JUNE 2020

JUNE   2020
He Has Dragged Us Back Forty Years.


Saturday, December 02, 2017


I don't know if you know this, but the Christmas carol started out as a dance, and then became a song. Whereas wassailing started out as a libation and then became a song and then darn near disappeared. Both traditions, caroling and wassailing,  suffered their original metamorphoses for the same reason – Puritan kill-joys.  The carol was revived and survives as a gentle Victorian anachronism.  Still, most of the music and some of the words remain recognizable.  But if somehow you could transport a 12th century English Celtic villain into a modern wassailing, the first words out of their mouth would be the medieval equivalent of “where is the booze and the broads?”  Call it the cost of Christianity, or progress, or even just the march of time, but clearly we've lost some things in reaching the 21st century.  And one of those some things was wassailing. Song
“Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.”
During the 2nd century C. E. when you the walked into any Inn or Public House in that far flung corner of the Roman Empire called England, you were greeted by your fellow vandals with the phrase, “Waes hael”, or “good health”.  And your proper response would be “Drinc hael”, or “A drink to your health”.  And what the Celtic holi-poloi would be drinking might be Mead, made from fermented honey, or a fermented version of whatever else grew locally – beer in rye growing areas, or in the hilly west counties, where the Celts grew apples, hard cider.  Everybody drank these concoctions because the alcohol killed most the pathogens in the local water supply.  That's why we still call consuming alcohol, drinking. Getting bombed was just a happy side effect.
“We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors' children
Whom you have seen before.”
The Inn keepers kept their mixture in a large “wassail bowl” as a centerpiece on the common table, so after dinner the paying guests could use their now empty food bowls to dip themselves an after-dinner drink. It is an oddity of these original pubs that the food cost money but the drinks were free. As the food supply increased, this pricing scheme would be reversed. On special occasions, the Mead would be added to the beer or cider, which improved the flavor and the alcohol content. And so taking a holiday drink from the wassail bowl became “wassailing”.
“Good master and good mistress,
As you sit beside the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who wander in the mire.”
All of this was ancient enough to be a Celtic tradition long before Rome was Christian. And about a month after the winter solstice the pagan Celts were even wassailing in their fields and apple orchards. They called it in Old English La Mas Ubhal (mangled into modern English as, “lambs wool”), or as perhaps the celebration of the apple. On the Twelfth Night of Christmas (see these pages for Twelve Days of Christmas) apple farmers would lug a large milk container filled with cider and cider soaked cakes into their fields. In the dark and the cold they would build a fire, drink and eat and dance. In song the men would threaten the trees and the women would plead the tree's defense, all to encourage them to produce apples in the coming year.
We have a little purse
Made of ratching leather skin;
We want some of your small change
To line it well within.”
It was called “An Apple Howling” or a “Luck Visit”. In Devonshire, standing under each tree, the farmers would sing “Stand fast, root! Bear well, top! Pray God send us a good howling crop: Every twig, apples big; Every bough, apples now! Hats full! caps full! Bushel-bushel-sacks full, And my pockets full, too, huzzah!” The cakes were placed in the forks of the trunk, baked apple splices were tossed into the crown, and cider splashed on the bark. It seems as if the farmers were trying to give the trees the idea of what they were supposed to produce come spring.
“Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a cheese,
And of your Christmas loaf.”
And then midway through the 5th century the Anglo-Saxons defeated the native Celts at the battle of Crayford, and over the next 600 years these invaders squeezed the Celts back into the Welsh highlands and the far west counties, which, by chance, included the apple growing regions. So, wassailing in Wales and Devon became associated more with cider, while in Anglo-Saxon England, beer and ale were what filled the wassail bowls, and the post- solstice celebration morphed into a fund raising venue. Originally, the English village leaders went house to house, singing a Wassail song at each door and offering the residents a drink from their Wassail bowl. In response, the residents were expected to make a donation to the poor. Eventually, the leadership lost interest in the process and the poor themselves stepped in to fill the vacuum. You can imagine how happy the wealthy were to share their money with a bunch of dirty, young “urban types”, who came begging at their front door, something forbidden the rest of the year. Wassailing door-to-door became frowned upon, mostly by those best able to donate.
“God bless the master of this house,
Likewise the mistress too;
And all the little children
That round the table go.”
In 1066, King Henry and his Normans conquered Anglo-Saxon England. The Normans not only brought the French words to the island, but they also brought a militant brand of Christianity. And that religion would prove to be wassailing's most determined foe. We know wassailing was still popular in 17th Century London, because just after New Years in 1625 the anal retentive Sir John Francklyn made a notation in his account book of the one pound 6 pence he paid for “the cup”
“Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.”
