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The Doric Columns

Beyond the 'Pale'

This medieval urinal (or 'piss-pot' as such vessels were known in medieval times) was made in Aberdeen from local clay. It would have been for use by a man, as it had only one small hole near the top. The handle at the top would have been for transportation nae doot tae the nearest midden or drain.  Not the sort of utensil that is easily rinsed out and it must have been mingin min!

Now come on ladies would it be that impossible to use if it was a cauld nicht?

Every day the bucket goes to the well and one day the bottom has got to drop out - Wrong

Its the Carrying Handle that finally fails.

The Vitreous  Enamelled Urinal
- Pail by Name Pale by Content

With two Adults and 3 children there was a need for an overnight convenience in a Garret with no running water or adjacent toilet. the Po or Chamber pot was just for bairns and the communal Pail served as the receptacle for bodily waste products mainly of the liquid variety - but then a'body could find himself caught short as they say.  Now a full pail is a weighty article and a full pail of Urine is a serious responsibility with added embarrassment of rich aromatic self identifying the contents what ever the cover applied.  White Vitreous Enamel Pails came with convenient wire and wood ferruled handles that pivoted within two opposing holes underneath the rim.  These pails were oft sold with white matching metal lids but these seldom survived due to being dropped or lost in transit or crushed by the coalman's deft foot. 

Now wee boys found this easy to aim into yet father due to his little weakness for India Pale Ale and difficulty of aiming, despite 5 years as an artillery man, would have little accidents aligning the cross hairs to the target. Also in the darkness one had to adjust aurally to ensure it hit the copious receptacle fair and square in the collection zone.  So a deal of 'splashing' was inevitable in the area but easily absorbed - sometimes - with old newspapers the universal Aberdeen remedy for many a problem.   Beyond the pail was a box room that served as a Coal Cellar covered with a Gold Lame curtain which was light and easy to wash - one would think.   As this too was subject to of attack from over elevation of the gun barrel.

Now a families issue of night water should easily be contained in a 2 Gallon Pail providing it was emptied by a the 6 flights of stairs journey to the 'Backie' where it could be flushed down the the ' Lavvie' approached from the Ground floor Lobbie by the Mannie or his Wifie.  Alas the urgency to get to work after reluctantly rising at a late hour meant this task was inevitably postponed for urgency, avoidance, embarrassment and prior occupation by more disciplined tenants.  So the said level of contents inevitably got higher than it should in the pail till it was 'reamin o'er'.  Well hardly 'reamin' but it did leak through the pivot holes and induced severe corrosion of the retaining handle hooks.  As the bairns grew up and muscles permitted the task fell to each in turn to traipse this stinking urn to its place for disposal to each in child in turn subject to weight of contents it may be shared.  Orra Stink it had!

So a quiet period on the tenement access which consisted of 3 flights of stairs and 3 landings had to be anticipated in order to transport the evil brew to its destination without incident.  Having anticipated such a moment - the technique was to look over the banisters to see of the coast was clear for a full journey.  Eyes and ears were trained for signs of any approaching visitrs.  The sight of a hand on the Banister or a footfall was sufficient to deter the the outset of the journey.   Silence and clear vision down the Hitchcockian spiral of ever decreasing loops of banisters that could induce vertigo in the unfamiliar viewer was necessary and the journey could begin if all was favourable. Well that's the theory.

In practice the staged decent flight by flight was punctuated with further glances down into the stairwell and should a strange hand appear on the banister it would herald a full retreat to position one.  If the hand was recognised then a mutual understanding of your predicament would ensue and a sharp intake of breath would be taken by the fellow tenants until you had passed with your bucket of reaming aromatic contents. Thus the game of snakes and ladders - advance and retreat would continue till it was abandoned or completed by the disposal into a flushing Chuntie - subject to the non occupation of the permitted 'ootside cludgie' otherwise another discreet wait would ensue in the safer surroundings of the backie.  Less fortunate carriers who perhaps missed their footing on the worn nosings of the stairs would come to grief in a foul inundation of self, stairs and landings which defied belief in the urgent effort of cleaning away all traces of the said waste.

The joy's of Tenement Life.

Street Rhyme - no doubt penned by a MacDonald
The Cambell's are coming
I ken by the stink
The derty fool buggers
They pesh in the sink


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Last modified: 01/09/2013