JANUARY   2020


Thursday, January 23, 2020

TOILET HUMOR Chapter Three

I have decided that people are like turtles – we can't go home again, so we carry a piece of our old home around with us. We keep 25 feet of the primitive earth's atmosphere trapped in our intestinal tracts, occupied by little buggies who die in the presence of oxygen and breath and exhale methane and hydrogen sulfide. They turn what you eat into what keeps you alive. But in order to stay healthy, you have to keep the bugs in your gut from getting above your neck, around your mouth, nose or eyes. And off your hands, because you put you fingers on your face about 2,000 times a day. Trust me. If its on your hands, it will end up in your face. Modern humans have invented a device making it harder for the bugs in your gut to get to your face too often; The flush toilet. Pull the lever and your stinky, dangerous poo vanishes, as if it were never there, just the way it used to in the Garden of Eden.
But a flush toilet is not just a hole in the floor with water running through it. The Romans built those, and the found they not only stank, they were also dangerous. Methane can explode at anything higher than a 5% concentration and hydrogen sulfide above 4%, giving a naval meaning to the term “powder room”. Both gases are lighter than air, so they tend to rise back into the place they came from.   The Romans even had a prayer asking the god of sewers to please not burn their bums in the occasional fecal flash over. So before a home toilet could be perfected, a way of keeping the stinky hydrogen sulfide and explosive methane down and out of the “lieux a soupape” had to be found.
Some of the best minds in the world tackled this problem. Benjamin Franklin thought he had “a cheap and easy” solution. “The excrement may be received in...proper cisterns. The excrement are soon dissolved in water.” If he had kept at it, Franklin might have invented the septic tank. But he got distracted by politics, leaving the problem to be attacked by a Edinburg Mr. Fix-It and a crippled Yorkshire tinkerer, both of whom thought more about money than they did about politics. Which is odd since English politics would play such a crucial role in starting this story.
In 1745 the last rebellion of the highland Scottish clans was smashed on the field at Culloden. Lowland Scotsman John Campbell, the 5th Duke of Argyl, chose to fight for the winning side, and he was rewarded by the English King with honors and £21,000 in gold. To display his new fortune, Campbell decided his new castle at the foot of the highlands in Inverness (above), needed a new pipe organ, and he hired two mechanically inclined young Scotsmen men to build it - John and Alexander Cumming. Impressed with the younger boy's mechanical talents, Campbell bought Alexander an apprenticeship to a clock maker, and then in 1752 set him up in business in Inverary as a watchmaker.  For a cut of all his future profits, of course.
Alexander (above) was very good at making watches and watch-work driven mechanical devices for wealthy patrons, and within a few years moved his business to the fashionable Bond Street in London. 
In 1765 King George III commissioned him to build a clock that also recorded the barometric readings for an entire year (above). And it was this project that lead Alexander Cumming to the toilet problem, although he didn't entirely trust his own fix.
Now, for something over fifteen hundred years, Catholic theology had enshrined the ideas of Aristotle - the earth is at the center of the universe, the stars are fixed and unchanging, nature abhors a vacuum,  and air has no weight. People were burned at the stake for questioning the Macedonian tutor. Then in 1640, the free thinking Italian, Gasparo Berti poured water into the open end of a glass tube sealed at the bottom. He then inverted the tube in a bowl (above). When he removed his finger from the bottom opening, naturally, the water drained into the bowel. But the tube never completely emptied. This proved Aristotle wrong twice. First, the empty space appearing between the top of the tube and the new water level, was a vacuum, which Aristotle said did not exist. And secondly, the supposedly weightless air pressing down on the water in the bowl, held up the water column in the tube. Berti had invented the barometer. And a hundred-thirty years later Cumming turned Berti's invention into the world's first flush toilet. Almost.