But after the Puritans chopped off the head of Charles I in 1649, they began to remake Britain in the their image of God. And it was a dull, dull God they envisioned. The Puritans were suspicious of wassailing, of all that drinking and dancing in the dark, and they disapproved of peasants directly asking their “betters” for money. So laws were passed, and punishments metered out. Some who celebrated the pagan days were even burned at the stake. The impact of their moral divide survived even until the end of the 20th century, as evidenced by the laws allowing advertising of wine and beer on television, but restricting the same for the sacrilegious “hard” liquors.  So if, at your next Christmas party you should find a wassail bowl bubbling away on the stove, dip a cup, and enjoy. It is a tiny taste of our shared pagan past, a harmless reminder that before Christianity, there was a god in every tree and apple, as well as every soul.
"Wassail, wassail, out of the milk pail
Wassail, wassail as white as my finger nail
Wassail, wassail in snow, frost, and hail,
Wassail, wassail that never will fail.”
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Friday, December 01, 2017


I have learned that whether your story is considered a drama or a tragedy is often determined by where you chose to end it. Consider the tale of the Great Stink of 1857, which concluded with the construction of the London sewers, conquering cholera and typhus by pumping the fecal focus eastward to the Thames estuary. It was for the 19th century Londoner a glorious conclusion, the return to the Garden of Eden toilet – flushed out of sight, out of mind. But a mere 50 years (1907ish)  later there was so much human crap in the estuary, it was beginning to stink up even the North Sea.. And a nation that lived on fish and chips began to worry their story might yet turn into a Cockney Oedipus Rex. But England – and the human world - was offered salvation when the British East India Company moved their headquarters from Calcutta to the west coast of the subcontinent.
Over sixty years, beginning in 1687, the civil servants of the British Raj used native labor to transform seven islands into a new city and port, built and organized to English standards, and overwhelmingly occupied and operated by Indians. 
By 1890 Bombay was a metropolis of almost a million inhabitants. To Mr. C. Carkeet James, Chief Drainage Engineer for the Metropolitan District, there were “...few if any cities in India of greater interest or higher educational value to students of sanitation.” Along Bombay's wide boulevards and narrow winding streets, trained English soldiers and engineers rubbed shoulders with a rising Indian middle class and uneducated textile workers, and even afflicted beggars. And it was the latter who inspired the so called Lepers Acts.
By the end of the 20th century we realized the only way to contract leprosy is to be in the 5% of the population with the genetic defect that makes you vulnerable to the bacteria leprea or lepromatosis. But as late as the end of the 19th century, leprosy was still one of humanities' most feared infections. Seemingly at random, perfectly healthy individuals would suddenly display skin lesions, which gave the disease its Latin name, lepra or “scaly”. The illness progressively destroyed the nervous system. Extremities would lose feeling. Injuries went unnoticed and untreated, often leading to the loss of toes and fingers, even ears and noses. Most suffers eventually became blind. Long before then, the afflicted were expelled from their communities, unwanted and considered unclean, drawn to the cities where they could survive only by begging.
Under the various Lepers Acts all sufferers in Bombay were prohibited from handling “any article of food or drink or any drugs or clothing intended for human use, bathe, wash clothes or take water from any public well or tank...drive (or)...ride in any public carriage.” Thus ostracized, most lepers were reduced to starvation, and local police were empowered to arrest “without a warrant any person who appears...to be a pauper leper.” Noted a journal at the time, “One of the results has been to free the city of Bombay from the beggars who used to extort alms by the exhibition of their sores about the public buildings, schools, water tanks, etc.”
Mitigating its cruelty, the act also ordered the creation of leper colonies, where an infrastructure of professionals could feed and clothe the afflicted - “chiefly vagrants and beggars”. And in typical Victorian fashion, the staff also tended to their moral shortcomings by providing work that gave them a sense of dignity and helped to mitigate the expense of their care. 
In 1890, in the Matinga section of Bombay , the recently abandoned quarters of an artillery battery, were converted into leper colony dormitories (above). The barracks stood on thick concrete foundations, raising it above the mud and filth. The dormitories for the patients were outfitted with running water, a kitchen and mess rooms.
At the end of May 1891 Mr. W.M. Acworth, local Commissioner for the Metropolitan Asylums Board, informed his sponsors back in England, “With accommodation for 190, I had yesterday 226 inmates, but fortunately a new ward has just been completed, and this over crowding will temporarily cease, though only temporarily. If I had room for 500 I could fill the asylum in a week.” In not much longer than that, maximum capacity was reached, 68% male, 32% female, and about 40 children. But the corporation that governed Bombay resisted fully funding the colony. The first year's monsoon caused the colonies' cesspits to over flow, and the flood of fecal waste from the lepers alarmed the surrounding population. By May of 1892 “The Times of India” observed, “ The Matinga Asylum is seriously overcrowded with lepers... (because of a) lack of rupees...land for the extension of the asylum lie still idle... Unless something is done to remedy this state of things, our streets will again be overrun with homeless lepers, and Mr. Acworth’s labors in the cause of these afflicted people will practically be brought to naught.”
