From the newspaper box I took an old copy of the Cape Times and went outside, closing the door behind me. I didn’t want the dog following and making a nuisance of herself. It was going to be a warm day, the sun was already high, and I was glad to be wearing a hat.
The indigenous bush has grown up on the adjoining plot to form an unkempt fynbos garden. A path snakes through the low but dense vegetation to a clearing near the centre of the property. I passed a tortoise coming my way, and then disturbed a family of francolin trying to take a dust bath.
In the clearing I set the business supplement to one side, then opened the main section in the middle and spread it on the ground. Stepping out of my Crocs, I removed shorts and underpants and draped them over a bastard olive. Then I moved onto the newspaper and squatted down.
I didn’t have more than a few moments to wait. A single fart heralded the immanent arrival, my sphincter relaxed, and the faecal serpent slithered from my colon, where it had been waiting with growing impatience. Beyond my dangling genitals I could see it settling itself on the newspaper in a rich brown coil of potter’s clay. The familiar odour of my excrement filled my nostrils in a way that I found extravagantly offensive.
Well, I thought as I tore a strip of paper off the Business Report, that was easy enough. But, directing a stream of yellow urine away from the Cape Times and enjoying the feeling of relief as my bladder emptied, I accepted that it was now time to deal with the consequences.
Wiping a hairy arse can at times prove to be a messy affair, even when using good quality two-ply. Newsprint is nowhere near as absorbent as toilet paper and tends to smear rather than clean. I would hate having to contend with this mess every time I had a bowel movement.
Fully clothed once more, I was obliged to deal with the next essential stage of the ritual, which was to dispose of the repugnant product lying there on the ground. I lifted the nearest edge of the Ccape Times, which was a little soggy, and folded it over in order to cover the heap. Then the back edge forward and the two sides in. I picked up the parcel, weighing it and feeling its warmth, and realised with annoyance that I should have first spread the Business Report, ready to receive the wrapped waste matter. Now I had to set it to one side, spread the supplement, and fold the Times in on itself once more before bundling it in the additional sheets.
Back at the house I dropped the bundle into the black bag lining the dustbin and replaced the lid. Washing my hands in the bathroom, I congratulated myself on having accomplished exactly what I had set out to do. Now it was time for quiet reflection.
Why had I chosen to relieve myself in this manner, when there was a working flush toilet in a hygienic condition at my disposal? Why go outside, crouch down so close to my own dung, wipe myself with rough newspaper, and then be obliged to wrap the stuff up and dispose of it? What had prompted this unusual behaviour?
It had been the reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses. That is what had got me thinking about defecation. Every now and then, over the years, I pick up my copy of ‘the most influential novel of the 20th century’, and dip into it. This time I had found myself shoving open the door of a Dublin outbuilding to discover Leopold Bloom at stool and reading the paper. Excerpt here.
So this is what they called obscene back then in the middle of the 1900s. After two World Wars and the Holocaust, they considered the description of a man taking a crap out the back too distasteful and subversive to be offered to the reading public for their entertainment and appreciation. Maybe, I mused, there is something threatening to authority about such a description. Could it be that those in power resist any suggestion that they belong to the same species as the brutish creatures they lord it over? Maybe they don’t like to be reminded that when it comes to the basic bodily functions the gulf between them and us disappears. Whether we are black or white, rich or poor, a CEO or a labourer, a man or woman, we are all subjected to the same ignominy every day of our lives. This is what serves to remind us that we are not a cut above the rest of humanity.
Of course there is no doubt that a clean toilet makes it so much easier to delude ourselves. To an extent, the seat cuts us off from the reality beneath us, and washing our hands helps to cleanse our memory of the stench. The experience is reduced to a minor private ordeal that we have no desire to dwell on. Some of us can even pretend it doesn’t happen at all!
Before long my train of thought was chugging through squatter country with me spotting any number of well-known people huddling bare bummed over their little piles of stinking muck. There was Barak Obama taking up position on the stars and stripes, and the Pope a little way off, desperately searching for his ass amongst all those whites. An old girl with her dress about her waist and fleshy pink bum just inches above the ground was identifiable as the Queen of England by the huge hat she was wearing. And who was this coming into view? Our very own State President! Crouched low, he was ringed about by several large women, and behind them were a couple of dozen youngsters, all engaged in the same smelly activity.
This scatological vision left me chuckling but I soon began to examine it in a more serious light. Could it be that by requiring every middle class citizen, along with the captains of industry, the politicians, the church leaders, the academics and the artists to regularly squat, it might be possible to improve this dysfunctional society we live in? By getting them to defecate on a sheet of newspaper, and then making them dispose of it, would surely take some of the arrogance out of their swagger and induce a little empathy for the millions of poor buggers who are denied decent sanitation.
The idea struck me as nothing less than inspired, and that is why I went out there and performed the ritual as a kind of experiment. And do I now feel more humble for having shat on the ground like an animal? Well, yes, most certainly. That is why I am making an appeal to all those who read this to set aside half an hour every third Sunday of the month in order to do likewise. I sincerely believe that by squatting together we can make a difference.
(If no garden space is available, I suggest the garage as an alternative. Failing that, it will have to be in the house, preferably on a tiled floor.)
Please look out for Humble Squatters on Facebook, and don’t forget to tweet about your bowel movement on the special day.