet hybrid creature if she so wishes". (The Times) Clearly, a person doesn't just confine herself to the toilet because she is a woman; this is a case of mental illness or trauma.

It's still unclear at this stage if her boyfriend will be charged.

Woman at Her Toilet, Henri de Toulouse-LautrecIn the meantime, I really feel for Pam. When I've been especially hungover, I find the comforting allure of all that clean porcelain and soft tissue paper utterly irresistible. At my previous place of employment, a woman from the floor below would retire to the ladies toilet twice hourly to have a good sob (I found out afterwards that she'd just had a bad breakup), which was occasionally disconcerting if you were in the cubicle next door.

I don't (believe I) suffer from any sort of mental illness myself, but I can totally sympathise with someone finding very real refuge in a toilet. I only hope that she and her boyfriend get the care they obviously need.

Thursday, 13 March 2008


Tomorrow is my last day at my current job. There are many reasons why I'm leaving, but this is the main one:

What's wrong with this picture?

You can see why I have to leave.

Let me show you again, just to make sure you got it.



Monday, 10 March 2008

Low income loo bonus

Low income residents in Seattle can look forward to making some real savings with the launch of a scheme by Seattle Public Utilities to provide free efficient toilets.

Read the story here

The toilets can save more than $100 a year in bills.

Back when I was a really poor student, my local council had a similar initiative. A very friendly man came around to my dodgy flat and gave me two free energy-efficient lightbulbs, changed my shower head to a water-efficient model and even checked to see how efficient my toilet was. It wasn't very, so he put some sort of brick in it to lessen the amount of water it used.

I don't know if I had any very noticeable reductions in my bills, but it was a great idea. The best thing was, it was free. I could never have afforded to make those sorts of money saving changes. It's the same old lament: you need money to save money.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

On the bathroom wall

Florian Süssmayr An exhibition at New York's Nicholas Robinson Gallery has piqued my interest in public toilet art. The exhibition by Munich-based artist Florian Süssmayr includes a painting of graffiti on a bathroom wall.                                                                                                                                                       

I've seen some really beautiful graffiti on toilet walls, and it always provokes the question 'is it art?'

What is a fart? From

Toilet graffiti falls into several categories:

Opinion graffiti - such as "Fuck the government" or "Bush lies" or "Stop Japan whaling" - is merely using a public space to provide an opinion. The writer in this case is doing the equivalent of standing on a street corner and yelling. They are sharing a piece (or the whole) of their manifesto with the public. The proclamation can lead to dialogue with written responses and can take up the entire cubicle wall.

Thoughtful graffiti - such "Lewis Carroll speaks to me" or "Yeah, I'm burning" - isn't designed to provoke written responses, but more of a 'what the fuck?' response. These are usually my favourite, as they tend to make me smile and think 'wow, some people are weird'. Thoughtful graffiti of this kind often has the power of poetry and so can have some of the aesthetic or emotional elements of art.

outhouse But I also really like provocative graffiti. I call it provocative not because it's in any way controversial, but because it usually says something about the ridiculousness of the world. Vault pumping isn't impossible, merely highly improbably. 'What is art?' is a less important question than 'What is a fart?'

There are some really lovely pictures of toilet (and other) graffiti over at Pictures of Walls (where the pics on this post come from). For some more mundane ones, try Current.

I've excluded any mention of 'tagging' only because personally I don't think much of it as an artform. Toby Ganley, in an article in M/C Journal, says "that the design of the tag is not intended to be accessible to those outside of the subculture" but that "the aggressive delivery of it as a text – its placement on a public surface – renders it a public work to some extent" to which a response might be expected. My response to tagging has always been 'meh', but then I'm clearly outside of the subculture. 

Friday, 7 March 2008

Stirring the Pot

You'd have to have been hiding under your toilet to have missed the news out of the UK this week of a national government guideline on public toilets.

Communities Minister Baroness Andrews unveiled the guidelines today, admitting that "some people may find the whole idea of a strategic guide on public toilets funny".

The guidelines basically endorse the clever innovations of Westminster and Richmond upon Thames councils, including the SatLav and community toilet schemes.

The Conservatives half-heartedly attacked the report, claiming it endorses the closing of free public toilets, and leaves those already disadvantaged by loo loss even worse off. They also throw in a rather snarky jab about the Prime Minister's 'hypocrisy' in having the gents toilets in the "First Lord's Residence" refurbished at tax-payers expense. It seems reasonable to me that the state should expect to refurbish the Prime Minister's office loos on occasion; they are a work environment just as any other. But I can't blame them for succumbing to the temptation of making the comparison.

I think the community toilet scheme is a great idea, because it's so human. I tend to dislike other solutions, such as spaceship toilets, because they attempt to mechanise an animal action, which I think makes the whole thing seem dirty. However, there are fundamental flaws with the community toilet scheme. The key is in the word 'community' - the scheme relies on people to work together in a social way. There are great publicans who realise that 'very normal people' get caught out when they're out. But there are plenty who follow the 'it will lead to trouble' line, and who rant about the 'young people' who will abuse the system. From the Whitehaven News:

The landlady of The Anchor Vaults, Janice Burns, agrees that opening the toilets to non-customers would be an opportunity for youths to misuse and vandalise the toilets. Consequently, she would not go ahead with the idea, even if offered government money.

The main people advocating the community toilet scheme are from groups concerned with bladder conditions, old people and people with small children; I couldn't care less about any of those people. I feel that 'community' schemes like this fail because they ignore the needs of young people and public drunks, who are, apparently unfortunately, part of the community. Well, young people and public drunks need to piss too, and I suspect that if you make them feel unwelcome in 'community' toilets they very well may start vandalising them.

(I'm reminded of a time I was told I couldn't use the public toilet in a KFC in Sydney - I walked round to the staff carpark at the back and pissed on the nicest car there. And I'd only had a few beers.)

The SatLav, meanwhile, is very clever. I haven't investigated it yet, but I wonder if it's very useful at 2 in the morning?

All in all, I'm very impressed with the guidelines. 24dash is right when it says that it is the first of its kind. I've seen reports come out about the state of toilets in third world countries, but a national toilet strategy for a wealthy nation is unheard of. The only thing close is the Australian toilet map, which is government sponsored. I wonder if these 'guidelines' are a precursor to a more robust document?

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Beijing becomes city with world's largest number of public toilets

Beijing becomes city with world's largest number of public toilets

Of course, it's not hard to beat New York in this pissing contest, as New York doesn't have ANY public toilets!

One New Zealand dunny

DSC04724 They don't make their toilets half bad down under. This gorgeous little cabin is somewhere on the South Island (I'll have to dig out my notes to find out exactly where). It makes the long drops of my youth seem dingy by comparison. Of course, the long drops of my youth were dingy, and full of redback spiders and cockroaches.