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Indy Lifestyle Online
I AM SITTING on the upstairs lavatory with an old Harold Robbins novel and a mug of tea, when the doorbell rings. El Sid, who normally lives in Marbella but is currently over here on one of his state visits, is downstairs watching a children's television programme called The Magic of the Faraway Tree. He is enthralled by it, and is keeping me abreast of developments by shouting out a running commentary.

"Answer the door, Dad!" I shout down.

I can hear El Sid, now in his seventies, groan as he gets to his feet.

I have another sip of tea and think about when I was a child. In particular I think about smoky autumnal Sunday afternoons when El Sid would take us four kids for a walk in Epping Forest. After lunch we'd drive out there in his Vauxhall Cresta, park at the Wake Arms, and set off - swish, swish, swish, ankle deep in golden leaves - into the Royal forest. It was wonderful.

Where is it now, the glory and the dream? As I remember it, our shouts would echo between the gigantic tree-trunks, and it was so still in there that you could hear individual leaves fall. And there was always that swish of the fallen leaves about our feet, and always, when we had gone far enough into the forest, Sid would make us squat down and do our business.

It was a ritual. We'd squat in a semi-circle around him, and he would encourage us with jovial comments such as, "May I borrow your shooting- stick, madam?" and "Cigar anyone?", or he'd do an impression of an old- fashioned telephone operator, with separate ear and mouthpiece, and say: "Speak up, Brown! You're through!" Things like that. And when we'd finished, he'd inspect the results, choose the best three, and announce them, like a master of ceremonies, in ascending order of merit.

It was for the good of our health, apparently. Throughout our childhood, we kids were the bemused victims of Sid's theory that a thorough, healthful bowel evacuation can only be achieved if performed in a squatting position, preferably in a natural setting.

The introduction of the lavatory was a retrograde step according to him, and the cause of many of society's current ills. Richard the Lionheart squatted. Henry V squatted. Dr Johnson squatted. Drake, Raleigh and Nelson squatted over the side. But sadly, the cumulative effect of 150 years of sitting upright on the lavatory has lost us an Empire and turned us into a nation of retentive neurotics.

Where he got these ideas from, I do not know. National Service possibly. At some stage in his military career, I believe, he had to manoeuvre himself, with trousers down, along a pole suspended above an open trench. Whether this was Sid's road to Damascus or not, his subsequent campaign to expose the shortcomings of modern sanitary ware, and his search for the perfect defecating position, became an obsession.

Later on, he must have been in touch with a group of people with a similar mental illness, because a series of anti-lavatory pamphlets, originating from an address in St Leonards-on-Sea, began to appear in the house. These clumsily printed pamphlets had titles such as "Why Lavatories?"

I can hear Dad opening the door. It's Ray and Linda, our local Jehovah's Witnesses. Because I invited them in once, for a chat, they think they've got a nibble, and now they call in once a week to talk about God and that. I don't mind really. In fact I look forward to it sometimes, because I fancy Linda a bit.

I go downstairs and put the kettle on and introduce Ray and Linda to Sid, who just grunts at them without taking his eyes off the telly.

Unfortunately, these days Sid is seldom free from the odours of the tavern and looks like a hedge that has been dragged through a man backwards. I see Linda looking askance at him as he sits there, re-absorbed in The Magic of the Faraway Tree. I am also surprised to see that Linda is nettled by the way Sid is completely ignoring her.

"And are you looking forward to the time when everyone on earth will live together in peace and harmony, Mr Clarke?" she says to him in a raised, rather preachy voice.

And unfortunately, Sid can be very rude at times.

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