the state of things
We Come At Last To The Great Faecal Examination Of Our Times
by Elvis Shackleton - 08:06 on 22 January 2009
Douglas Lindsay is currently writing The Final Cut. The following first appeared in his Letter From Belgrade on 25th January 2005:
The double windows in the downstairs bathroom rattled eerily in the wind. The one on the outside with a loud, incessant clatter, keeping rhythm with the beating wings of demons, an angry noise protesting at the bitter cold; the inside window making its protest with an occasional dull click of wood against wood. The trees swayed all around our leafless suburb, the wind caused strange noises, like groans from the dead, as if a horde of orcs was massing in the undergrowth ready to descend with all the force of hell upon the blighted souls of the morning.
I was kneeling beside the toilet, my hand encased in pink latex, and about to begin my rummage through the contents of my son's morning bowel movement, in an attempt to unearth the small magnetic ball which he had swallowed two days previously. (My underwear was also pink latex, but that, like Bill Bryson travelling through Europe, is neither here nor there.) Holding my breath, and thinking of fragrant summer Highland glens - although why I thought it would help to imagine being bitten to death by midgies I'm not sure - I sunk my hand into the steaming morass of faeces. 'Have you found it yet?' came the voice from the hall, and the bathroom door was rent asunder by the very horde of orcs that I had played my own part in creating, and they stood excitedly in the doorway, their cherubic faces glowing in the weak rays of the morning sun. 'Is it there?' 'Have you found the ball?' 'Is it covered in poo?' 'Is there a lot of poo?' 'How much poo is there?' 'Is the ball in the poo?' 'Is it still silver?' 'Why did you use an ice cream tub?' 'Are you going to make poo ice cream?' 'I don't want poo ice cream, I want strawberry.' 'Can I get chocolate?' 'When can we go to the pictures?' 'I want to go back to Scotland.' 'If you find the ball can we play with it?' 'Is it true Cpt Kirk never actually says Beam Me Up, Scotty?' 'Have you found it yet?' And as they yabbered, they got closer and closer, until they were pressed against my back, staring over my shoulder, looking down into the very heart of darkness itself. I hadn't moved; I was still kneeling, my fingers immersed in the merchandise, counting to ten. (Although, by the time they'd finished asking questions, I'd counted to three hundred and fifty-seven.) 'Step away from the poo,' I said calmly. 'Step away from the poo. Don't touch anything. Leave me alone. If you want, you can go and watch Cartoon Network, whilst eating double chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips, enrobed with chocolate sauce in a coulis of chocolate; just leave me alone.' Then they slightly realigned themselves in the bathroom, so that they were no longer touching me but were standing at the side with a good view of proceedings.
I started to take a deep breath, in the way that one does on a regular basis when one has children, until I remembered that taking a deep breath was not called for under the circumstances. The audience were quiet but enthralled - like the crowd around the 18th green at the Open - and once more I was able to concentrate on the matter to hand. I began to squelch my fingers through the pungent goo of excrement, the brown matter squidging between my fingers. It was not unlike making scones. 'Have you found it yet?' 'Can I help?' 'Can you get me a glass of hot milk?' 'I want apple juice.' My fingers slurped onto something small and hard, and I turned my deathrays away from the spawn and down into the soup. Trying not to breathe, I worked the object clean. A hazelnut, almost entirely untouched by the child's teeth. 'You need to chew your food more,' I said to him, over my shoulder. 'What, now?' he replied. 'Can I get chocolate?'
The children at my back reminded me of a scatological episode from my past. Went on a walking holiday in the Moroccan mountains, one of those group adventures, where you're thrown together with a bunch of people you've never met before. Using Marrakesh as a base, we trooped off into the mountains, to spend ten days staying in small villages without electricity, European standards of plumbing, multiplex cinemas or 24hr supermarket shopping facilities. The toilets were generally holes in the ground, in tiny dark outhouses. You had to take a torch in to make sure you a) got it in the hole, and b) didn't step on other people's wayward efforts. This was all very well, but the problem with tiny villages in the Moroccan mountains was big spiders. BIG spiders. We arrived at our first super-primitive village on the second night, and we walked into one of the two small rooms we were to use as bedrooms. The spiders looked down from the walls. Big and brown. Not too sinister, not too nasty; you know, they were kind of saying, 'Hello there, come on in. Have some tea. Why don't you sleep in here tonight? I might walk across your face at two o'clock in the morning, and I might not...' I slept outdoors.
