Bathroom Politics


Author Richard Glover

Some people say blokes working on men's issues can sometimes take life just a bit too seriously. In this piece, author and radio presenter Richard Glover takes a humorous look at one aspect of bathroom politics -- the humble toilet roll.
As an educational method, according to Jocasta, you really can't go past public ridicule. Which is why, right now, she is standing in front of a group of our friends, displaying our toilet roll holder.

It certainly is an odd sight. The holder contains an exhausted roll, a cardboard tube. But sitting atop the empty tube – like a big wheel balanced on a small one – is a brand new roll of toilet paper.

"What we have," says Jocasta, holding the object triumphant, "is an important artefact – a symbol of late-nineties man.

"Why," asks Jocasta, "can men never quite put the roll on the holder? I mean, they come close – they've fetched it, unwrapped it, used it, and then left it resting there, right on top of the old tube.

"What's wrong with going that extra mile, guys. Well, extra inch, really. What's the problem with actually putting it onto the holder?

"And, more to the point, how do you think it finally arrives on the holder. I mean, by what agency, human or otherwise?"

As she finishes, I am troubled to report, a raucous cheering breaks out from the women at the BBQ. Many begin digging their partners in the ribs, and a most regrettable and undignified mood takes hold.

Between themselves, the women begin to produce what amounts to a social history of the toilet roll. It is not a history in which their men folk are wrapped in glory.

Twenty years ago, they claim, men would merely leave the new roll sitting there on the floor, occasionally slinging it atop the window sill. And only after a decade of angry feminist activism did they finally agree to instead place it on top of the toilet itself. (A moment best described as the transformation of the patriarchal cistern).

"It took ten years," says one woman, "to move that roll one metre. And to think that now we've got them to actually rest it on top of the holder. Oh glory! Oh progress!"

Jocasta by now is standing on the table, as the women thump their cutlery in noisy protest, some of them making quite obscene gestures towards up blokes with the salad tongs.

My mind becomes troubled with countless questions. Among them: will the outdoor setting survive the night.

"What causes this tragic inability in the male?" Jocasta asks. "Why can they never actually insert the roll? Is it some sort of strange sexual taboo; some Freudian problem? And, moreover, on this occasion, which particular male is to blame?"

As she asks the question, six sets of questioning female eyes swivel the room. And, following, Jocasta's example, settle on me.

Naturally, Jocasta already knows the answer. In the matter of toilet rolls, I'm a recidivist, a repeat offender.

I hang my head, and go for the sheepish apology. "I'm sorry," I say, "I was in a hurry and I needed a new roll."

"Mate, what you need," answers Jocasta, with a flourish that indicates a prior rehearsal, "is a brand new role."

The women laugh, gutterally, and begin to lean together, while we blokes slink back towards the BBQ. They are developing the Theory of the Transitional Male.

According to the theory – which takes many hours, and several bottles of Shiraz to develop – we are some distance ahead of our fathers. But also some distance from the fully developed man.

Our fathers, for example, might have left their laundry spread all over the bedroom floor. We, instead, collect it up, carry it carefully into the laundry and then place it on top of the machine.

Our fathers, again, might hang a wet towel on the bedroom door, while we walk them up the hallway, and sling it on the bathroom door.

"What sort of evolutionary leap will it take," the women chorus, "to enable these few final steps – the laundry actually into the machine; the wet towel over the towel rack; the toilet roll onto the holder…

Small steps for mankind…but physical impossibilities for Transitional Man.

We blokes, nervously, sipping our beers, the glow of the Heats Beads lighting the fear on our faces, defensively respond with examples of meals cooked, of shopping purchased, of ironing done, of children embraced and loved.

And the women, by now all perched upon the sagging outdoor setting, say they love us for our efforts.

"Inch by inch, metre by metre," says one. "The pace of evolution is slow. With each generation the wet towel moves closer to its ultimate goal. With each generation, the toilet roll hovers ever closer to its holder."

And one day, who knows when, it will happen – that first toilet roll will be placed on the first holder. For us blokes, it seems a sentiment sufficiently optimistic to toast with another beer.

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