One of the things instilled in me as a child was being made to pay a visit to the loo before putting on my coat whenever we were going out. Old habits die hard.
” ‘Av you beeeeen?‘ was a catchphrase from a TV comedy series called Nearest and Dearest. It ran in the UK from 1968 to 1973, and starred Hylda Baker (4 Feb 1905 – 1 May 1986) and Jimmy Jewel (4 Dec 1909 – 3 Dec 1995) as Eli and Nellie Pledge, a brother and sister who had to run their late father’s pickle business for five years before they could inherit any money. I never saw the final episodes as it wasn’t really my cup of tea even as a child. However, the phrase became a family joke aimed in my direction as everyone thought I had a weak bladder. They still do actually. Nothing could be further from the truth as I’ll only use public lavatories if I’m absolutely desperate, and forget about going in a field or the bushes. It just doesn’t happen.
I know exactly when mind overcame necessity. I was 4 and suddenly needed the toilet as most young children do. We were visiting an elderly aunt, and her toilet was outside. I wasn’t worried as we had an outside toilet at home as well as the one in our upstairs bathroom. Except this wasn’t a toilet as I knew it. This was a shed at the bottom of the garden housing a hole in the ground covered by a box. This had little squares of newspaper hanging on string supported by a nail. There was no light switch, the only light coming through a moon shaped hole in the door. This STANK. Some people call them Thunder Boxes, others know them as Honey Buckets. To my inexperienced young eyes and nose though, it was dark, dirty and smelly, and there was no way I was going to sit my delicate bum on it. The need ‘to go’ vanished, fast!
Now this little bit of personal history brings me nicely into another collection I had, but one in my childhood only.
If ever we visited anyone, my first question was always ‘Where’s the bathroom please?’ I was just making sure that I would never have to face an outside shed again in case of an emergency. It wasn’t that I wanted to use it, I just wanted to know where it was, that was all. People became used to this young child sticking her head round their bathroom door and didn’t think anything of it. My ritual got a little out of hand though, and I started to pinch things. Or should I say, pinch something in particular. Maybe pinched is not really a good word to use here, but I can’t say borrowed as I never put it back. It wasn’t a compulsion, it was a fascination, and did no harm to anyone. It was never missed, probably considered used and I’d just slip it into my pocket to add to my growing collection at home.
My first encounter came as a very pleasant surprise. It was sitting there, very prettily in its rightful place alongside the lavatory with its pink fluffy lid cover and matching floor mat. What had attracted me was that the toilet roll was also PINK! This was the first time I had ever seen a coloured variety and naturally assumed these people were very rich, as although we’d moved on from newspaper and the familiar shiny stuff they used in schools, we only had white at home. I tore a piece off and put it up my sleeve, hoping no-one would notice. After that, I always had to go to the bathroom on arrival when visiting anywhere, and coloured paper was in almost all of them. My favourite was a pastel aquamarine, though I only ever knew of one household that had it. I never saw it in the shops so maybe they were mega rich and had it delivered by mail order or even dyed specially like those paints you can get mixed in DIY stores today.
By now, I had loads of different blues, greens, pinks, yellows, golds, creams plus various flowered and checked.
Someone even had an everlasting crossword puzzle in their bathroom, but I never found out where the answers were. Maybe they were at the end of the roll, but I didn’t dare unravel it to see. Someone was bound to notice that! These days of course there are quilted, puppies, wedding bells, stripes, Mr Men, dinosaurs, cartoons, in fact almost anything, so it’s pretty big business!(Make of that comment what you will)
To be honest, I don’t know what happened to my collection. I grew out of it as soon as supermarket shelves became stacked to the ceiling with coloured toilet tissue. I suppose it was because it wasn’t a novelty anymore, and bathrooms no longer held any secret treasures for a young child.