But before the problem of sleep arose, I had to deal with another problem. My initial plan of holding everything in for ten days, until we returned to Marrakesh, was about to crash and burn on the back of two days of hot spicy curries for breakfast, lunch and supper. I made tentative enquiries to those brave souls who had already entered the toilet of doom. 'It's kind of dark, and God knows what's up in the corners,' said one. And then, before he had finished saying, 'You've just got to go for it,' a man came running from the toilet in a hyperventilating panic, screaming, 'It's alive! It's alive!' You know, big spiders are as big spiders do, and we can all safely exist in the same world; one just doesn't want one of them falling onto one's bare thigh whilst in mid-ablution. A Plan B was called for.
It was still an hour before dark, so I decided that I'd take a short walk away from the village, ostensibly to take the odd photo and check out the view, but really to make a bolt for the nearest large rock. I wandered casually out of our lodgings and along the streets of the small town, with the nonchalant air of someone who has already been to the bathroom and is entirely comfortable about the body. Less than a minute and I was at the edge of the village, the panorama stretching before me one of huge rocks, each with a GENTLEMEN sign on it. I picked my rock, not too far away, and quickened my pace. Suddenly I heard a noise behind and turned, dolefully wondering if one of my companions, who I had so studiously avoided as I'd departed, had decided to join me on my lavatorial peregrenation into the mountains. Instead I was greeted by the smiling sight of every single kid in the village, a great swathe of innocent youth, who had instantly appeared from doorways and windows, watching me with bated breath and saying things to each other like, 'Come on, the big white man's away for a shite, let's go and watch.' That was when I first took up jogging as a lifestyle choice.
'Have you found it yet?' 'I want hot milk. When can I get hot milk? Can I get hot milk?'
I stumbled across something else hard, but it turned out just to be an old toy car licence plate. And then, with the foul excrement seemingly spreading of its own accord up the length of my pink gloves, and the air turning brown with the rancid stench of evil; with the children becoming restless and the bells of doom peeling from the nearby monastery; with the ravens on the trees filling the skies with their melancholy wails of misfortune and the black clouds of doom hurtling across the earth at the whim of a bitter wind from the Russian Steppe; with the trees suddenly bent double as the force of maleficence swept across the corruption of this blighted town, and the whimpering of lost souls seeming to crawl pathetically up from the bowels of the city's sewage system, the telephone rang. I made the mistake of taking another deep breath. 'Can you get that, please?' I said to the eldest of our witchkings of the undead, and she muddled off out into the hall. Three times in the next ten seconds I came across pieces of unpopped popcorn, and had to scrape the poo from them before establishing their innocence in this whole sorry tale of woe. My daughter returned, clutching the phone. 'It's mum,' she said, offering me the handset. Another deep breath. 'Hold it to my head, please,' I said. My wife came on the phone; what diplomatic tale of tragedy could possibly be so important at this stage in the game? 'Have you found it yet?' she asked. Daughter and phone were duly dispatched. 'When can I get chocolate?' asked the lad, throwing a whine into the mix. 'You said we could get chocolate.'
The sky darkened outside, as the brooding malevolence of a grim morning enveloped the city. I asked the kids to put the lights on, hoping that upon stepping outside the bathroom once more their attention would be distracted, but the lights blazed on and they returned to the adventure. 'Have you found it yet?' My fingers continued to squelch through the squashy, moist dungheap, the slurping noise going through me like nails scratching down a blackboard. 'Why are you two still here?' I asked in a conversational manner, hoping that a little light chat might distract me from my task. I was reaching the end of the faecal mass and was beginning to worry that I'd need to go through this whole horrible business again the following day. 'Does not this slurping sound weave its way insidiously into the fabric of your id, like a cancer?' 'No, we don't get that,' said the boy. 'We just love hanging out around poo. Can we touch it?'
My enthusiasm for the task had all but ebbed away, dashed on the rocks of three minutes fruitless searching. I was the crew of Star Trek Voyager, I was the Incredible Hulk, I was the Fugitive, I was Captain Abercrombie, destined to spend the rest of my life in pointless pursuit of an impossible dream. But then, suddenly, as if the gods themselves were taking pity upon me, a shaft of sunlight appeared from the black clouds of doom, and through the impossibly pink rubber of my gloves, I suddenly felt something round and solid and shiny. 'Have you found it?' 'Is it there?' 'Can I get hot milk?'
Could this be it? Could this be the Grail of the Faeces, the very item that the Knights Templar had protected for centuries?
Find out in tomorrow's exciting episode of Rectal Emergency Ward 10, soon to be a major television series on HBO, starring Rachel Stevens as Mum, Charles Laughton as Dad, Scooby and Shaggy as the kids, Sean Connery as the silver ball and Will Paton as the evil and malevolent Faeces.
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