In Celebration of National Poetry Day 7th October 2021
It’s often strange where a poem can take you to in life as you craft it and this particular poem led to some fascinating facts that linked back to a poet. As it’s National Poetry Day, it seemed appropriate to blog my script about this poem and of course the poem itself!
It’s not every day that I step up on stage and talk about public conveniences and poetry. But there’s always a first time. I wrote this poem during the first lockdown in 2020, when we were exhorted to exercise daily, but most if not all the public loos were closed. As a result of which I discovered a website called The Great British Toilet Map – which didn’t provide any relief as when I used it, it told me that my nearest loo was in London, and I was in Lewes! I’ve since learnt to change the location. It’s aim is to show where you can access a loo anywhere in the country.
I also learned a lot of fascinating facts – that councils are under no obligation by law to provide public loos! Women, needless to say, were not provided with public loos initially when they first appeared in Victorian times. Until then women were on a urinary leash! But intrepid as ever women found ways round it including carrying a urinette – what today we’d call the she wee.
The first public toilets with flushing were built by a Brighton plumber George Jennings in London’s crystal palace in 1851 – and they were called Monkey closets! I’ve not found out why! When you went to spend a penny, it ensured you got a clean seat, loo paper and a shoeshine! William Crapper by the way improved the flushing mechanism.
The first flushing toilet was invented by a poet! In 1596 writer and poet Sir John Harington invented the first flushing toilet with a cistern and had one installed in Richmond Castle for Queen Elizabeth. He was one of her godsons. But it didn’t catch on publicly. In Britannica.com, I learnt that “for translating and circulating among the ladies a wanton tale from the 16th-century Italian poet Ariosto, he was banished from court until he should translate the whole of Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso. The translation, published in 1591, remains one of the finest of the age. In 1596, in The Metamorphosis of Ajax (a jakes; i.e., privy), Harington described his invention of the flushing lavatory in terms more Rabelaisian than mechanical and was again banished by Elizabeth. In 1599 he went on a military expedition to Ireland, winning a knighthood. His barbed epigrams and wanton writings gave too much offense, particularly under James I, to advance him beyond a reputation as Elizabeth’s “saucy godson.”
So, by way of relief – to my poem entitled:
My Bladder Won’t do Lockdown
The anxiety knots I’m plagued by shrill doubts,
That I’ll be ok, relaxed, when I have to go out,
Don my old trainers, no need for lockdown cool,
for a solitary route march, one hour is the rule,
Handbag heaved on, grab the hand sanitiser,
It’ll be just like the last walk, we’re all exercisers.
Then my worry wart voice starts to nag at me,
‘Don’t leave! The loos are all shut, and you cannot pee!’
I twitch and stop, but the walls are closing in,
Gaze frantic, heart thrumming, crazy thoughts cause a din
With knickers a’ twist, claustrophobic necessity,
I am desperate for a change of scenery.
Deep breath, stretch, gird loins, decide to take the risk,
Can someone beat these taskmasters with an outsize whisk,
I can squat, glutes are feisty, thighs toned and strong,
The voice butts in ‘Don’t wild wee, you’ll be in the wrong,
Get a hefty fine, wet feet and you’ll struggle with your knickers
What if worse still you need a poo? I can hear her snickers.
I zoom out, stride forth, go as far as that tree!”
A wee bit further, there’s an urge, do I need to pee?
My buttocks clench, pelvic floor becomes a ceiling
March oddly back to the car, head and body reeling,
Race inside, jeans undone, make it to the loo
my bladder won’t do lockdown – what am I to do?
A smug voice whispers ‘Tena lady’!