This month we have Ambrasia Kurtz, a mutantspace arts skills exchange member from South Africa writing an essay on her cultural journey in a strange land called Ireland
Sendings from Acerbica reveal something of what it can be, to see out of the eyes of two people who tumble together through not ordinary lives.
Like when she was sitting on a long drop in a resettlement camp in Africa. A long drop? That’s a very long, narrow hole, dug way down into the ground, colonized at the bottom by a colony of working maggots, working to dispose of what’s deposited into the long drop from the top. And if there are snakes around, they may also be drawn into the dark, dank sanctity of its recesses. Anyway, she’d gone with a group to lend some aid and cheer and comfort and act as an observer in this resettlement camp. A resettlement camp? An encampment, virtually makeshift, generally on a parched stretch of barren, desolate, deserted land, where the elementals often deploy their more malevolent sisters; where communities, by forced removal from areas that their people have always lived in for many generations, are summarily and arbitrarily dumped by remote authorities. So, she recalls, she was in this bleak resettlement camp, perched atop this long drop, attempting to balance her body (and her mind creating unimaginables in the blackness beneath her); whilst additionally unsuccessfully braving icy wind that was taunting the scantiness of the corrugated tin enclosure and, wondering how she could reach in her pocket to see if she fortuitously had some sort of tissue, a blessed, abundant roll of TP suddenly appeared through a crack in the tin on the end of a small, black hand. She, of course, white as the worst of the driven invaders who came off the ships at the Cape of Good Hope and becoming, in that predicament, almost as white as that TP, was deeply moved by the compassionate gesture that had miraculously provided wiping saviour.
She didn’t know, at the time, that that giftly surprise of TP inserted into the corrugated iron was deemed luxury, reserved for use by VIP guests only when they passed through. Dig down further and it’s not the hole but the tale that gets deeper, because she really could NOT handle long drops. NO, no, no, no, no, no, no! One of her companions had fallen into one – rotten planks around the edges – and, to get washed, she had to walk to the closest water supply in a river, a mile away.
It was mostly the concept of snakes in the long drops that got to her. So, her and her partner researched other toilet options and decided to run a dry composting system for their rural sojourn. Do that for twelve years, and comprehensive observation attains corroborated evidence, that the yards upon daily millions of yards of basic wipe, probably top the list of the most un-biodegradable substances in domestic waste. Even government duty, plastic shopping bags disintegrate quicker than TP, especially where there’s sun. The main stuff that TP is primarily thought to deal with is dealt short shrift in rural, outdoor nature – little bugs, and dung beetles in their rivetingly fascinating duty appear instantaneously and, in half an hour or so, the cleaning job is done and the spot is as it was before the deed; except for that lump of white paper that sits there, like ‘X’ marks the spot, for an age. It does not deteriorate, it does not decline, it does not shrink, it does not wilt, it does not deplete, it does not move. It just sits there. She often had to advise guests who didn’t have a clue of how to trail in the wilderness without the white porcelain bowl, “find yourself a secluded spot – choose the best view; but take this plastic bag with you so that you can bring back the TP to throw it in the burn trash”.
Essentially, the dry composting system didn’t ever work properly, because of the TP. What’s left, is an ever increasingly, woven mat, that just continues to get fat.
In her experience of Africa, you can do someone a really good turn with an unsolicited thought that counts as marked contribution to household supplies, if you arrive for a pop in visit at the door of a perpetual friend, with a roll of freshly purchased TP in your hand. One has to stop and picture that:
. . . arriving at a friend’s house and nonchalantly handing them a roll of TP as they open the door and they say “ooh thanks”, gratefully, like it’s the most natural, little, everyday gift in the world . . .
(no flinching, no blinking, no query, no stumped, quizzical look, no balking, no offence) and you’re following them down the passage to a cuppa in the kitchen, while automatically exchanging titbits that commonly comprise regular, customary, greeting chatter.
In the civilized sanitation of urban life, TP is as assumed a proliferation as a TV, but it simply has a habit of running out – unlike the transmitted programmes or anything else in the supply cupboard. Even if this toilette commodity is an unquestioned, forgone inclusion on the standard shopping list, somehow, in the bustle of a preoccupied mind, there’s often a forgetful slip in getting this item to the till along with all the other buys. And the car, bike or foot will be turned around to go and get the TP when the omission is detected – won’t they? The modern mind can no more conceive of life without bountiful TP than imagine the daily practicalities that might have been part of the pre-industrial housewife’s latrine chores: like what were they using in the old days, rags that had to be made and washed? Could the wealthy buy them in stores? What were they called? (This could raise the aside of the origins of the nomenclature for the musical genre “Rag Time”.) More to the point, how would we, in western ways, do without TP now?