Cumming wrote, “The advantage of this water closet, depends upon the shape of the bowl.” But that was just a sales pitch. Alexander farmed out the bowls to Wedgwood for the production models. And in most of its functions, his water closet was not so much revolution as evolution. After “doing your business”, you pulled the handle. That slid open a copper valve at the bottom of the bowl, at the same time releasing water from the storage tank, which washed your “business” down the pipe. And that was where the Cumming evolution started.
What Cumming actually invented, and what he patented, was the original “U” tube, also known as a plumbing “trap”. In his revolutionary design, just below the bowl Alexander added an “S” turned on its side in the pipe. After every flush air pressure held a reservoir of water in the bottom of the first “U” bend which blocked the lighter than air noxious gases from escaping up from the lower levels in the system, be it a latrine, a cesspit or a sewer. It was simple. It required no moving parts - the valve sealing the bowl served the customer's expectations only. Alexander Cumming's 1775 patent for a flush toilet was far more revolutionary than Franklin's American Revolution, and it was a lot quieter.
Alexander's design had just three small problems. First – if the water in the U-trap should evaporate, the gases would float back into the “water closet”. Second - below the “U” trap there was now a slight negative air pressure, which encouraged the occasional unpleasant blow back up the pipes. Third - the copper valve over the drain at the bottom of the bowl - which, thanks to the “U” trap, it didn't actually need, but the customers expected – that seal was not water or air tight. And as the copper valve was also periodically coated with crap, flushing only partially cleaned it. And the valve had a tendency to rust, and stick and stink. And fourth, the seal between the bowl and the pipes usually leaked, adding to the ordour of the powder room. And this was when the second genius arrives in our story, a crippled farm kid cum cabinetmaker named Joseph Bramah (below).
Braham was working for a London plumber, installing Cumming water closets, and dealing with angry customers. Complaint number one over the winter of 1776-77 was that the thin sliver of water left in the bowl after flushing, tended to freeze, locking the valve closed. 
Bramah fixed that by replacing it with a simple flap (above), and left more water in the bowl to prevent freezing.. Bramah got a patent for it in 1778, and another for inventing a float valve that would automatically refill the water tank after every flush. When Cumming saw what the kid from Yorkshire had done, he went back to his watches. And with the fortune he made, Joseph Bramah turned his Denmark Street water closet factory into a sideline, invested the profits into making locks, and the machinery to make locks.
And that was where toilet development got stuck until somebody dealt with the problem of what to do with your poo, after you flushed the toilet.
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Wednesday, January 22, 2020


I find it odd that although almost every American knows his name, almost no one knows he invented a device you use - we all use - several times a day. His father, the senior John Harington, was an acquisitive accountant, who for ten years relieved the King of money intended to feed the starving Royal army. Instead, Harington piped the funds into his own accounts, to buy a poo-pourri of properties for himself, far from suspicious noses - estates such as Oakham, Lordshold, Burley, Exton, Ridlington, Cottesmore, Stretton, Clipsham, Greetham, North Luffenham and Leighfield Forest . But these feculent felonies came to an abrupt end in 1548 when a religious fanatic named John Bradford turd him in, and Harington had to wash his hands of some of the money. His bum deal got worse in January 1549 when our patriarchal hero was arrested for treason, because of the stupidity and treason of his boss, Sir John Seymour.
Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
It took two swings of the ax to separate Seymour's treasonous head from his shoulders, but it proved even more difficult to taint John Harington as privy to any of Seymour's reginacidal plots. Harington was finally discharged in the spring of 1550, still holder of his properties, which were earning almost £6000 a year in rents. Out of power, Harington gambled, and inserted himself in the household of 15 year old Elizabeth Tudor, even writing her poetry when Bloody Queen Mary locked the Protestant princess in the Tower of London in 1554. Harington was ecstatic when Elizabeth was released a few months later, but I doubt he gave a shite when Bloody Mary sentenced his old servant, the moralistic John Bradford, to burn at the stake in 1555 (below)
Said he could wish, and did (as for his part) All Cuckolds (drown) in the Thames, with all his heart. But straight a pleasant Knight replied to him, I hope your Lordship learned how to swim.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
In 1559, John Harrington senior married Isabella Markham, Maid-of-Honor to now Queen Elizabeth Tudor. As a wedding present Good Queen Bess gave John an estate called Stoughton Grange (above), about 70 miles northwest of London. In was small compared to those estates he had acquired with his ill gotten booty, but it was the royal thought that counts. Then, in 1661 Isabella Harington gave birth to a son, John junior, and Queen Elizabeth pledged at the boy's christening to stand as God Mother for her “Boy Jack”.
