Holding on tight to one of the last luxuries of the Celtic Tiger era

ONCE you get into the toilet paper issue, you’re verbally unsafe.

I’ll give you an example. Can John McGuinness TD, the unfortunate former minister, protest about this controversy blowing up in his face? Well, he could, but the sniggers would be immediate. He could say he had no hand, act or part in choosing luxury toilet paper for his former offices, but even that would lead him into negative territory. He could get into a debate as to what actually constitutes “luxury” when it comes to loo rolls, but where would that get him, I ask you? He has wisely said little on this issue.

Which, in some way, is a pity. People are always yelling for an end to the silence on particular issues, usually issues that have been talked out so often the silence is welcome. I’m calling for an end to the silence on toilet tissue. This is a major issue. This matters to us all. If there were an opinion poll, you wouldn’t get many “don’t knows” on the toilet tissue topic.

Toilet paper divides families and nations. It defines privilege. This latter became obvious to me when I was about 8 and visited country cousins. Everything was wonderful, particularly learning to milk a cow by hand (I’m very good at developing skills just at the point where they become obsolete). And then I visited their loo and found, hanging from a string appended to a nail driven into the wall, a square of roughly cut sheets of newspaper.

Now, I’ll be honest with you. I went into shock. I had never considered myself gently reared until the moment when my gentle rear was challenged by last week’s sports pages. If they had even been the world news pages, you could feel your person was being informed, albeit at a marginally inappropriate level, about current affairs. Plus reading the squares in advance of finally destructive deployment would have been educational. But the suggestion that one should cleanse one’s person with pictures of lads with big biceps swinging hurley sticks was a shock.

In addition, I’d no interest in reading anything to do with sport and that was reinforced by the pictures, you really don’t want to get to know lads to whom you will allocate an unpleasant task without their buy-in. I couldn’t wait to get back to a decent lower-middle class city suburb where toilet paper was unrelated to the daily news.

Not that the domestic toilet paper situation was perfect. Far from it. Back then (you should pardon the expression) one of the respectable brands of toilet paper was called Bronco. It came in single sheets of hard, if transparent durability like tracing paper and had the name written sideways cross the bottom corner (of course I mean the corner at the end of each sheet).

When my sister and I covered a comb with it in order to create a buzzy musical instrument, my mother would come along with a scissors and do a triangular cut to remove the branding. The paper was divided into the distinctive sheet size associated only with toilet paper, and began and ended with an up and down edge which made it uniquely identifiable, but she seemed to believe that taking the brand off it removed the shame.

Why it was called Bronco was a mystery. As a kid suffering from asthma, I assumed it was related, if distantly, to the bronchial tubes and chosen by our family for that reason, because the homes of my school friends seemed to favour less bracing toilet paper. When I mentioned it to my mother, she got that curled expression indicative of her desire to say something really wicked while restraining herself to something only mildly wicked.

“It has nothing to do with asthma,” she said coldly. “Your father has views about toilet paper.”

This meant, I figured, that it must get its name from horses. Sort of an “homage” to the bucking bronco. But the day my mother decided that cheap was a thing of the past and replaced the miserable skinny Bronco roll was one where multiple visits to the loo were required, just to celebrate. It was as joyful to us as being handed the right to vote must have been to previously oppressed people, only more so, because we didn’t have to wait for an election to vindicate our right to use it. We could vindicate several times a day, and did.

When even more luxurious options came on the market a while back, I went for them, too. In this, I showed solidarity with the citizens of the former USSR who, when single ply toilet paper was replaced, as soon as communism fell, by four ply soft stuff, adopted it with even more enthusiasm than capitalism.

Same with me. Toilet paper infused with aloe? Bring it on. Additional product, over and above toilet tissue, to render your every inch even more pristine then came on the market.

Sort of baby-wipes for adults. I took a positive attitude. It was back in the boom times, remember? Today, I’m giving squares of newspaper on string some serious consideration but back then, your bathroom had to be filled with extra paper-related possibilities if you didn’t want it to look manky to any visitors.

Which was fine until the toilet backed up and the plunger proved inadequate. The plumber who freed the blockage indicated that our toilet couldn’t cope with all this high-flown stuff and that we’d be well advised, if not to go back to brutal Bronco (which had been discontinued by then anyway, presumably because Amnesty had established it as an abuse, except for Lance Armstrong).

This was the same plumber, by the way, who had installed our bidet. I know, I know. How ’80s of us. He was, you might say, thrown by the bidet. Had never fitted one before. Very curious about it. What was it for? I told him. He nearly fell on the floor, he laughed so much. When he came back to himself, he thumped me on the upper arm and said “No, come on, Terry, what’s it really for?” I told him again and he said I was great craic. But seriously?

Eventually, I said it was used for soaking tights before you washed them. Aaaah, he said, eyes closed and index finger up in acknowledgment of a great truth. Made sense. Yeah. [Great idea. Which, as it turned out, was what the bidet, ended up being used for, bidets following the rule for home-made-pasta-makers: Either they end up unemployed at the back of a press or used for something for which they were never intended.

The Celtic Tiger extras may have gone, but if I fall foul of those insolvency lads and they tell me they’re re-introducing Bronco, forget it. I’ll go talk to John McGuinness, so I will.

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