"I just happened to glance at the night sky and I marvelled at the millions of stars glistening like pieces of quicksilver thrown carelessly onto black velvet. In awe I watched the waxen moon ride across the zenith of the heavens like an amber chariot towards the void of infinite space wherein the tethered bolts of Jupiter and Mars hang forever in their orbital majesty; and as I looked at all this, I thought, ‘I must put a roof on this lavatory’."

Les Dawson

What’s this bit doing here? I’m simply fascinated by toilets – a crucial aspect of every journey. I spend a substantial amount of time on each trip looking for them, anticipating them, planning for  them and evaluating them.

According to Wikipedia:

'The number of different types of toilets used worldwide is large, but can be grouped by:

  • Having water (which seals in odour) or not (which usually relates to e.g. flush toilet versus dry toilet)
  • Being used in a sitting or squatting position (sitting toilet versus squat toilet). Each type has its benefits. Sitting toilets are often referred to as 'western-style toilets' and are more convenient than squat toilets for people with disabilities, and the elderly.
  • Being located in the private household or in public (toilet room versus public toilet). The Americans, of course, coyly refer to public toilets as restrooms. A large misnomer in my opinion. They're usually far from restful.

Wikipedia also tells me that the United Nations has designated November 19th as World Toilet Day to draw attention to the numerous households worldwide which still don't have access to a toilet, or even adequate sanitation. I've never noticed it being promoted.....

The History of Toilets - in Brief.

  • Toilets go back a long way - to the fourth millennium BC and Mesopotamia. The city of Uruk lays claim to the earliest known internal pit toilet,  (3200 BC). And the Neolithic village of Skara Brae, in Orkney, contains examples, from. 3000 BC, of internal small rooms over a communal drain.
  • There's some argument, and misunderstanding, over who invented flushing toilets. It's thought that they go back to at least Roman times, when latrines using flowing water were sometimes part of public bath houses. The Roman toilets were elevated, to raise them above open sewers, which were periodically rinsed with flowing water.
  • Garderobes are fairly well known. These were holes in flat pieces of wood or stone spanning from one wall to the other. Chutes or pipes below discharged outside the dwelling. They're usually associated with castles or manor houses, but they date back to 500AD.
  • The water closet, dates back to Tudor times, with the first flushing toilet system designed in 1596 by John Harington (for a visit by Elizabeth I) WCs started to assume their currently known form, with an overhead cistern, s-bends, soil pipes and valves around 1770, thanks to Alexander Cumming and Joseph Bramah. But water closets only began to move inside homes, around 1850.
  • It's widely and wrongly believed that Thomas Crapper, (originally from Brighton), invented the flush toilet. However, he was a plumber and business man, who built the first bathroom showroom, in the world, in 1866, in Marlborough Road, Chelsea. He used ‘shock tactics’ to display his white toilet pans to the public, behind large plate glass windows. Some ladies, who passed by, are said 
to have fainted at the sight.

The Best Toilets in the World

Some of the best toilets are the ultra-comfortable ultra - high-tech heated bowls of Japan and South Korea - though be careful when experimenting with the nozzles, or you will get a shower as well. You can often adjust the temperature of the weirdly squishy toilet seat. 'High-tech' toilets, include features such as automatic-flushing mechanisms; water jets or "bottom washers"; blow dryers, or artificial flush sounds to mask noises, medical monitoring features such as urine and stool analysis and the checking of blood pressure, temperature, and blood sugar ( I kid you not.). Others have automatic lid operation (a little spooky), deodorizing fans, or automated replacement of paper toilet-seat-covers. In several countries, interactive urinals allow users to play video games. Sega's "Toylet", uses pressure sensors to detect the flow of urine and translates that into on-screen action.

Or high end restaurants and hotels. Check out the Ritz or the Savoy, in London. The Ladies Room in the art deco styled Ivy in Brighton is so gorgeous and well equipped for pampering that women disappear in there for hours on end and distraught partners send the waiter to search for them, wondering if they have been abandoned.

And the best eating places in Moscow have some beautifully decorated chinaware. Especially for men.

The Worst Toilets in the World

What are the worst toilets in the world? The open pits of Asia where you can base an anthropological study of the heaped up contents. Or the gut-wrenching filthy open trenches in Chinese markets, where there is no privacy and children scramble  to watch. there are some 'interesting' toilet blocks in Africa, on camp sites on on the edges of the desert highways. This one, in Djibouti effectively blocks the most gorgeous view across the geothermal chimneys of Lac Abbe.

Quirky Toilets

One of my favourite toilets is this super patriotic block in the Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. And there's also this wonderful jungle themed block in El Salvador.

And there are some very pretty chemical toilets in cubicles.

Sexy Toilets?

Lisbon boasts what they claim are the sexiest toilets on earth. 'Simultaneously a gallery, gift shop, and a place with creative music ambiance, design and art is combined to offer a unique atmosphere of comfort, joy and wellbeing. Begin your experience by selecting the colour of your toilet roll from the one-of-a-kind wall display, and discover for yourself just how sexy a WC can be.'

Dangerous Toilets

In Ethiopia we were forbidden to use the long drop toilets at night - they were perched on the edge of a very tall escarpment. Great views!

Sociable Toilets

Some places, most notably the Romans are happy to have included sociable toilet arrangements. The toilet pairing was in Rwanda.

Peace and Tranquillity

You can't get much more peaceful than a stall in the middle of the Mongolian steppe. Or how about this one in Madagascar with the door falling off?

Or a view across the pyramids in Sudan, from one of these tomb style toilets ?

Follow the Instructions

Follow any instructions, as long as you can understand them and even if they are a little bizarre. Do not stand on the toilet seat...

Bush Toilets

Otherwise do as the locals do and make your own arrangements. The side of the open road, in the bush, in Africa. ‘Women on the left side of the truck,  men on the right’. My guide in East Timor called going to the toilet, 'Looking for a useful tree'. Excellent euphemism.

Bury what you leave behind, burn your toilet paper, keep an eye out for snakes and don't squat near any thorns or nettles.

If you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go….

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