Some of you might want to wash your hands after reading this.
I do some of my best thinking in the toilet. The lavatory is definitely the smallest room in the house, unless of course you have a wine cellar, and even then, you don’t go to the wine cellar to think, do you? Ensconced in the loo with the door shut, one can sit and contemplate, for as long as one likes, really. Someone might tap on the door with an “are you in there?”, but the query is rarely loaded with requests to “hurry up about it because the guests will be here soon”.
Best of all, you can multi-task in the dunny (Oz). For instance I got the idea for this column while (ahem) doing number twos. You didn’t really need to know that, but nevertheless, you do. Not that it was anything close to an original idea. Various popular magazines, newspapers and blogs have seized upon this as a topic for a slow news day/week to beat up anxiety about constipation and piles.
The best part about the smallest room in the house is the certainty that no-one will disturb you there. There have been times (thinks: is this too much information) when I just put the wooden seat down and sit on the lid, elbow on one knee, head resting on one palm. I know, I know, Rodin did it first – a classic pose of rumination.
You can establish a certain atmosphere in the loo with the things you put on the walls – The Prophet, Buddhist prayer flags, calendars, framed tickets to great rock concerts, selfies of the family with famous people, postcards from places your friends have never been.
TR a ‘harmless pastime’
As mentioned, some articles will tell you that reading in the loo is a bad habit which can lead to constipation/piles and angry red welts on one’s buttocks.
Dr Ron Shaoul, an Israeli paediatric gastroenterologist, published a study in 2008, possibly the most scientific attempt to shine light under the dunny door. Shaoul thought toilet reading (TR) was woefully neglected by scientists, considering the habit dated back to the emergence of printed books.
Shaoul and his colleagues began with a hypothesis that toilet reading (TR) provides a distraction and acts as an unconscious relaxation technique, thus allowing an easier defecation process. The authors also examined the possible connection between TR and constipation and haemorrhoids. The study quoted an International Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) survey that four out of ten people read in the toilet, with men (49%) outnumbering women (26%). Newspapers were the most popular reading option, while one in 10 flicked through a magazine. Eight percent read a book and 4% perused their bills.
Shaoul’s study of 500 adults found that TR is common, involving 52.7% of the population. The TR group were less constipated (8.0%vs 13.7%) but had more haemorrhoids (23.6%vs 18.2%). The differences were classified as ‘not significant’, leading Shaoul to conclude that TR is a common and benign habit.
In 2011, The Guardian’s Ian Simple quoted author Henry Miller as a TR advocate.
“All my good reading, you might say, was done in the toilet. There are passages in Ulysses which can be read only in the toilet – if one wants to extract the full flavour of their content.”
Comic songwriter Pete Denahy takes a moment in the YouTube version of his song “Lookin’ at my phone” to scroll through texts while sitting on the loo. Denahy has a knack for a catchy song that resonates with ordinary people. He’s the author of Sort of, Dunno, Nuthin’, a father/son non-conversation that went viral. Note how his phone song changes key four times, itself a parody of some country songs.
Surveys in Australia reveal that 75% of mobile phone users browse the web, text or email while in the loo. If you’ve considered buying a second-hand phone, you need to think about this. The New Zealand Herald revealed that more than two-thirds of New Zealanders use their mobile phones while on the toilet. The Colmar Brunton survey found that 23% used their phones on the loo at home, and 19% took their phone to the toilet while at work.
Died on the throne
Speaking of New Zealand, we would often fantasise during that country’s bleak winters about a sheepskin toilet seat cover with a thin element, like an electric blanket. I’d be the first to concede that this is (a) impractical and (b) potentially dangerous (being that water and electricity never mix well).
Speaking of which, some people have died if not on the toilet, then in close proximity. In the latter category the image that first came to mind was the scene in Pulp Fiction when hitman Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta, is caught with his trousers down. For those who like their research buttered on both sides, in the scene where Butch (Bruce Willis) shoots Vega (Travolta), the latter emerges from the toilet, clutching a book (genius.com says it is Modesty Blaise by Peter O’Donnell), whereupon he espies Butch, who is holding the sub machine gun he found lying next to the toaster. The toast pops and a WTF look is soon wiped from Vincent’s face as director Quentin Tarantino adds one more to the body count.
In real life too, people have died on or near the throne. King Wenceslaus III of Bohemia, George II of Great Britain, and more recently, Lenny Bruce are just some of the names on this list. (Elvis omitted out of respect for ‘The King’)
In 1306, King Wenceslaus was murdered with a spear while sitting in the garderobe (a medieval toilet). Another Wikipedia entry tells us that in 1760 George II of Great Britain died on that other throne from some kind of heart event. More recently (1966) comedian Lenny Bruce also died on the dunny (of a heroin overdose).
Exploding toilets and other myths
There are a few urban myths about dunnies. Australia’s notorious redback spider is said to like hanging out in dark, damp places, although this was thought to be more prevalent in the days of outdoor dunnies. The more benign green tree frog also favours the porcelain pool.
Myth-busting website snopes.com consistently debunks the multiple stories about exploding toilets. In the US, ever-exaggerated myths persist about cat-sized water rats, snapping turtles and alligators living in New York sewers. These pervasive tales have made toilet-training difficult for Manhattan mothers.
Redecorate your dunny
I’m proclaiming 2016 The Year of the Dunny, a time when the smallest room in the house can be given a makeover. It should be repainted in soothing colours, have at least some artwork, wind chimes, scented candles, potted plants, a magazine rack and well-located shelves to place your book/mobile phone/IPad/glass of red. Shop around for less prosaic toilet roll covers. Wire a pair of Bose speakers into the ceiling so you can stream dunny music of your choice from paytheartistsapittance.com. May I suggest Randy Newman’s Political Science, Bob Segar’s Night Moves, and (you can never be too careful), instructions for your executor via that Bee Gees song, you know…“In the event of something happening to me…”