There is a situation, a context, a realm, wherein a modern mind may find itself perplexed by the semblance that life is returning to pre-industrialised time; and this is not necessarily only in the instance of distant, starving masses that didn’t make it to the current century in the first place. Since this is not a usual subject of easy confession in open conversation – it’s probably less confronting to discuss sexual fetish – there is real likelihood that TP could regularly be beyond the means of countless, normal, professional lives, but there just wouldn’t be opportunity to getting around to, er, sharing it. ‘The syndrome’, her and her partner named it, did begin to occur, circa 2004. The first dim signs were that even tertiary educated, contemporary people, downline of ‘superior’, colonial stock, academics, serious cultural individuals in apartments on civilized streets, ‘house-next-door’ families, were increasingly living a portion of each month in the ambience of candlestick lighting, not necessarily by aesthetic choice, but via the ES Corp instituting summary power cut-offs in the instance of arrears accounts. It was an emerging lifestyle. And it came around all too soon, when stashes of TP rolls became a luxury of the past or, of a future that might one day again be imbued with sufficiently voluptuous budget to splurge on the additional, convenient comfort.
Comparatively speaking, TP is simply not that cheap. Those who were aware of this and had to steer themselves through, began to share a new pathway. There was a solidarity in the acknowledgment of the governing practicalities and parameters of the escalating situation, ebbs and flows, when the circle regularly didn’t meet at both ends, but where somehow, there could still be found, a bottle of plonk to go around in a gathering by flickering shadows, while the commiseration of a knowing, somewhat cynical laughter, would transmute the onerous burden of cash flow slow-down, into a strange weightlessness that is profound: fantasising about the phases of bounty that would return, when there would be a sense of easy breeze because the kids were licking ice creams and the mobiles would have enough creds for a throw away text or two and there’d be a stash of bulk-pack TP in store that would make one feel like there was endowment enough if it were eternity one had to live through. Then, in a blend of tipsied mirth, one would negotiate one’s way down an unlit corridor to the solace of discovery that one was truly not alone, because there too, in the light of the candle next to the loo, balanced on the specifically designed TP roll holder, there would be a humble, hand assemblage of some arbitrary paper. When there’s a mutually unspoken cognizance that a roll of TP will fulfil the need for an urgent godsend; when the practicalities of a friend’s life mean that milk or eggs are more of a priority choice in the disposable actuality of their budget, and one arrives at the door in that empathetic knowledge, with a roll of TP in one’s hand, there’s an ironic transcendence in the communication of a relationship.
Scares about the coming of food shortages might have buzzed the ears of even the most financially clockworked, sceptical of lives. So. We learn to save seeds, we try to sew, we try to grow. But, should we have to, how do we prepare to replicate this other base commodity that we have all come to love, know and take for granted. There was a time when the substitute substance for TP could be newspaper, but those items become scarcer and increasingly a thing for the few. Old Golden Pages? Somehow there are those members of the unnamed masses who manage to pick up a supply of newspaper to roll their zolls. (Smokes) Rizla papers in their situation would be like a fully convertible 09 Mercedes Benz to a cashier check-out worker. In the smoking application though, the paper quantity required is small consideration. But most people would surely acknowledge, that their use of TP increases exponentially beyond the obvious, into all manner of other things. Handkerchiefs are mostly outmoded aren’t they, so, besides TP, just what else does one do for the nose? Tissues and kitchen towel classify one as elite, don’t they? The rural African mass might seem eminently civilized within an extreme eco consciousness, that their existence causes them automatically to rely on grass and leaves for all purpose wipes, instead of the modern convenience of these white, chlorine infested, bacteria prevented metres of meticulously measured, tear off blocks, pristinely, precisely, coiled over the completely and utterly useless cardboard roll – as anyone who has ever tried recycled crafts will know. Effort as you might, disguise it as you will, the utmost inventive, creative, intelligent genius bold, cannot do anything with a spent toilet roll that will successfully dissociate the combined shape, texture and dimension of the item from its original identity and intended function: to slip neatly around that little lugged, cob-like cone, that clicks at both ends into the bevelled indents of wall, ceramic, metal, plastic, cemented, nailed, siliconed onto or propped upon some surface near the porcelain bowl and chain. Neat, nifty, sophisticated gadgets, often in awkward, after-thought places, gotta reach too far forward or too far behind, crick the neck or back, while the expedient spinning, spinning of these dispensing devices, too easy, too much, turns consumptive unconsciousness into a total wrapping of the whole planet, minute over minute, every day and every night. One might begin to use this precious commodity much more wisely if one began to realise how precious it really is and, if it came to light that the dear citizens of Earth are smothering her and themselves with TP.
There’s a book, a MUST read, “Rubbish” by Richard Girling. He asserts that daily consumption of this wiping paper, in the ‘UK’ alone, unrolled to its extended metreage, constitutes enough to wrap around the whole globe ten times! To see how the treatment plants have to dredge it all out of the sludge – one must read on, if one dares.
. . . arriving at a friend’s house and nonchalantly handing them a roll of TP as they open the door?It might be a kindly act that synchronously prevents an inconvenience, since procurement of the roll was omitted at the store. It might be the start of a new rage of TP gifters, building a compendium of stories to swap and compare, about the most basic consumptive grace of our race. No joke. The implications of the subject of Toilet Paper carry enough severity to warrant the attention of such honest levity.