Best fishing in troubled waters.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
John Harington junior (above)  was educated in the law, but when John senior died in 1582, the ambitious and handsome young man dropped out of school and concentrated on becoming a success at court, where everything depended on Elizabeth's mood. He once wrote to a friend, “The Queen doth love to see me last (jacket) and said “Tis well enough to be cute." I will have another made liken to it.” Rising and falling by his wits and his poetic wit, he was alternately famous and infamous at court for his clever risque poetry and epigrams. After ten years of such effort John decided his family had passed through the sphincter of history , and come out smelling like a rose. And in 1596, John decided to share with humanity what he had learned in the passing.
A Courtier, kind in speech, cursed in condition, Fell to a flattering and most base submission, Vowing to kiss his foot, if he were bidden.My foot? (said he) nay, that were too submissive. But three foot higher you deserve to be kissing.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
John's most lasting work was titled “A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of the Ajax” - the Greek hero whose constipated ego (“No man but Ajax can conquer Ajax!”) drove him to fall on his own sword. According to John, the name Ajax was a synonym for “A Jake”, meaning a joke, and so often referring to toilet gags that the name became pseudonymous with the toilet itself. John noted in his essay on Jakes, “...many had recognized the problems of “a stinking privy” but little had been done to correct it” So in his little book John progressed from documenting “privy faults” to suggesting improvements to “privy vaults” - to the design of the Jake itself.  John believed that if he built a better toilet, the world would beat a path to his bathroom door.
New friends are no friends; how can that be true? The oldest friends that are, were sometimes new.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
John's instructions for a better toilet, what came to be called a “water closet”,  were relatively simple. “In the privy that annoys you, first cause a cistern... to be placed either in the room or above it, from whence the water may, by a small pipe...be conveyed under the seat in the hinder part thereof ... to which pipe you must have a small cock or washer, to yield water with some pretty strength...Next make a vessel of an oval form, as broad at the bottom as at the top...place this very close to your seat....” Even John had to admit that his water closet was not a radical new invention, writing   “...it is but a standing close-stool easily emptied”. But, “..this being well done, and orderly kept, your worst privy may be as sweet as your best chamber.”
Fair, rich, and young? How rare is her perfection, Were it not mingled with one foul infection. I mean, so proud a heart, so cursed a tongue, As makes her seem, not fair, nor rich, nor young.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
The book was immediately popular, and went into three printings. I can even imagine Queen Elizabeth (above), reading John's book while sitting on the flush John she had installed in her palace. But she thought John's John too noisy - it frightened her. And the book was also a failure as a sales tool for flush toilets.. You see, John was not a plumber, he was a poet. To poets, everything is an analogy, even poop. So John spent most of his book drawing the analogy between the sewage that clogged the Thames River, and the sewage that clogged the Queen's court. John considered his political opponents literal shits. But Queen Elizabeth had learned at an early age that to keep her head  she could never completely trust or completely offend the powerful and wealthy egos constantly maneuvering for her affections. And John's “New Discourse” had offended too many. She ordered her “Boy John” to leave her court.
Fortune, men say, doth give too much to many: But yet she never gave enough to any.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
John was allowed back in a few years. Elizabeth could never stay mad at her “saucy Godson” for long. But neither could she trust him for long. Sent to keep an eye on an Irish military expedition headed by the Earl of Essex, John accepted a knighthood from the ambitious Earl.  The expedition was a failure, and Elizabeth suspected a plot was brewing. Essex was thrown in the Tower, and John was once again exiled from court.
