3. To get to the bottom of…………

i.e. to discover the truth about………

No prizes for guessing which supermarket shelves were cleared first.

Yes, these……….




………but followed by a short  head by flour. May seem odd, but down here in SW France home baking is part  of everyday life and those shelves haven’t yet recovered from the onslaught. Our neighbour, who is in a senior position at Leclerc, cannot obtain any for us, yet.

How much loo paper do we actually use? Well, if you trawl the internet you will come across  toilet paper calculators; yes, really.  One survey gives the total as 100 rolls per person per year. The statistics make sobering reading; to make paper you need trees.  If you cut down a tree it should be replaced by two more. In our part of the world that doesn’t happen. One pensioner, who remembered the shortages after WWII, said he didn’t know what the fuss was about. He had to make do with old newspapers. Only problem was that printer’s ink left its mark.


During a visit to Sydney we took a tour around the Q Station. This austere barracks was open from the 1830s until 1984. Migrant ships arriving in Sydney with suspected contagious diseases stopped and offloaded passengers and crew into quarantine to protect local residents.  Could it have been reopened during the  lockdown?  Not realistically; the plumbing would rule it out and it’s now the site of a smart hotel.

This picture could have been taken in the dormitory of my boarding school, apart from the candle holder (we did have electricity!) Beds with iron frames are common enough but the china accessories you’d only find in antique shops now.  A set should include a basin, large jug, soap dish, tooth mug and, most important, the chamber pot; otherwise known as a jerry, pisspot or thunder jug. The task of emptying ours fell to an aged family retainer. Mabel was tall and austere and wore a long, severe black dress softened by a white apron and starched white cap. She was closely followed everywhere by her aged jack russell. He was endowed with a generous undercarriage which swung  dangerously close to the floor. He was also partly blind and bumped into the bed legs. Mabel didn’t notice.

While the bidet didn’t supplant the chamber pot it did add quality to the bedroom accessories of the aristocracy and wealthy. One of the earliest-known bidets was installed in a bedroom of the French royal family in 1710, but in all likelihood it was on the drawing board well before that. Present day dictionaries translate bidet as a horse, or, more precisely, a nag (and an old one at that). Pony, small horse, whatever you like to call it, it was plainly meant to be straddled, although it was up to the occupant to decide which way to face. French soldiers were known to have enjoyed  cleaning their sore undercarriages in basins of water after a long day of horse riding. It caught on in France and eventually you’d have been hard-pressed to find a hotel bathroom without one.


The bidet became fashionable in Britain when mass travel abroad was in vogue from the 70s.  To have one installed in your house, together with the avocado suite, was definitely one up on the neighbours. It was a short-lived fad though as new houses tended to be economical with space and the en-suite became a must-have.

The bidet did not catch on in America to the same extent. In a scene from Crocodile Dundee Mick  stands in the bathroom of his elegant New York hotel puzzled why the bathroom had both a toilet and a urinal. Coming from the outback of Australia he wasn’t familiar with modern trends in plumbing. American homes were more likely than European ones to install walk-in showers, so there was no demand for a bidet. Elsewhere in the world, particularly in Asia and South America, people would find it unsettling to enter a bathroom lacking a bidet.



Japan is the leader of high tech bidet/toilet units, with heated seats, hot and cold jets of water. a dryer and deodoriser. Tricky if you pressed the wrong button.



Should you be fortunate enough to fly first class when the airlines are back in the air you’d  find that onboard bidets are a regular feature;  more likely to be found in the gigantic A380  and far/middle eastern airlines.

Finally this gem, reproduced here  by kind permission of   the Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton & Hove, tells you all you need to know what la perfide Albion thought of Napoleon.






Next post 4.  La rentrée 











Published by Down Under diary

Down Under diary

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