The Outdoor Privy: A Convenience or an Inconvenience?
Billycans and Chains
The walk to school was sometimes accompanied by the sound of heavy boots walking on the hard path. Bottle green billycans could be heard clattering against thick heavy chains as a group of convicts, wearing matching green overalls walked out to a day’s manual labor in the community. A prison warder guarded from the rear. Their pace was brisk and steady as opposed to mine which I deliberately slowed in order to let them pass me.
I breathed an inward sigh of relief as they went on their way. It was with a mixture of feelings that I watched them go. I felt a sense of shame without really understanding the reason why. It was both unnerving and uncomfortable.
A seaside cottage
On several occasions, our family was loaned a seaside cottage for the holidays. It was owned by my Mother’s employer. It had no mod cons to speak of, not even a fridge or an indoor Loo but they were the happiest of times
A butter crock and a food safe
I recall the cottage having a food safe which was an antique vintage original rustic cedar pine timber meat safe or pantry cupboard. It was a tall affair with walls of fine wire mesh which kept the flies out. Inside it was a terracotta butter crock which used a method of keeping butter fresh without refrigeration using an airtight seal of water. Thank goodness for the 16th-century French foodies who helped us keep our butter from melting underneath that blazing African sun.
Teddy Boys and Mad Men!
Our days were spent fishing, swimming and having fun on the beach. It was just a short walk through the forest which bordered the property. We burned our bodies to a crisp under the blazing African sun and sometimes we even applied Brylcreem to our skin in order to acquire an even better sun tan!
Brylcreem has come in and out of fashion over the years. It was made famous by the Teddy Boys and the Mad Men and even more recently by Kevin Pietersen of cricket fame for their advertising campaigns. Who would have thought that this humble pomade made in Bradford Street, Birmingham, England, would be used across the Continents?
It is made from an emulsion of water and mineral oil which are stabilized with beeswax.
We might just as well have gone and fried our skin using hot wax. I would later pay the price when I developed a Melanoma which had to be removed..
We recorded our daily fish catch each day. It was written on a calendar so that each family member had a daily record of their personal catch during the whole of the holiday.
No fish in those days was ever considered too small for the frying pan, especially if it were caught by a child. We ate fresh fish daily.
The Privy or Outhouse!
The Privy was situated a few hundred yards from the house, at the end of a narrow path which overlooked a canopy of trees. It had a sloping roof with a large wooden door which hung from heavy hinges.
There were no windows but inserted high up in the door was a diamond shaped hole in which some glass was inserted. It allowed one just a glimmer of light in the dark space within.
The privy seat was a throne like affair and perhaps this explained why my father would sometimes tell my Mother that he was off to visit Queen Victoria - though I must say, I never had occasion to meet her there myself
It was a one- holer!
Our privy was a one-holer - with well worn smooth wood, which could be felt just under your bottom and also on both sides of the hole, just where one was required to place your hands, in order to support the upper part of your body while you sat there.
Balanced precariously over the hole, a small child like me, with naked legs and panties drawn down right over my knees, could barely reach the ground with my toes stretched out.
Once sat there, it required one’s full concentration to hold on and not let go your grip, lest you fall right through the hole.
Timing it's Arrival
Sitting there on the smooth worn wood, one could hear the sound of large bottle blue flies buzzing way down under.
Even the sound of a turd making its way to the bottom down to the bottom of the hole was met by an angry response from the flies below - with an increased sound of buzzing.
It was sometimes difficult for me to resist the urge to throw something down into the hole so that I could time its arrival to the bottom of the hole.
A Time of Quiet Contemplation!
It was somehow comforting to be able to sit there all alone on the throne. For one thing, it afforded one private time away from the hustle and bustle of a large family. Ideally, one needed to sit on the throne with one leg held out, propping the door open, to help lessen the whiff which emanated from down below.
The door opened inwards rather than outwards which was pretty handy if you wanted to know if someone were approaching on the cobbled path outside. A quick shove with your foot would send the door flying shut – leaving you in darkness but it would at least give one just enough time to prevent the person from catching you with your drawers caught right down.
The Pride of India
The view from the throne, with the door, held open was spectacular. There is no doubt that whoever erected this Privy must have read The Specialist by John Sale - from cover to cover in order to come up with this little gem.
In my mind’s eye, I can still see the vision of the not only beautiful but perfectly formed Pride of India Tree which grew just a short distance from the Privy. In full blossom, it was a wondrous sight to behold.
I loved looking across the canopy of trees. I loved listening to the chatter of monkeys as they troupe swung through the trees.
A Red Chested Cookoo’s would call (Piet my Vrou) from high above the trees.
It seemed that not everyone shared my view of the Privy for I discovered much to my surprise that the wife of my Mother’s employer had refused to visit the cottage for many years because she so disliked having to attend the Privy..
With this in mind, my father hatched a surprise for her. He had in mind, an idea, to convert a very large disused concrete reservoir situated near the house, into an outside toilet. He hoped to encourage her to take a holiday there.
With was with some difficulty that he managed to cut a small window and door in the concrete reservoir and once completed, he painted the walls snow white and added a toilet and a wash basin.
The privy outback, was replaced with a flushing toilet which an Englishman with the most unfortunate name of Thomas Crapper is reputed to have invented - though truth is told he should only have been credited with improving the functionality of the early flush toilet.
The Chain Gang
Then imagine my surprise when a group of convicts arrived early one morning with their minder. My father I learned had hired them to help him dig a deep hole which would become the septic tank for the brand new flushing toilet.
My siblings and I played nearby, pretending indifference to the group of convicts but at the same time we kept a fearful eye on the proceedings.
The men sweated profusely in the humidity. Once, they came across a large rock which required moving before they could continue digging. They tied a rope around it and pulled it out together, singing an old African work song which was meant to make their joint effort easier. It was an unforgettable sight and sound.
Every now and then one of them would stop to wipe his face on the back of a hand or on a dirty rag.
Lunchtime came and they were given a well-deserved break. They washed their hands and poured water down their faces, then settled down on the ground near the hole to eat their meager meal which had been brought with them in their billycans. The food was a type of meat and vegetable stew served with mielie pap. It was eaten with metal spoons.
We kids drew closer to see what progress had been made with the hole. Emboldened we sat with legs dangling over the edges of the hole, legs swung backwards and forwards. As they swung - we watched small rivers of beach sand trickling back down into the hole.
Then our father began casually talking to the convicts. We pricked up our ears in to listen in on their conversation. It was amazing how quickly we children had adjusted to the idea of having this group of black convicts in our garden.
Then our father casually asked one of the men what are you inside for mate? Without even pausing for breath, the man looked up at my father and replied in a deep voice ‘murder Baas’
Our little feet froze in mid air and our legs stopped swinging.
An Outhouse or Privy
Do you have a Privy or Outhouse on you property?
© 2014 Sally Gulbrandsen