Country Life: More privy stories flushed out of the closet

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The Independent Online

My item a fortnight ago about Herefordshire privies has flushed a remarkable number of privy stories out of the closet.

My item a fortnight ago about Herefordshire privies has flushed a remarkable number of privy stories out of the closet. Sally Hotson wrote from Forres in Scotland that her mother was with the Land Army during the Second World War and was billeted near Leominster. Having come from the indoor-loo belt of the Home Counties, she was horrified to find widespread reliance on the outdoor privy. Apparently, the local farm had a four-holer, which the farmer and his wife always visited together.

Sally has most of her mother's wartime letters home, and one of them reveals her appalled fascination with this farm privy: "It's a wooden building at the side of the garden which is separated from a field by a hedge and is also on a much higher level, so that there is a sheer drop from the garden to the field.

"A moat runs along the field by the hedge, and the building juts out over it in some way. Unfortunately, the moat does not run very swiftly and, extraordinarily, flows along the whole length of their garden - it must be pretty overpowering in hot weather."

I also received a letter from Sylvia Coigley, a charming, willowy octogenarian. She used to live here, in Docklow, and we met her on the anniversary of D-day, when she called in on her way back from nearby Berrington Hall, where 60 years earlier she had been a nurse. She recalls a three-holer at her grandparents' home near Bromyard. "I clearly remember it," she writes. "But I never used it, even though the third hole was child-sized!"

There was a lot more correspondence along those lines. I'm always hugely engaged, if you'll pardon the pun, by how enthused the British are by lavatorial matters. It's no wonder Thomas Crapper was one of us. About 18 months ago I wrote a paeon - again, pardon the pun - to the men's loos at Reading Station.

They were not only spotlessly clean, I wrote, but also pleasantly suffused in soft blue lighting; although this, I later found from the Great Western Railways head office, was less to create a delightful ambience for urinating than to discourage heroin-users, who can't find their veins in such lighting.

Anyway, I was subsequently bombarded with letters about public loos, none more enjoyable than the one from a reader whose uncle had once reached a cubicle at Victoria station in a state of desperation. As he frantically dropped his trousers, a large amount of loose change fell from his pocket and clattered onto the stone floor. When silence eventually descended, there came a frightfully pukka voice from the adjoining cubicle: "Good God, man, what have you been eating?"

Orphaned Tiggywinklets

In any list of great British enthusiasms, hedgehogs are right up there with lavatories. I've never been a particular subscriber, myself. I always preferred Jemima Puddleduck to Mrs Tiggywinkle. But a couple of months ago, in the chic Croatian resort of Opatjia, I found a little hedgehog - or hjedgehjog - snuffling along the pavement beside me, looking for a way into the adjoining park. I was charmed. And was on the brink of picking it up and depositing it safely in the undergrowth when I remembered hearing that hedgehogs are infested with fleas. So I just said goodbye, in Serbo-Croat obviously, and walked on.

Anyway, I discovered last week that these fleas are hedgehog-specific, and won't thrive on anything else. We can pick them up with impunity. This information came from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which is based just a few miles from us, in Ludlow, in a building called, magnificently, Hedgehog House.

I came across its number in a magazine and phoned, despite my wife's warning that I would find the people there extremely prickly. On the contrary, the woman I spoke to was lovely. She told me that the society was formed in 1982 and has 11,000 members, who are particularly on their mettle at this time of year. There are lots of young hedgehogs knocking around now, known at Hedgehog House as "autumn orphans".

At eight weeks' old they were left by their mothers to fend for themselves, only they are not yet big enough to dig in for hibernation. Nor are the hibernating hedgehogs entirely safe, for many of them snuggle down into handy heaps of wood and leaves, and are fast asleep by the time the thing turns out to be a bonfire. If you'd like to know more, or would like to raise funds for the BHPS by running a marathon dressed as a hedgehog, as at least one enthusiast has done, its number is 01584 890801.

Senile delinquents?

Last week I referred to a story in the Hereford Times concerning a young man of 25 who was appalled, while on a bike ride in a local wood, to come across a pair of over-65s having sex. To return to this age-reversal theme, I found myself in Stoke-on-Trent last week, having a sandwich at a hotel opposite the station. There was a group of young people in the hotel lounge, all fairly boisterous, following what I assumed was a works lunch. But at one point one of the men, aged about 23, looked out of the window and erupted in genuine outrage. "Bloody hell," he spluttered, "some moron's gone and stuck a cone on Josiah Wedgwood's head."

A senior citizen, I shouldn't wonder.