Public and political pressure forced the East India Company to open its purse. With acquisition of the additional land, and additional funding, Mr. Acworth turned to the chief drainage engineer, Mr. James (above, 2nd from left) for a solution to the colonies' cesspit problem . What Mr. C.C. James built was a chemical-mechanical stomach to re-digest the human waste, much the same way a cow's multiple stomachs re-digests their feed.
First, Engineer James built several enclosed 19,000 gallon (settling) ponds. Here the solids sank to the bottom, where the oxygen loving (or aerobic) bacteria converted the poop into a black sludge, and pooped out their own waste, carbon dioxide. This bubbled to the surface, forming a scum which was periodically skimmed off. When the slowing production of scum indicated the aerobic bacteria had eaten themselves to death, the oxygen depleted sludge was pumped uphill into one of several air tight holding tanks, where the slow anaerobic (oxygen hating) digestion began. An American engineering journal cheerfully explained the processes, as if in a new car brochure. “The anaerobic bacteria are provided along with the sewage and practically no difficulty arises in retaining their services on the works beyond providing them with space and time in which to carry out their labors.” Their work reducing the sludge could take up to six weeks at an ambient temperature between 78 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, all the while pooping out methane gas. And this was where Mr C. Carkeet James showed his engineering skills.
At the Matinga colony the methane was captured, and feed to 3 horsepower 4-stroke methane gas motors (above) designed by German engineer Nikolaus August Otto. The Otto engines required 22 cubic feet of methane per hour to slowly raise the sludge the 8 feet between the settling pools and the anaerobic tanks. As figured by engineer James, each patient produced 3 – 4 cubic feet of methane per day, meaning that on a good day each engine needed 7 to 8 patients visiting the latrine for each hour of pumping – a goal easily met. In fact, so much methane was produced the engines could also provide electricity to light the dormitories.
After 6 – 8 weeks each anaerobic tank was left with a bottom layer of carbon heavy sludge covered by “gray water” - clean but not pure enough for human consumption. The sludge was compressed and used for land fill. 
The “gray water” was allowed to cascade down hill, during which it was aerated again, and used to irrigate and fertilize the colony's 6 acre farm. The workers were patients/inmates, who were 84% Hindu vegetarians – and 9% Muslim and 10% Christians. Besides feeding themselves, the bumper crops were sold, and, according to Mr. Acworth, “Profits from the farm wholly maintain 50 lepers located therein”. In 1904 the colony was renamed the Acworth Leper Asylum, and after World War Two, the Acworth Hospital. It still operates in modern Bombay, renamed Mumbi.
The process was not self supportive, but was publicly heralded as an example for the world. But the world did not beat a path to the lepers' back door. It was still cheaper to just dump your poop in the nearest river or bay, even when it occasionally washed right back into your front yard. It was not until the middle of the 20th century that many in the industrialized world began to realize that the Garden of Eden toilet has always been a myth.
According to the World Health Organization, exposure to human waste kills a child somewhere every 20 seconds - 1.4 million dead children each year - “more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined”. Of the world's 7 billion human beings, over 2 ½ billion are still living surrounded by their own (200 million tons of) poop. World wide, according to author and sanitation authority Rose George, 20% of girls drop out of school because they have no safe place to relieve themselves. “Providing a latrine can mean the difference between illiteracy and education.” Providing every human being with a way to treat, clean and reuse even a high percentage of their poo, would not make humanity self supporting. But it would be a step in the right direction.  And in the long run, cheaper than pretending we can clean up the mess by pretending it isn't really  there. 
It is true that shit happens. But it is not true that you just have to live with it. Because in the case of shit, you can't.
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Thursday, November 30, 2017


I am told the difference between basic pottery (first developed about 20,000 years ago) and porcelain pottery (first created about 1,000 years ago) is silicate Kaolinit clay in the slurry and an additional 500 degrees Fahrenheit in the firing process. The cost of achieving that temperature is worth the effort because porcelain is impermeable to water throughout its structure and thus, with glass, the only truly hygienic human made material. That meant porcelain was ideal for making “chamber pots”, resistant to staining and easily cleaned. Every potter in England who could, made chamber pots. And the top of the blue blood bottom market was claimed by Wedgwood, chamber pot makers for royal butts since King George III. But there were dozens of porcelain potters in England, clawing and scratching for chamber pot market share, like the Twyford family - “Fathers of the British Bathrooms”

In days of Old, When knights were bold, And, toilets weren't invented. They laid their loads,
Beside the road, And, walked away contented”
Twyford's had been making pottery in Stroke-on-Trent since 1680. But when London outlawed cesspits in 1849, Thomas Twyford senior moved to London and began aggressively selling water closets for London's growing middle class. The Twyford advantage was a siphon design which came to dominate the export market. But he over expanded and by the time Thomas Twyford junior got control of the company in 1879, it was almost bankrupt. Thomas had to do something big. He did it in 1884, when he released his “Unitus”, billed as a “trap-less toilet.”
