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Thomas Crapper – The Name That Launched a Thousand S***s.

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You fill in the blank – I’m too polite.

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.

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.

From Wikipedia:

It has often been claimed in popular culture that the slang term for human bodily wastecrap, 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”.[12]

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).[12] 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.[12]

So anyway – Thomas Crapper and his toilets – what’s the deal?

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.

There’s a train coming!

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.

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 this video, 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.

The original Thomas Crapper cistern
it says ‘Crapper’s Valveless Waste Preventer”
The Thomas Crapper toilet bowl with his crest.

An original Thomas Crapper toilet

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…

All that was left – puffs of smoke and steam.

…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.

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.

Black Prince – Poignant memories

17 thoughts on “Thomas Crapper – The Name That Launched a Thousand S***s.”

  1. So much love in this Gilly, Your relationship with your parents really shines through and absolutely confirms my belief that each persons grief is a completely unique experience. Who wants to take a direct express train through it anyway? More chance of a derailment if we rush these things. I’d much rather take the long way round and meander the scenic route of happy times spent. xx

    1. Thanks Karen. I’ve almost derailed a couple of times in the last year, trust me! Am loving your analogy though – dad would have approved – ANYTHING to do with trains! .

  2. Dad’s been gone nearly nine years, mom, over four. I still reach for the phone to call them once in a while. There was so much I never had time to ask! or Say.

    Great post. love to you.

    1. Thank you Paul – so sorry for your losses – it’s just horrible losing parents, whatever age they were and we are. I rushed my sister off the phone the other day while we were driving on the motorway because we were passing a transporter with a massive steam locomotive on board. I wanted to use my phone to get a picture…for my dad. It’s those moments when you forget, for a fraction of a second, that the person has gone. Thanks for reading Paul – much appreciated.

  3. This is a truly beautiful post Gilly. So many integrated elements that tell a wonderful story of remembrance. Your father is always with you in spirit.
    I appreciate my own dad so much now, he is in his mid eighties and doing well, although I don’t get to see him as much as I would like too. One of my dad’s first jobs in England was as a “fireman”. He would shovel coal into the belly of one those steam engines. He had some great stories to tell about working for British Rail back in the day.
    Thanks for the memories and cause for pause for our wonderful fathers.

    1. Thanks Judith. How interesting about your dad being a fireman on British Rail. My Uncle started out doing that too and then became a driver. When did your dad work for British Rail and where was he based? They were wonderful times, the days of steam. I have a poem I wrote about them that you may relate to – I’ll try and find it and post it. Weren’t all the railway stories the men used to tell wonderful? Those who worked on the engines absolutely loved them and as you say, were full of stories. It was a travesty when Lord Beeching closed a huge proportion of the branch lines, although my dad always said he was just a scapegoat. But I remember the demise of the railways very well because my dad was so upset. And of course, our roads are jammed up with freight now! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts Judith – I am looking forward to reading your post.

  4. My sympathies, Gilly. Everyone grieves in their way at their own pace. You’ve shared some poignant memories of your Dad here. One day, you’ll be able to relive the memories, review the images, with joy instead of pain. Sending ((HUGS)) across the miles! ♥

    Wasn’t Ronnie Corbett one half of “The Two Ronnies?” I love British humour, but agree, this one was a bit long-winded. LOL

    How cool that you found an original Thomas Crapper toilet, complete with crest! I’ve personally never considered words like “crap” or “shit” to be swearwords, probably because I use them on a daily basis. 😀

    1. Hi Debbie and thank you for your visit – your words and hugs are much appreciated. Yes Ronnie Corbett was one of the Two Ronnies. He was renowned for his meandering stories to camera.I agree words like shit and crap aren’t the worst swear words but we were never allowed to say them as children – which of course made them all the more attractive to us rebel kids! I swear like a trooper, as do most of my very well educated intellectual friends – so I’m in good company! The best swearers are those with upper class plummy accents, they make the word f**K sound like poetry! They have a particular way of sounding vowels that makes saying swear words containing them sound wholly acceptable. Will hop over to you shortly!

      1. I have recently read that swearing is a sign of intelligence, so that doesn’t surprise me. Yes, even better with a posh accent! 😀 I’ve never understood this whole language taboo thing. My mother was German, and Germans don’t censor much of anything. Neither do folks in the military, like my father. 🙂

  5. Sometimes I’ll listen to the sounds of the steam engines on Youtube to fall asleep at night. I love those sounds… I’m sorry about your dad and I know how hard it is being without. My dad died in 2007 and I miss him every nanosecond of every day. – That video was hilarious! I’d never heard of Ronnie Corbett but I love him just from this! I’m going to lookup more about him. 🙂

    1. Sorry again! Just found this in the spam too. Very strange. Wow – that’s amazing that you listen to steam trains to go to sleep – that’s a brilliant idea. Ronnie Corbett was part of a double act called the Two Ronnies – the other one was Ronnie Barker. Lots of their old stuff is quite dated now, but I love Ronnie Corbetts long winded stories to camera. Sorry about your dad and thanks for your understanding. This is the price we pay for having them for so long.

  6. Thinking of you Gilly. Loss of a parent is always so hard. I loved the analogy of the steam train leaving the station – and in your case so poignant. Grief takes time and it is different for everyone. It’s been nine years and I still struggle watching videos of my mom. Know you are not alone .

    1. Thanks Sarah – it’s good to know that other people get it. It’s so strange because as my parents aged, I used to make sure I got lots of film clips to comfort me when they are no longer here. But I can’t bear watching anything with my dad in at the moment. Strange old bunch us humans with our emotions! x

    1. Glad you liked it Sandee – he was a funny guy and I really didn’t mind being told I told stories the way he did.

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