Faustus finds fault, my Epigrams are short, Because to read them, he doth make some sport: I thank thee, Faustus, though thou judges wrong, Ere long I'll make thee swear they be too long.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
When good Queen Bess died in March of 1603, she was succeeded by James I, the son of Elizabeth's greatest rival, Mary Queen of Scots. John Harington tried to attach himself to the new king, but it was a bad fit, and he was never invited to court.. John Harington, inventor of the flush John, died in 1612. He left behind nine children. But his invention of the flush toilet never caught on because he had solved only half of the number one problem, which is where do you put number two. If humans were ever going to return to the Garden of Eden toilet, they must solve both halves. The pipe that carried the poo from the loo, would have to end someplace - meaning someplace else.
From your confessor, lawyer and physician, Hide not your case on no condition.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Toilet Humor - Chapter One

I advise you, if you are anxious to be read of, to look for some boozy poet of the dark archway who writes verses with rough charcoal or crumbling chalk which folk read while they shit”.
Marcus Valerius Martialis” Rome, 70 C. E.
The average healthy human produces an ounce of poo for every 12 pounds of body weight, dropping a log anywhere between 3 times a day to once every three days. Our foul, stinking meadow muffins are so putrid a blind leopard with a head cold could track a human through a stink weed swamp. The only reason we were not hunted to extinction is that we used to live in the trees, where our “stinkies” magically disappeared when dropped.
What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before?’ Answer: A key.
Sumarian joke, 2, 500 B.C.
This “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” hygiene worked until 3 million years ago when we started to spend time on the ground. It must have been a short transition, as proved by our still smelly merde. But as long as our populations remained mobile we could usually outrun the lions and tigers and bears, and defecate away from where we hunted and gathered. When the ice ages restricted our outings, our Cro-Magnon siblings filled so many sheltering caves with aromatic and putrescent paleo-feces, we drove our Neanderthal roommates to prefer the cold outdoors to our proximity.
Strepsiades ; “Do you see this little door and little house?...This is a thinking-shop of wise spirits....
These men teach, if one give them money, to conquer in speaking, right or wrong.....They are minute philosophers, noble and excellent.”
Act I, Scene I. The Clouds by Aristophanes 424 B.C.
Then, about 10,000 years ago, humans settled down in settlements and started farming. Human populations mushroomed, as did our fecal matter. This led to the first great invention to deal with scheisse – sewage. Whoever was running things in the palace at Knossos on Crete 3,000 years ago, could pass a BM without ever having to see or smell it, as the constantly running water in the palace pipes instantly removed the royal turd from proximity to the royal nose. This may be the origin of the Robert's Supreme Court legal precedent that rich people's poop don't stink.  But, of course, the palace pipes had to end somewhere, and the property values just downstream must have plummeted, along with the the owner's odor and ardor.
Eat lettuce and soft apples eat: For you, Phoebus, have the harsh face of a defecating man."
Marcus Valerius Martialis 70 C.E..
It was King Tarquin in 600 B.C.E. who first mixed socialism and sewage, when he built Rome's 16 foot wide Cloaca Maximum, aka the central sewer, aka “the big poop hole”, atop the cities' 100 foricae, public latrines, where King and commoner alike could discharge a brownie without having to give it a second thought. 
This sanitation reduced the city's death rate to a mere 30,000 a year, allowing the population to top one million during the first millennium. But that didn't last. After the Romans threw out the Etruscan Kings, they privatized new additions to the sewer system, producing some very rich crap merchants – from the Latin “crappa” meaning chaff, or rejected material. But squeezing every ounce of profit from the poop populi left the sewers leaky and often in disrepair and disconnected. Thus Rome suffered a series of plagues that killed over half the population every few decades. Where upon the patricians took their money and fled to the suburbs, like Ravenna and Constantinople, where they didn't have to smell poor people's poop.
Apollinaris, doctor to the emperor Titus, had a good crap here.”
Graffitti on a wall in Herculaneum, Italy 79 C.E.