In Cologne, a town of monks and bones, And pavements fang'd with murderous stones
And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches; I counted two and seventy stenches, All well defined, and several stinks! Ye Nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks, The river Rhine, it is well known,
Doth wash your city of Cologne; But tell me, Nymphs, what power divine, Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?”
Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge - 1834
It wasn't actually trap-less of course – the trap was still there just concealed inside the porcelain. But the “Unitius” was the arrival of the modern can, the everyman and every woman's throne, the feces and forget privy, the dump and deny water closet, the my-poop-don't-stink lavatory, the head, the John, the loo, the shit can, and most recently and famously, the Crapper.
I come here to sit and think, I usually don't mind the stink, But when it gets bad, I am really glad,
That quick out of here I can slink.”
The etymological of crap begins with the Latin “crappa” meaning the chaff, or the unusable portion of wheat. In old Dutch this became “krappe”, an inedible fish or other food. And that was the origin of the family name of Thomas Crapper. The word didn't come to mean what it means today until Thomas began to express his business philosophy of slapping his name on everything that came out of his factory, from product to employee's inventions.
Draw out yere sword, thou vile South'ron! Red wat wi' blude o' my kin! That sword it crapped the bonniest flower, E'er lifted its head to the sun!
Poet Allan Cunningham 1847
At 14 years of age Thomas Crapper was apprenticed to his brother George, who was already a master plumber in the wealthy London suburb of Chelsea. By the time he was 25 the proud Thomas had been awarded nine patents for plumbing innovations. He was no longer a mere plumber. He now billed himself as a “Sanitary Engineer”.
The flush toilet, more than any single invention, has 'civilized' us in a way that religion and law could never accomplish.”
Poet Thomas Lynch - 1997
One of Thomas' nine patents was for a fully automated water closet. The pressure of the user compressed a pair of springs under the seat. When the client arose from their effort the springs lifted the seat and via rods released flush water from the reservoir tank above. Unfortunately it became known as the “Bottom Slapper”. The heavier the user the faster the springs rebounded, in a Catholic punishment for all who soiled the system Clients found them selves unable to relax during their commodious visits for contemplation of the test that was to come the instant the pressure was off.. Needless to say the auto toilet had few repeat customers..And in fact, only two of Thomas' the nine patents proved of any lasting value.
Men who consistently leave the toilet seat up secretly want women to get up to go the bathroom in the middle of the night and fall in.”
Comic Rita Rudner
In 1866, at 30, and filled with a self confidence that would never leave him, Thomas Crapper opened his own plumbing business in Chelsea (above), complete with an on the premises brass foundry. He began every business day by joining his brother George for a champagne breakfast at a pub convenient to both their shops. And this practice might explain his decision to install windows in the front of his factory on Marlborough Road (above, left & right of door) to display his product, as if his “flush down” toilets were shoes or ladies frocks. There were reports that Victorian matrons occasionally grew faint at the impropriety of all those lavatories, the function that dare not speak its name, stacked up in full public view. But it must have increased worker moral. It clearly increased Thomas'. And it also increased sales.
What is toilet training if not the first attempt to turn a child into an acceptable member of society?”
Author Rose George 2004
A big part of Thomas' business was the installation of public lavatories. And on each shinny porcelain Crapper urinal was painted a buzzing bee. It was an inside joke among the public school boys standing to relieve themselves, which they had learned from their Latin instructions In Latin a bee is called an “apis”.  A piss. Very funny.
If you do the toilet scenes well and commit to them, they can be really, really powerful.”
Actress Sandra Bullock
By the 1880's Thomas broke the Wedgwood monopoly on royal crap, establishing a personal connection with the long suffering Prince of Wales, forced to put up with his mother's crap until Queen Victoria finally died in January of 1901. After that the aging Prince became King Edward VII, and Thomas Crapper became “Sanitary Engineer” to the royal bottom. Thomas retired in 1904, turning the business over to his nephew George Crapper (lower right) and his old business partner Robert Wharam (lower left). And in late January 1910, Thomas Crapper (below) , the man with the self confidence to market crap, and do so successfully, passed quietly into that great cistern in the sky.  The company survived, sans any actual Crappers, until it was swallowed by a competitor in 1963.
Crap has always happened, crap is happening, and crap will continue to happen.”
Author Chuck Palahniuk
But with human populations expanding, it was increasingly difficult to avoid all that crap humans had flushed away.
The average human being spends three years of life going to the toilet, though the average human being with no physical toilet to go to probably does his or her best to spend less.”
Author Rose George  - 2004
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