SMOKE: The Toilet On The Hill
Originally published: 9 May 2005
Last week tragedy struck when with a loud crack my toilet seat broke in the middle of a particularly enjoyable ablution session, almost pitching me into the bowl.
Wooden toilet seats with bad joints, you understand. Guaranteed to bugger up your day.
So we got a new seat and I've spent some quality time wrestling with rusty screws and awkward angles, on my knees in front of my toilet. It's a humbling experience - you get to see your toilet close up, which is something no person should ever be forced to see.
We clean our toilet regularly but when you get as close to The Throne as I have you see terrible, terrible things: The Bits That Were Missed.
I won't go into it as this is a website for little children and they're probably reading this at lunch time, but trust me - don't go there if you don't have to. Nasty. Green bits, dude.
But my efforts reminded me of a peculiar memory from my bizarre childhood and I thought there'd be no harm in telling you about it.
I hated Pretoria but grey and depressing as the place was in the eighties there were very few things more beautiful than Pretoria on a cold autumn morning. Dew covers everything so that the early morning sunlight refracts off everything, making the place twinkle, and the city itself is a carpet of purple lavender as the trees shed their summer leaves and prepare for their winter hibernation.
I hated getting up on those cold mornings but I loved being driven to school - the windows of the car would always be iced over (many's the morning we had to pour a kettle of hot water over them before we could leave) and if the sun was shining at that early hour it would provide a thin, cold air which sparkled.
But there was one thing that troubled me for a long time.
Our neighbourhood was at the foot of a koppie - one of the small hills that you find dotted around the fringes of the city. My school was also at the base of such a koppie (called Mt Edmund, a very grand name for essentially a big pile of industrial dirt), and since moving to Cape Town I've lived beneath the slopes of Lion's Head, Table Mountain and Devil's Peak.
I guess I'm reasonably comfy living at the bottom of hills. No wonder I have constant neck pain - I'm always looking upwards.
For a long time - must have been months, although as a kid your sense of time is seriously skewed out of perspective - there was a huge sign at the top of our neighbourhood hill, which you could see from a long way off.
The sign read simply: TOILET.
Every morning I would clear a small space on the window of the frosted car window and peep through it as the sign came into view between the trees that lined the road, and every afternoon I would be on the opposite side of the car, staring dreamily at the sign and pondering the meaning of it all.
I distinctly remember that period of my life since it was a great mystery - why would there be nothing but a toilet on top of a small hill in Pretoria?
Since immediate solutions were not forthcoming I sat and mulled over the possibilities and ramifications, but I never got closer to solving the truth on my own.
I just couldn't work out why you'd need a toilet on top of a hill. It worried me. I was a nervous child.
But thinking about it the other day, when on my knees wrestling with my own toilet, I came to the conclusion that a toilet on top of a hill isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world. Even if it is rather odd.
I'm not what you'd call an overly spiritual person and unlike many folks don't have a close, personal relationship with my toilet. I like to get in, get out and erase the memory as quickly as possible, because thinking about it for longer than a few seconds has been known to lead to madness.
They once found me wandering down the N2, blithering like an idiot and mumbling something about "horror" and "hell", and it took a team of Cape Town's finest psychiatrists six months to work out that I hadn't, in fact, just stumbled out of the premiere of Hellboy II - I'd just had a rather traumatic experience on the toilet and had failed to erase my memory of it.
I dwelled upon it, you see, and with me that's a big no-no. Don't be negative. Just be positive. Don't think bad thoughts. Just think good thoughts.
I learned from that mistake and have never repeated it since. I've grown up a little. A little older; a little wiser.
But a toilet upon a hill overlooking a purple city that sparkles like a 6am jewel - that could be an entirely existential experience. You climb a hill in darkness and arrive at the top before the sun breaks. Instead of finding problems you find a solution - a toilet overlooking the suburbs.
You drop your drawers and ease yourself comfortably into place, and as the world explodes into colour and meaning you let loose. You just let go, you know?
Forget about your worries and your strife and relax for one beautiful, glorious moment, knowing that you can leave your shit behind you when you climb back down the hill.
It's a metaphor, man. An accomplishment. An achievement. Personal glory that nobody knows but you. Theatre of the invisible, with no audience to witness your masterpiece.
One day, driving home from school, I finally relented and asked my sister about the toilet. She asked me what I was talking about and I pointed out the sign on the hill.
Of course she loved every minute of explaining that the sign didn't say TOILET - it said TO LET. All they were doing was selling houses.
Just goes to show how so often reality is far less interesting than imagination. Or maybe it highlights how people will always see what they want to see.
Or maybe - just maybe - my sister got it wrong and there really was a toilet on that hill.
I like to think so.
All Smoked Out,