Here goes nothing: the soggy subject is … toilet rolls.
We are still in that part of the year when our brains are expected to collapse into a soggy mass like blancmange; when television bosses rustle up repeats of Dad’s Army and Taggart in modern dress, and every James Bond film ever made. (But no refund for BBC repeats.)
So, while neo-liberal brainwashed hacks push Westminster’s agenda and think up offensive, repetitious variations of ‘SNP Bad’ for the coming year, let us stay in that state of limbo, our minds bloated by drivel.
Fact. We pay more, much more than our American cousins for our toilet rolls. This raises an savoury but profound question – why do we who live in the vicinity of Holyrood pay more to attend to rear end hygiene than movie stars living in Hollywood? And why is it that the most powerful nation on the planet, the USA, has such humble demands when it comes to personal cleanliness?
The worst we resort to and only in extremis, is rumex obtusifolius, doken leaves to you and me, ultra-careful not to include a nettle leaf.
Surely movie stars and other millionaires used hand-woven perforated silk and nothing less. Not so. They use cheap, thin paper and are happy.
Shopping in the Marina area of Los Angeles at Ralph’s store I found myself replacing a six pack of almost transparent toilet paper back on the shelf to search for the real stuff. Nothing doing. A quick check discovered I had chosen the best. Every brand sold the same quality of paper. We Brits are extremely fussy when it comes to pampering our posteriors.
British toilet rolls are thick and soft. American toilet rolls are thin and hard. European toilet paper is also of a poor quality as I discovered the first time I found myself only able to use a primitive French loo, the one with the hole in the ground over which you ingloriously squat.
At least we don’t endure the one-sheet Bronco paper, the once bane of an incontinent person’s life. Bronco, for the uninitiated, was a hazard ridden, poverty-stricken excuse for rationed paper. Try to image a cigarette paper ten times bigger, single sheets, usually stored in a flat box, rather like Kleenex tissues today.
Every public convenience used Bronco except the cubicle you chose. That dispenser was always empty. Izal went one better and produced it in rolls, but it was also the quality of tracing paper. Bronco, seeing competition, issued their own roll of ‘sanitary paper.’ (The poor used old tabloid newspaper cut into squares, held together in bunches by string, hung in the outside midden.) To an American a roll of Bronco is luxury enough.
However, today’s British luxury comes at a price. We pay twice as much for a bog-standard bog roll than Americans. Why the discrepancy? For a start, our toilet paper is often three times as thick, textured, and the rolls are much longer.
A chat with Ralph’s manager enlightens the west over the cultural difference. The brand leader, Andrex, is an American owned company. It learned decades ago the British are unwilling to get fobbed off with any old paper. We won the damn war, didn’t we? We’re entitled to a bit of opulence. Andrex executives researched our toilet habits and began a revolution in freedom for our bottoms. You could call it, anus mirabulus.
They noticed too, our keenness for coloured paper, pinks, blue, green, colours to match our bathroom tiles, and when an avocado bathroom suite was all the rage, Andrex issued avocado toilet rolls. The company gave the rolls fancy names so we could avoid the social embarrassment overheard asking for the toilet paper aisle. We asked for a pack of ‘warm pink’, or ‘cosy peach’ and ensured it was placed bottom of the trolley.
Andrex spotted we buy more rolls of twin-ply than single. In time they got smart and tripled the layers, and then quilted them for posh butts. Currently, the fashion is for white, often embossed with pattern, but status conscious house owners still display their wealth by the thickness of the toilet paper in their large contemporary bathroom designed by Porcelanosa, or Phillipe Stark.
The pendulum is swinging back again to colour, at twice the price of best white, of course. Bank on paying £10 for a three-pack. The Portuguese paper company of Renova began by selling black toilet paper, colour fast, naturally, ‘sensual, absorbent, delicate’, before branching out into purple, and then exploding into truly camp colours, some scented.
The American attitude to personal sanitation is simple; why bother paying for expensive paper when it all goes down the toilet? The extravagance is a waste of money. What the butt can’t see the eye won’t grieve over.
There it is, the modern story of loo paper.
In planning for our economic future the Scottish Parliament should not underestimate the importance of luxury toilet paper to the nation’s well-being. I won’t go into what psychologists think of the character of those who roll under, or roll over, or place their rolls in fancy-shmancy holders. (I drop mine onto the handle of the loo brush.) And I can’t begin to imagine which income bracket sports three-ply rather than single-ply.
Nevertheless, one thing is certain. Citizens of nations that have truly arrived shop at Waitrose for a packet or two of ‘Quilted Bathroom Paper … enriched with extracts of Cashmere.’ Scotland is not a soft touch.