Thinking About Something on a Friday

My Dad, and Toilet Paper

Just after I got up today, I noticed that the toilet roll needed to be changed. As I was inserting a new one onto the holder, I thought of my Dad. That memory was sharp, and immediate, giving some indication of how the effects of something he used to do many years ago still resonate in my head, more than thirty years after his death.

My first experience of toilet paper wasn’t of toilet paper as we know it today. It was newspaper pages, cut into sheets measuring about 8 by 8 inches, threaded through a piece of string that was hanging from a nail driven into the wall. And the toilet wasn’t inside either, it was outside in the back yard, a small brick-built structure, with a wooden door made from planks. And Queen Victoria wasn’t still the Queen. I am talking about 1956-1960.

At school, we had outside toilets too. Across the large playground, were two solid structures marked clearly ‘BOYS’ and ‘GIRLS’, the words etched into the mortar. They had proper toilet paper in those, but once again it would be unfamiliar to almost anyone younger than me. It was called ‘IZAL’, and stored in small boxes, fixed to the inside of the toilet cubicles. It was transparent, something like tissue paper, and the box dispensed individual sheets, just one at a time. I can still see my young self getting ready, shuffling out a generous handful of the stuff from the box, like a casino dealer with a card shoe.

In 1960, we moved into a new maisonette. Two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, the toilet in a separate room from the one containing the bath and sink. The modern place was the height of luxury to us at the time. A large living room, well-equipped kitchen, and a bath with constant hot water when needed. No more Friday nights in a metal bath by the fire, in the soapy water already used before by my parents. And we had a toilet roll holder, with a real roll of toilet paper too. It still wasn’t much like any you see now. It was called ‘BRONCO’, which I think was the competitor to ‘IZAL’, but what did I know about brands? I was only eight years old. This was also transparent, but a little stronger. It was clear enough to be compared to tracing paper. In fact, I used it frequently to trace things for school projects, and it worked just as well, allowing for the perforation between each sheet.

You had to be careful with ‘BRONCO’ though. If you were too enthusiastic, it was prone to skid upwards, with results you can well imagine. But it remained a staple in our house for many years, until the arrival of the soft white toilet paper we all know and love.

So, what does this have to do with my Dad? (I hear you ask)

My Dad was a man of habit. He did things at a certain time, on the same day. His visits to the small toilet in our new maisonette were something of an event. He would announce them in advance, and prepare his necessaries to accompany him on the trip. These always included a daily (or evening ) newspaper, and his cigarettes and lighter. (There was a large ashtray in our toilet, on a tall stand, to avoid having to reach down low) He also liked to take a cup of tea to drink whilst relaxing, and at weekends, his breakfast sandwich of sausages or bacon too. This would be carried up on a plate, with the teacup resting on the edge. He would balance the plate on his thigh once his trousers were down, and he could read his paper and enjoy his breakfast, as he did what he needed to do. Afterwards, he would enjoy one or two cigarettes before emerging.

I have given you a few moments to picture that scene. I still have trouble with that myself.

He referred to this daily ritual as ‘retiring to the throne’, and when Mum and I heard those words, we knew that we had better get in quick, if either of us needed to pee.

My family was relatively well-off, in that working class area where we lived. Mum and Dad both had good jobs, I was an only child, and the cost of living was very reasonable at the time. Not rich, by any means, but certainly ‘comfortable. The price of toilet paper would not be a consideration, I’m sure. But if you could have heard my Dad, you might have thought that we were using pound notes for the purpose, instead of flimsy transparent paper. Not long after we moved into the new home, he began to remark about how much paper I used, when visiting the toilet. I wondered how he could tell, but he informed me that he was sure he could tell, by listening to roll move. He said that I was spinning it ‘like the wheels on a gambling fruit machine’, and as far as he was concerned, I was just ‘wasting it’.

I was not yet nine years old, but I still couldn’t comprehend how anyone could ‘waste’ toilet paper. You used what you had to use, surely? But the issue certainly got under his skin. As I sat in the toilet one day, he suddenly hammered his fist on the door, shouting “That’s enough now. Stop it, pull the chain, and get out here!” When I came out onto the landing, he gave me a lecture on the amount of toilet roll I had used, freely admitting to listening outside, calculating paper usage by the sound of the roll turning. I wanted to laugh out loud, to be honest. But he was my Dad. In 1961, you didn’t laugh at your Dad.

I began to avoid using the toilet when he was at home. The school holidays were a welcome break from his obsession, and most other times I tried to go in there before he returned from work. It wasn’t always possible of course, and on those occasions he continued to remark on the use of toilet paper, once declaring that ” I bet you use more than The Queen of England!” I had never realised she was the benchmark. This went on once we moved away to Kent, when I was fifteen. By then, we had long been using modern soft paper, known as ‘2-Ply’. In 1975, he left the family home, and went off with another woman.

I was pleased to see the back of him, and bought a six-pack of toilet rolls, in celebration.

74 thoughts on “Thinking About Something on a Friday

  1. I remember that dreadful toilet paper – and the little box in the bathroom in which it was kept! Years later, my husband to be stayed in a hostel in Wales for a university field course and wrote me a letter on it. Said it was all it was good for!

