This is a short story of how grief often works.
Thomas Crapper – what an unfortunate name to have when your name is associated with toilets.Thomas Crapper – what an unfortunate name to have when your name is associated with toilets. Click To Tweet
Because although it would be great to pretend that the swear word ‘crap’ is merely an affectionate term used in his memory when seated on the white throne, it is a word that was in use well before his time.
It has often been claimed in popular culture that the slang term for human bodily waste, crap, originated with Thomas Crapper because of his association with lavatories. A common version of this story is that American servicemen stationed in England during World War I saw his name on cisterns and used it as army slang, i.e. “I’m going to the crapper”.
The word crap is actually of Middle English origin and predates its application to bodily waste. Its most likely etymological origin is a combination of two older words, the Dutch krappen: to pluck off, cut off, or separate; and the Old French crappe: siftings, waste or rejected matter (from the medieval Latin crappa, chaff). In English, it was used to refer to chaff, and also to weeds or other rubbish. Its first application to bodily waste, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, appeared in 1846 under a reference to a crapping ken, or a privy, where ken means a house.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Crapper
So anyway – Thomas Crapper and his toilets – what’s the deal?So anyway – Thomas Crapper and his toilets – what's the deal? Click To Tweet
Well the deal is, being an aficionado (me, not Thomas Crapper) of steam engines, I sometimes visit preserved steam railway lines. It was something we did as children because my dad was a steam railway historian.
He used to lecture on all matters of historic transport but his main love was the age of steam; and so, my sister and I were brought up listening to the sound of steam trains, which my dad would play quite loudly on the stereo.
And when he was dying last September, as he lay in bed, going deeper into an unconscious state by the day, I found some of his favourite steam engine recordings online and played them through my UE Boom.
One of the nurses who came to the house in the night to administer drugs looked quite shaken as she emerged from the kitchen, where she had been doing her paperwork.
With eyes like saucers, she looked panic stricken as it seemed as if the last train from London Liverpool Street was about to burst through the walls of the house.With eyes like saucers, she looked panic stricken as it seemed as if the last train from London Liverpool Street was about to burst through the walls of the house. Click To Tweet
It never occurred to us that playing the sounds of steam trains to a dying man might scare the hell out of anyone not familiar with the habits of my crazy family.It never occurred to us that playing the sounds of steam trains to a dying man might scare the hell out of anyone not familiar with the habits of my crazy family. Click To Tweet
But it stirred something in my father’s brain because his eyes were moving under his eyelids and he had a faint smile on his face when he heard the train coming.
The next day, I played him some military band music.
And, in his deeply drowsy state, he smiled and began to keep time with his hands, the way he always had in the past whenever he played his military band music.
I know it seems as if I have drifted away from Thomas Crapper for the moment but stay with me, I’m getting there bit by bit.
My mother always used to call me Ronnie Corbett because of my winding stories.
And if you don’t know who Ronnie Corbett is – do watch the clip below – apparently I have his storytelling technique.
Back to Thomas Crapper…
One of the very last ‘normal’ outings I had with my dad, while he was still able to enjoy life, was during a holiday we took with my parents in October 2014.
We took them to North Norfolk for a week and while we were there, we went to Weybourne Station, along the preserved North Norfolk Steam Railway route, so dad could see his beloved steam trains coming and going.
And while my parents sat on Weybourne Station in the October sunshine, soaking up the ambience of a place that reminded them of when they were young, I went off exploring, with my camera, as I always do.
And I found Thomas Crapper – well, I found one of his toilets to be precise – on Weybourne Station.
I was so excited that I took these pictures.
They might seem mundane to you. Just more old toilets.
But for me, they represent a very happy time.
We were on holiday. My dad was still alive. He was sitting in the sunshine, not very far away, holding my mother’s hand and doing what he loved best, admiring the giants of the steam age.
And I was doing what I love best, wandering around exploring nooks and crannies without a care in the world while my husband wandered with me. Chatting; not chatting. Holding hands; wandering apart; holding hands again. Bliss.
Happy in our own little bubble, not aware it was going to burst in slow motion over the next four years as my father gradually succumbed to old age and our lives changed.
This story wasn’t really about Thomas Crapper at all.
It was about one of the last proper family days out we had before my dad died.
But I can’t approach those memories head on yet – I can only approach them through the back door.
Instead of thinking directly about my dad that day, I worked up to it by thinking of the moment I discovered the wonderful Thomas Crapper toilet on Weybourne Station.
I still can’t look at the pictures I took from the old iron foot-bridge across the railway track, of my mum and dad sitting happily on the station bench watching the world.
But I can look at the pictures I took a few minutes later.
When I was looking for the Thomas Crapper pictures, I found this…
…and I realised this picture sums up how I feel 10 months after my dad died.
The train has gone and all we can see is what it left behind. My God, how we all miss my dad.…and I realised this picture sums up how I feel 10 months after my dad died. The train has gone and all we can see is what it left behind. My God, how we all miss my dad. Click To Tweet
This is the last film clip I ever took for my dad.
He was too unsteady to go to the grassy bank where I shot this from so he and my mum waited on the station while Garry and I watched the engine chug away from Weybourne.