From time to time I write my memories of my childhood living in Norfolk. I call these my ‘Norfolk Reflections’. Here is the latest:

Moving Experiences (or Not)

We have just been away in our caravan. Compared to our first caravan, or even our second, this one is the lap of luxury for us. This is because it has a bathroom, with a sink, shower and a working loo, something we never had with the other vans. However, the loo, which all caravanners of this age will know, is a chemical one that has to be emptied periodically down a ‘grey waste’ place on the site. To lessen the number of times hubby has to do this, we always use the on-site facilities, at least during the day. Our little one in the van is for in the night and emergency use only. Emergencies such as when the site one is closed for cleaning and your body insists you have to ‘go’.

As I was walking back from the site loos yesterday, my mind suddenly cast itself back to when I was a child. We lived in a house that had no bathroom. Baths were taken in a tin bath brought into the kitchen and filled with hot water from a free-standing boiler with a tap in it. This was also used on Mondays for the washing (the boiler, not the bath). To go to the loo, we went outside to the door next to our back door. Hence our expression ‘the back door trots’ when one got diarrhoea.

From that, which was at least a proper loo that flushed by pulling a chain, (I still say, have you pulled the chain’ when I mean, ‘have you flushed the loo?’ Fortunately, even the younger members of my family know what I mean) my thoughts wandered onto the Silks’ Farm in Southrepps. My sister, Cheryl, was friends with their daughter, Audrey Silk, and we sometimes got invited to pay them a visit. This was absolutely fine; the farm was an interesting place to be and Audrey’s parents were very nice to us and always gave us a fine tea.

The drawback was the loo. To use it, this involved going across the garden and walking carefully through a narrow path, with nettles waiting to attack your legs. When you reached the toilet, a very glamorous name for what was essentially a small shack, inside there was a wooden seat with a hole on which you were required to sit to do your business. It wasn’t a flushing loo like the one we had at home, but was simply a bucket or something under the wooden seat. I had no idea where the body waste went to after it had been expelled. What I did know was it stank to high heaven. Cheryl and I both hated it. Even when the Silks later had a bathroom put into the house, they still required us to use the outside one. With the inevitable result that Cheryl and I tried to avoid going at all costs and would ‘hold it’ all the hours we were there until we got home and then it was a toss-up who would get into the toilet first! Being younger and smaller, I usually had to wait. Sometimes our next-door neighbour would let me use hers if I was desperate.

I have a vague notion that Mrs Silk did once take pity upon me and allowed me to use the inside one, but the memory of the Stinking Shack has overridden every other memory of being on their farm.

Another abomination in my world of toilets was the ones that were at Cromer Junior School. In an outside toilet block, they were the prime place for disgusting girls who liked to write rude things on walls and doors, and even worse, those who took a delight in stuffing a whole roll of Izal loo paper piece by piece down the loo, bunging it up so that, when flushed, the water would flow over the top, bringing any solid bits of body waste with it – ew! I was exceedingly grateful that I went home for lunch, which meant I didn’t have to ‘hold it’ all day, because there was absolutely no way I was going to use those terrible facilities.

Just a little word about Izal; who remembers that appalling stuff? What was the point of it? It was non-absorbent, so it did nothing but spread the wetness around. Mum used to hold both ends of the pieces and rub them together vigorously to make it softer, in the hope of inducing it to do a better job. It was far more useful as tracing paper; us kids felt it would be better employed in the classroom than in the loos. Thank heaven for Mr Andrex, whoever he is.

Combine these memories with Coeliac Disease and you will understand why I have a toilet fetish. I cannot stand to be somewhere without a toilet nearby. Just a few days ago we went to a lovely beach, smooth sands, few people, calm seas, blue skies. Was I completely happy? No. Why? Because I knew that the toilet block that had once serviced that beach was now closed and boarded up. Okay, so I was able to stay on the beach for a few hours but in the end I insisted we had to go because I couldn’t trust my body any longer. Even after all these years, hubby doesn’t really understand this insecurity. He sort of does, but not completely. I always end up feeling like a baddie because I’ve dragged him away from a lovely place because I can’t stand the thought of not being able to ‘go’ when I need to.

Oh! I’ve just remembered another appalling but amusing toilet incident. Years ago, when my oldest two children were small, we went to stay with my friend Diana in her very nice flat in Plymouth. One day, she said, would I like to visit a friend of hers who lived just over the county border into Cornwall? She warned me that the house wouldn’t be very nice; her friend and the husband were very poor but had managed to buy a house that was pretty much a shell and didn’t even have proper floors in it as yet. That was fine, so we went. The house wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d imagined and all went well until I needed to ‘go’. There were some public toilets on the opposite side of their road but they were shut by that time, so I was directed to the garage, with the rather strange instructions: ‘Mike is in there working on a car, just sing, so he knows you’re there.’

In the garage, Mike looked up as I went in and pointed me to what looked like a sheet of corrugated iron standing on one end. I walked around it and found the ‘convenience’, which was in fact, a bucket, surrounded by three sheets of corrugated iron, forming three ‘walls’. The thing that concerned me most was the fact it was open at the front, and if anyone walked around it, they would see me on the bucket in all my glory, underwear and trousers around my ankles! I knew that Mike knew I was there, which was good because I really didn’t feel like singing. I took my courage in both hands and sat down. Well, no matter how long I sat there, I just couldn’t go. The knowledge that I was exposed, that Mike was in the garage not far away from me and the fear of making a smell, rendered me completely incapable of using these luxurious facilities. In the end, I gave up and exited the garage, waving to Mike on the way out and rejoined everyone else in the house. There my memory ends, for I can’t remember if I coped or not until we got back to Diana’s. Perhaps it was so bad that it’s been wiped from my brain, but I’ll never forget that Bucket in the Garage. I fervently hoped that they did manage to get a bathroom in their house and that their children were never tainted by a loo fetish like mine.

Since I developed more aggressive symptoms of Coeliac, there were many times when poor hubby has driven all over the place to find me a loo when we’ve been out and I’ve ‘been’ in all sorts of unlikely places; the most recent being in a toilet in a gay bar after having just eaten in the House of Commons dining room (which I was assured was perfectly safe for me) but something went drastically wrong so Jeanette spent some considerable time in that loo, being completely unaware where I actually was but grateful to be there, while my friends, one man and several women, had to sit around a table drinking and waiting for me. No doubt a man with a harem of women were somewhat out of place in a gay bar full of men!

At least I can never say that I haven’t had some moving experiences in some interesting places…