    As for your Dad… I can’t help wondering what it is about Dads and toilet paper? Okay, yours was particularly obsessive and you have my sympathy for that, but I’m fairly sure I have heard both father and husband occasionally comment on the toilet paper usage of certain members of the family. Why?!!! Is there something we don’t know? What is this stuff made of? (I feel a story coming on…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My experience with my Dad made me determined to never think about toilet paper again, Ros! I buy it in bulk, replace it when it’s empty, and never think twice about how much anybody uses.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. LOL Pete! What a piece of work! Back then we were three kids and two adults in a two bedroom “bungalow” – one bath, albeit indoors. I never had my own room. Slept in the living room on a convertible sofa. Tough times but we always had a roof over our heads, food on the table and hand me down clothes. Best.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The metaphors are thick in this story or thin if you prefer. 🙂 I’m sorry Pete, you and me have another thing in common in terms of the sound of paper rolling off the rail with our usage. I’m sorry about your Dad.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely blog Pete. To provide context for those bloggers who never met your dad, Arthur was slightly scarier than Darth Vader and took less prisoners. 😳 Have a good weekend in the sanctity of your own loo! K x

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    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, Pete! I don’t know if I should laugh or cry with this story! I have so many mixed emotions. I am sorry that you had to go through this.😓 *hugs* At the same time that is freakin’ crazy that someone would listen to you rolling the tp??! Like how can he hear that? Sounds insane! Thanks for sharing this story with us and bringing your personal experiences to the blogosphere. I love learning more about you and think you are fantastic even if you waste toliet paper!!!😁😍

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Not harsh at all, Jennie. He could be hard on me at times, and gave me many complexes! 🙂
          Then he walked out on my Mum and she had to sell her beloved house.
          He got what he deserved, in the end.
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. OMG. You have brought back so many memories of that completely nonabsorbent toilet paper of my childhood. And my mother was the one obsessed with us using too much. My mom said she had kids because everyone else was doing it. A great reason to be a parent, and it showed.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My mind boggles at the thought of your dad eating his sausage sandwich whilst sitting on the toilet! Come to think of it men do spend an inordinately long time in the loo. I have never understood the need to take in a book or a newspaper.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That was one your most entertaining posts, I think!!

    I’m guessing we must have had IZAL in the outdoor toilet in school, but my only recollection of it is on a family holiday to Blackpool, which must have been around 1970.

    People’s toilet paper habits really are different. I’m afraid to say that I am on your Dad’s side of the fence when it comes to toilet roll use. We had a couple to stay recently, and they went through a roll in two days, whereas for Janis and I a roll lasts two or three weeks. It’s probably just as well I don’t run a B&B; I expect I’d be handing out two sheets to everyone who visited the toilet, but only if they assured me they really needed both sheets!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ian, that’s hilarious! One roll lasts you both at least two weeks! I haven’t worked it out, but we must get through at least four a week, judging by how often I buy them. I recall being on the way home in Luxor Airport, with Marian. She was in a bad way, with ‘Ramesses’ Revenge’. The attendant handed her two small tissues as she went in. Luckily, she had a lot more in her bag…
      Cheers mate, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This was a fascinating story! Of course, many people do like to take reading materials with them to the toilet, and I can see that a smoker would take cigarettes or cigars. But a “breakfast sandwich of sausages or bacon” and a cup of tea? I’ve never heard of anyone doing anything like that before!

    I’m very familiar with outhouses. My parents used to own some acreage, and my father built an outhouse for us to use. I’ve also used an outhouse many times on “float trips” (canoe trips). And, when the great luxury of an outhouse was not available, I’ve availed myself of raw nature.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think the tea and sandwich thing was almost unique to my Dad. No doubt a legacy of his time in the Army, when he had to get out on parade. I was always scared of the huge spiders in the outside toilet, so learned to get in and out very quickly!
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ha ha! Amazing! And here growing up all i had to worry about was trying to remember if the roll should be overhand, or underhand! (a BIG deal, mind you) but, I have travelled to some tropical countries and the toilet problems are still a real concern there. Most places you can’t flush the toilet paper and have to throw it in the garbage and in a few places in Mexico the toilets DIDN’T HAVE SEATS! Well, that was a fun one…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You look far too young to remember that. Maybe it was a hangover from more frugal times. 🙂
      Newspapers are so expensive now, to use them would work out dearer than the best toilet papers on the market.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. A great story well told Pete. My story would be quite similar, moved into a house in the early fifties with all mod cons. A huge back garden unfortunately spoiled by the builders rubble left under the turf. It was in mounds everywhere. The house was nice and it was good to go to the loo without someone coming for a bath. I well remember the loo rolls but I always thought they were Izal too,just like they were in school.
    My dad also upped and left but had to spoil things by coming back and persuading my mum to join him where he was. I survived him though.
    Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  12. A great story. I remember Izal, it was more spread it about than wipe it off.

    I had an uncle who was seriously thrifty, but he also had a sense of humour. He would say one sheet was plenty for anyone and anything, as long as you use both sides.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think your uncle and my Dad would have seen eye to eye on that subject, BF. The strange thing was that my Dad wasn’t at all thrifty. He just developed an obsession about (me) using too much toilet paper. I have never really understood why, to this day.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  13. A person can’t help but chuckle over this story, Pete, but I can still feel some bitterness creeping through the story. I got a kick out of Peter’s comment – true, never heard anyone write so much about Toilet paper! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

        1. That may have been his intention, GP. Unfortunately I have many examples of how he constantly harassed me about small things. But he never hit me, and was always generous with gifts and money. That made his scoldings feel even stranger, at least to my younger self.
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Pete, did you see the movie Lady Bird? The mother daughter relationship is a challenging one (maybe they all are challenging) The daugher asks her mom if she likes her, and the mom says of course I love you. “But do you like me?” She asks. It’s tough. I think parents harp on us because they harp on themselves actually. Happy Friday, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m crying here Pete, ‘a six pack to celebrate’ you cant make these things up 🙂
    I still remember Izal as the mainstay of public and school toilets, but as I cant recall visiting either in quite a while I don’t know if it’s changed up north 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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