The fall of Rome brought on the dark ages, which meant even royalty were reduced to making night deposits in a chamber pot, a sort of portable latrine. Of course the wealthy had servants to dump their “cacha” (Latin profanity for poop) , usually in the nearest street, which became a sewer, from the old French “seuwiere”, meaning a drain cut in the ground. This was also the origin of the “High Street”, as the most valuable address, because, as any populist will tell you, shite runs downhill.
With your giant nose and cock, I bet you can with ease When you get excited, check the end for cheese.”
Marcus Valerius Martialis 70 C.E.
By the 16th century, the 200,000 subjects living in the fetid putrid sewer of London, then the largest city in Europe, were dropping dead daily from anthrax, measles, whooping cough, strep throat, syphilis, child bed fever, malaria, polio, tetanus, and cholera, to name but a few of the infectious endemic illnesses. In addition there was an epidemic of influenza from 1557 to 1559 that killed 5% of  the city. The first half of the century saw five waves of the “Dreaded Sweats” or “English Sweats” that killed tens of thousands within 24 hours of affliction. The Black Death or Bubonic Plague swept through London in 1563 (17,000 dead), 1578 (3,700 dead), 1582 (3,000 dead) and 1592 (11,000 dead). And the cause was obvious, even without a viable germ theory.
This Nicholas just then let fly a fart, As loud as it had been a thunder-clap, And well-nigh blinded Absalom, poor chap; But he was ready with his iron hot, And Nicholas right in the arse he got.  Off went the skin a hand's-breadth broad, about, The coulter burned his bottom so, throughout, That for the pain he thought that he should die, And like one mad he started in to cry, "Help! Water! Water! For God's dear heart!”
The Millers Tale – The Cantabury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer 1478
By 1600, the largest tributary of the Thames, the Fleet River (old Anglo-Saxon “fleot”, a tidal inlet), once called “The river of wells”, had been an open sewer for two centuries. Ben Johnson, Shakespeare's contemporary, penned a tribute “On the Famous Voyage”, praising two lads who dared to boat down the 100 yard wide “ merd-urinous” stream. In the stone lined channel “Hung stench, diseases, and old filth, their mother...pills and eke in potions, Suppositories, cataplasms and lotions...the grave fart, late let in parliament.” At last a dead cat floats to the surface and curses the travelers. “How dare Your dainty nostrils (in so hot a season, When every clerk eats artichokes and peason, Laxative lettuce, and such windy meat) Tempt such a passage? When each privy's seat, Is filled with buttock, and the walls do sweat Urine and plasters?” But the waters of the Thames barely noticed the Fleet's filth, so contaminated were its own. The only thing more dangerous than being a child raised in sewage soaked Elizabethan London, was being Elizabeth in the the same place.
In vain, the Workman showed his Wit, With Rings and Hinges counterfeit, To make it seem in this Disguise, A Cabinet to vulgar Eyes...So Strephon lifting up the Lid, To view what in the Chest was hid...So Things, which must not be expressed When plumped into the reeking Chest; Send up an excremental Smell, To taint the Parts from whence they fell. The Petty coats and Gown perfume, Which waft a Stink round every Room.”
Jonathan Swift “The Lady's Dressing Room” 1732
After years of living under the constant threat of a charge of treason, Elizabeth Tudor put on the crown in 1558 as a 25 year old paranoid anorexic, subject to panic attacks. Living just above the level of common sewage, the nobility survived eating slightly spoiled food, prepared by unwashed hands, unevenly cooked in polluted water. This lead to repeated bouts of stomach cramps, mild fevers, headaches, watery diarrhea and vomiting, which lead to dehydration. This gastroenteritis would rarely prove fatal to an otherwise healthy adult like Elizabeth, but it killed one in four of all infants and a quarter of all surviving children by the age of 10. However salvation from this rising tide of poo was offered in 1595 when a member of Elizabeth's court invented “The John”. Except he called it the “Ajax”, for a very punny reason.
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