For obvious reasons, my observations have to be confined to the wit and wisdom to be found in gentlemen's conveniences. Let us start with the fresh paint applied when the publican or local authority has become embarrassed by an afflorescence of literature.

   The painter's work is all in vain

   The shithouse poet strikes again.

This could be closely followed by the self-incriminatory:

   He is a fool but does not know it

   Who thinks himself a lavatory poet.

A third contributor quite possibly, though unoriginally, might offer the following commentary:

   One would think with all this wit

   That Shakespeare had been here to shit.

 The golden age of lavatorial epigraphy was the two decades after the Second World War. There are two reasons: one, speckled paint and non-receptive surfaces had not yet been developed; and two, to judge from the advertisements of the time most people were constipated and liable to indulge in extended toilet sojourns. Hence:

   Here I am, broken hearted

   I paid my penny and only farted.

 During the war hundreds of thousands of young American soldiers, most of whom had never travelled further than their nearest little town on the prairie, found themselves in all sorts of unimagined places half a world away. The joke spread through the American forces of writing KILROY WAS HERE wherever they went. These words are still incised in ancient monuments from Egypt to Cambodia. A friend of mine climbed a most difficult cliff face in the Dolomites and found those magic words carved into the rock just below the summit. The joke was picked up by non-Americans, too. I have seen ΚΙΛΡΟЇ HTAN EΔΩ in Athens; and a correspondent in Leningrad as it then was reported encountering КИЛРOЙ БЫЛ ЗДECЬ. So it did not take long for English lavatory littérateurs to follow their example:

   Shout hooray and jump for joy

   I was here before Kilroy.

This was answered by:

   Close your mouth and shut your face

   Kilroy built this blooming place.

 Where a literary clientèle coincided with a belief that council officials used to conspire with building contractors in the local Masonic Lodge, you might find:

   HIRAM ABIFF ME AEDIFICAVIT (Hiram Abiff built me).

Hiram Abiff, in Masonic legend, was the architect of Solomon's Temple and the founder of the order. This inscription was especially favoured if the bogs in question were of ramshackle construction.

 Other comments about the facilities might include:

   It's no use standing on the seat

   The crabs in here can jump six feet

or in Oxford the same thing in Latin:

   Inutile est in sede stare

   Nam cancri hic solent saltare.

 In those days the doors of municipal crappers were cropped at the bottom, leaving a foot or so of free space, enabling Dan Dan the Lavatory Man to count the number of legs in each cubicle and divide by two. Patrons who favoured multiple occupation would take a holdall to stand in. The gap at the bottom of the door provoked the almost universal incision into the paintwork:


 Oxford had more than its fair share of excruciating wits. I remember, in celebration of an all-Ireland Gaelic football final:



   UP DOWN (appended).

And, philosophically:

   To be is to do – Spinoza

   To do is to be – Sartre

   Doo bee doo bee doo – Sinatra.

And, to enrage the owner of the freshly painted facilities:

   Ύδωρ μεν αριστον

   Your new wall I pissed on.

(The Greek is a quotation from Euripides' Alcestis, from the scene where Herakles comes on stage drunk and is told “Water is best”). This unlucky establishment was the outside bog of the Turf Tavern, where aristocrats used to congregate to shout Rah Rah Rah and throw beer glasses over the wall into New College gardens.

 At one time there was a craze for writing short pithy observations suffixed by the letters “OK”. It started when the Metropolitan Police fitted up a big-time criminal called George Davis for one of the few crimes he had not committed. His enraged family, and Family with a capital F, went round London writing


When he was released from prison on the orders of the Appeal Court, the police re-arrested him at the prison gate and charged him with dozens of crimes that he had committed. They had used the period of his incarceration to gather evidence unimpeded. The OK craze naturally spread to Oxford's lavvies, but Balliol College wall was a nobler palimpsest. Football supporters, challenging the followers of other clubs to a brawl, would write (for example):


This was followed in quick succession on Balliol wall, no doubt written by the less alphabetically challenged of Trinners chaps, by:




and my personal favourite:


 Urinals did not attract the same quantity of wit, but they were not immune. A lavvy in Regent's Park bore the legend at eye level above the trough, painted in creosote of all media:


underneath which somebody had appended the words:


A more usual retort to the inscription JESUS SAVES over the urinals used to be:


A notice from the management:


invariably attracted the addendum:


 Perhaps the last word should be allowed the traditional rhymester:

   O ye who tread these marble halls

   Use the paper not the walls.

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