While I sorrow for the owners of the faces in the lift*
The toilet seat was cutting into my fingers…
It had been cutting into my fingers for the whole length of Haggerston Park. But it was getting worse — my fingertips were starting to tingle. I shifted my grip, putting myself off balance, so the briefcase was cutting into the fingers of my other hand. I shifted my grip there too. I heard a doof-doof-doof sound and looked up. A car load of hoodies pulled up at the traffic lights as I pressed the button.
Great, I thought. They’re hoodies, and I’m carrying a toilet seat.
The first call had come through in the morning, from our lawyer, “We’ve just exchanged. Congratulations, you now own the house.”
The second call had come through twenty minutes later, from the agent, “The keys are here to collect, but can you give it an hour or so before you go over there, because they’re not quite out yet.”
The third call had come through that afternoon, at around 3pm, was Mrs Albion, “Sweetie, would you please buy a new toilet seat on your way over.”
If I’d known how much the toilet seat was going to be the least of our problems, I may not have bought it. But toilet seats remind me of my Gandfather, so perhaps I would have bought it anyway.
My Grandfather owned property in Sydney. Actually he owned a portion of lots of property — because he had cousins, and nieces and nephews and people he’d never met who shared the property in sixteenths, and eights of quarters, and such — but he maintained it all. He also did a bit of importing on the side, had an art gallery and a man in his building sold Persian carpets. The carpets weren’t very successful — they weren’t the nice glossy, new looking Persian carpets that you see in shops these days. They were slightly dusty looking, sometimes threadbare, genuine Persian carpets that had crossed desserts on camels. It’s irrelevant really, because the carpets were only renting, but you get the idea that at any given time my Grandfather could be walking around with some eclectic things in his possession.
And so it was, late in the afternoon, in the early 1950s, when he rushed out of his lawyer’s office into the packed lift (elevator). Sometimes as a joke he would stand in the lift facing all the people — instead of turning to face the door — so he was already amused when he realised it was too crowded to turn around once the doors closed. One hand held his briefcase by his side and the other was pressing a flat box against the front of his coat.
He would have liked to have his hand under the box, but he couldn’t get there without elbowing a lady in the ribs. He began to smile, and make eye contact with his lift companions.
The lift lurched.
The box opened — at the bottom.
Something fell out.
Everyone looked down — at his pristine new toilet seat.
It was the 1950s — people didn’t even say toilet seat then. Amusement began fighting with the edges of Grandfather’s lips. Nobody could bend to pick it up — everybody stared at the toilet seat. Grandfather stared at them. They were horrified. The lift crawled towards the foyer. Time crawled slower than the lift. Amusement pushed harder at his lips, but he held it together. Everybody stared at the toilet seat. The doors opened, my grandfather backed out enough to bend down and collect his goods. Everybody waited while he re-boxed the toilet seat. He thanked them, and bowed. By the time he hit the street he was laughing. And thirty years later, when he told us kids the story, he laughed more.
My toilet seat came from Argos. I wanted a plain white one, but they were out of stock. I got the next best thing, though I was tempted by the barbed wire. I collected it at the Old Street store, and so I carried my toilet seat through Hoxton — one of the coolest and most happening parts of London, right now — just me and my toilet seat.
And now I was a man, with a toilet seat, standing on the pavement, looking into a car full of hoodies playing doof-doof music.
The neighborhood didn’t seem as nice as it had before, I thought as I walked beside Haggerston Park, looking at the looming purple council block across the road. Seeing the hoodies had further convinced me.
The lights changed. The hoodies drove away towards Haggerston Baths, the old square rigged ship on its wind vane jammed into a broad reach. I waited my turn, crossed the road, passed the building site for the new apartments and crested the bridge over the canal. Trees stretched out in front of me, and a semi-gentrified mess of council flats, crumbling terraces with faded front doors, and renovated ones with shiny front doors. That’s right. That’s why we like the place. It was growing on me again.
I turned into our street. Flowers still bloomed in some front gardens, while the leaves were yellowing in others. The old Land Rover was parked outside its house, the neighbors were kicking a football outside our gate, and I could hear activity from indoors.
I gave the toilet seat a triumphant hitch, climbed the stairs and knocked at the door to Our Albion.
- An infinitely small prize to the reader who can identify the poem and poet that I’ve bastardised for the title. Australians have an advantage here. Especially those from Gulgong.
© Damian Clarke 2019. First published on the Our Albion blog, 11 October 2006.