What a Relief!

16 Aug 2022

Last Friday, a friend invited me to see the modern tapestry exhibition at the cathedral of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. It is a wonderful exhibition: ten enormous tapestries depicting the creation story, Eden, and the fall of Adam and Eve. If you are anywhere near, I would heartily recommend it; the tapestries are not only beautiful, but awe-inspiring when you think of the amount of work and love that has gone into them.

My friend and I wandered around the town and through the Abbey Gardens – very brown now, with the drought – and lunched outside among the market square flowers, listening to a talented busker. It was a lovely day.

Inevitably, nature called, and we had occasion to use the public lavatories. I’m sure we all have rather negative expectations of such places. But the loos in Bury St Edmunds were clean, with no graffiti; there was soap in the dispenser and the hand-dryers worked.

I was reminded of another loo, many years ago, in London.

Those of you who have seen the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will remember the heroes enter the Ministry of Magic via an old-fashioned Public Lavatory. I don’t know if these wonderful Edwardian conveniences exist now, but back in the eighties, they still did. One descended into the bowels of the earth (pun intended) to an unpleasantly scented world of green tiles, white enamel, dark wood and brass pipes. There you would find a lavatory attendant: some dour and miserable wretch earning a miserly living from the city council and whatever tips the relieved public gave.

The time I remember was very different. I entered a room smelling fresh, with flowers above the wash basins, and brass pipes gleaming so bright, they were nearly blinding. And, down on her hands and knees, polishing for all she was worth, was the happiest woman I think I have ever met. She explained she had looked after that loo for twenty years and it was obvious she loved it and it was her pride and her joy to keep it clean, fresh and sparkling.

Her tips saucer was full of silver, as you might expect, but I honestly don’t think she kept that lavatory so beautiful just for the tips; she cleaned and polished from a place of service and love. That humblest of jobs was elevated to art because of what she brought to it.

It may seem odd to compare a lavatory attendant with the artist who created the glorious tapestries in the cathedral, but the same passion and dedication is common to both.

As I remember that lavatory attendant, I am humbled, and wonder if there is any area in my life I attend to with such a sense of service, dedication and passion?

Do you have a place of passion? Something into which you pour yourself, no matter how small or unconsidered?

I think we all might be the richer and happier for it if we do.


A Moodscope member.

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