The Privy of Perfection – or The Metamorphosis of Ajax


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Doesn’t everyone have that fear when they sit on the toilet? The fear that once you have placed cheek to seat, relaxed your sphincter and disgorged, that the concurrent shiver of relief (such a magnificent moment!) will be interrupted by something icy, strange, but unmistakably a limb, wriggling like an eel up your rectum. Doesn’t everyone fear those clammy fingers slithering up their buttocks? Slithering around their tender insides? Doesn’t everyone get a bit nervous that they’ll feel that slimy hand gripping tight their intestines with a strength so fierce that they will be incommodiously rooted forever to their commode?

I certainly do.

Sir John Harrington devoted an entire book to an allegorical treatment of the construction of his flushing loo, complete with specially composed music. A great discussion of toilet aesthetics is to be found within In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki, who gives a lot more thought to this neglected subject than it is usually allowed. Important though, is the lavatorial position, not only in the realms of digestion, but also in the more cerebral appreciation of art and literature. What other place is so arresting? Luxury Victorian toilets were often furnished with a battery of conveniences: newspaper holders; pipe-stands; a lecturn for books or sheet music; a handy dining table complete with cutlery drawer (television dinners versus defecation dinners?). A picture hung before the privy ensures that it will be a picture well studied. Though measures will need to be taken to make sure that the art-work is damp-resistant. I recommend something with plenty of detail, like a reproduction of a work by Pieter Brueghel the Elder for example, perhaps his Dutch Proverbs. Or something educational, to make sure that time on the crapper is time not wasted. A map of the world would be good in this case, the Peters Projection, a star chart, or a infographic detailing the most frequently flown flight routes around the globe. Besides the visual material, you should place a list of information that you wish to learn. The Latin and common names for the flora of Great Britain would be great bog-knowledge. Or placing a handy list of the Roman Emperors, the presidents of the United States  or the elements of the periodic table on the wall somewhere in the latrine would ensure that the ablutional experience is as edifying as it is entertaining.

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