Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Chamber Pot (short story)

First of all, my memory is not what it used to be so if I am not accurate in my descriptions, it be so.
Secondly, a chamber pot does not live a life any of you would desire. True, I have seen things others don't see but I can assure you the things I have seen have always been a bit.... uhm... smelly.

If a chamber pot still exists, it would probably be cleaned after every use, but not in my days, oh no. We were on guard the whole night and were only emptied in the mornings.
I should not complain though! Some chamber pots lived in less pleasant environments than I.
My life started in a pottery (how applicable...) together with more pots of my kind and a few very posh pots.
We were the majority because the Estate that placed the order had more servants than family members; not an unusual thing in those days. And long term guests often brought their own pots because they were used to the size. And there are many different sizes to fit a bum!

Did you know that the difference in position already started in the pottery? You are wrong thinking we were all made of the same clay. No, we are made of far less delicate raw materials than our fellow posh pots; we are stoneware and they are porcelain. And it is not only the raw materials, it is also the look: the posh pots are often painted with beautiful flowers and other decorations in soft colours and the common pots are not.
I am happy to be a middle class pot (that is how I think of myself), the lower classes are often brown or greyish white without any decoration. I am also taller than most pots and this is because I served both the Lady's maid and the Coachman which broadened my view on people. And I have stripes. Well, that is enough about me.

Chamber pots in general need to be emptied and cleaned on a daily base but I am not sure this happened to all pots, in that respect I was lucky. It was the duty of the scullery maid to collect the content of all potties in the house. She gathered the contents in large white enamelled buckets with a lid. The poor girl had to walk a lot of stairs with those heavy buckets full of human waste (posh and common mixed) and believe me, the smell was terrible. Due to her other duties the rest of the day, she had to hurry but in the meantime being careful not to fall.... The second scullery girl collected the empty pots to clean them in a special built outhouse.

Servants are known for their gossiping and you can't blame them. There was much to talk about, as well as upstairs as downstairs. The more people the more gossip. But let me tell you that their gossiping was nothing comparing to what we had to tell!! After cleaning we rested upside down on iron racks until we were dry and ready for a new night shift. As soon as the scullery maid left the outhouse, we told each other the stories of the past night. When I first stood there amongst more experienced pots, I tried not to keep up with them in terms of gossiping because I was middle class.
But when I noticed that the posh' and the commons participated and that it was more or less 'daily news' instead of 'backbite' (which is a far more appropriate word for us to use...), I heartily joined the party.

I know you are curious now and want to hear about the affairs of his Lordship or even the chauffeur, or the secrets discussed between the daughter of his Lordship and her Lady's maid. Or the complains of the Butler and the Housekeeper about the lower servants but I am not going to tell you these stories now. Maybe some other time as I will most likely still be here for the next couple of years.

I never thought I would retire, I always thought that if not cracked, I would move on to a younger generation of servants but alas, it did not happen.
Tragical really, that the Coachman was the only one who stayed in the house after the family moved when the British economy changed after the second world war.
Servants moved to industrial and much better paid jobs, agricultural prices went through the roof and farmers wanted a better payment. And that did not change during the 50's and 60's. It was called progress.
In the meantime the Estate was only a shell with on the top floor the rooms of the Coachman who did not dare to move to one of the grand rooms, still loyal to his Lordship and well aware of his own manners which became a habit after so many years of serving.

The Lady's Maid left the Coachman for a, in my opinion, conman who was not only charming but also had a better income and a more modern house than the rooms on the top floor.
Now I only had to serve one bum and the older the bum got, the less clean it was as you will imagine.
I was loyal to this single bum but often felt home sick to the days of gossiping in the outhouse. Life was, to say the least, boring.

Photo: @soul_mining (Instagram)
Photo: @soul_mining (Instgram)
But than the day came that the Coachman never returned from his house inspection, carrying a double-barreled shotgun to chase unwanted visitors. I still don't know what happened to him. He might have fallen down the stairs (in that case he was lucky not to carry me), the animals in the forest might have witnessed his final breath. Or maybe he just walked away, tired of living in a room where several layers of wall paper curl down the damp walls. Tired of watching his own face every day in the mirror on top of the chest of drawers and smelling the perfume - still left in the bottle next to the mirror - of his unfaithful Lady's maid. Or tired of carrying me up and down the stairs which is a risky job when your hands start shaking at the older age.
I don't know and I assume I will never know.

Quentin Crisp once said: "After the first four years the dirt doesn't get any worse". And he was right.
As well on the subject of dust and the content of me. One day you might find me and even have the courage to clean me and to adopt me. Please don't. Please leave me where I belong; under the bed of a long forgotten Coachman at the floor of long forgotten servants.

Word of thanks: the photo of @soul_mining (Instagram) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. Thank you Dan!

Link: please visit the beautiful Instagram account of @soul_mining

Note: the story is (of course) pure fiction!A figment of my imagination!



  1. Anonymous3:53 pm

    Great photo! Great story!


  2. Anonymous10:16 pm

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