Compared with every other household chore, progress in bum-wiping has been glacially slow. It’s only in living memory that schools and institutions stopped using something called Izal, a box of medicated toilet wipes similar in texture to greaseproof paper, and thus spectacularly ill-suited to its purpose. It was characteristic of the Britain of my childhood, where things were made gratuitously unpleasant on purpose, since to do anything nice was seen as effeminate.
The Muslim world is far ahead of us here. In most Islamic countries a toilet cubicle comes with a bum gun — a kind of handheld spray. Yet in the supposedly enlightened Anglophone world we think dry paper is fine. As I have repeatedly argued, you wouldn’t come in after an afternoon’s gardening with mud on your hands and then attempt to clean them using dry paper: you’d use water. And yet, when it comes to the rectum, this sensible instinct deserts us.
The last time I made the case for moist toilet wipes, I was denounced as a gobshite on Irish talk radio. Ours is a lonely cause, with few adherents. The director of the film Deadpool 2 feels as strongly about this as I do: he hired Matt Damon in a cameo solely to deliver a 90-second diatribe against dry-wiping. Viz magazine broached the topic in a regular comic-strip called ‘The Bottom Inspectors’. Yet this, and Gargantua and Pantagruel, seem to be among very few references to the subject in western literature. A loo did not appear in film until Psycho in 1960.
In our bogs we accept design flaws we would not tolerate in any other area of life. Even something as obvious as the soft-close toilet-seat is a rarity. It is not uncommon to visit a loo in an immaculate home, where insane attention has been paid to every detail of the tiling and the precisely matching shade of Farrow and Ball, only to find the seat falls on to your groin in mid-stream.
Thankfully, before going into lockdown, and in the face of heavy spousal resistance, I recently installed a Geberit AquaClean Japanese-style bumwash loo with soft-close lid. It is one of the best things I have ever bought. Even my wife came to tolerate it, in the way that your cat might eventually tolerate your new dog. That is until people started stock-piling loo paper, and suddenly I was a hero.
During this time of self--isolation, I suspect many gadgetry obsessives are feeling similarly vindicated, Under lockdown, we find our partners and children suddenly pleading to use the very things we were derided for buying at the time. That fifth portable charger has suddenly become invaluable. The webcam we didn’t need (‘But you’ve already got three?’ ‘Yes, but this one is USB-C’) is now being haggled over. My vicar wife has just recorded a Compline service on a £200 Shure Motiv MV88+ microphone which even I thought was a bit of an indulgence at the time.
So if you want to buy a 65in 4K TV, now’s the chance to override your partner’s objections. ‘I need it for work,’ you can explain. And for once it will be true. After you have disinfected the cardboard box and removed the screen, you can plug it in to your laptop (a USB to HDMI cable will do the job for newer laptops) and you will enjoy a computer monitor so huge and clear that you won’t want to go to the office ever again. It’s really for your own safety.
And don’t tell my wife, but I’ve just bought a drone. ‘It’s essential,’ I’ll explain. ‘You’re not allowed to fly them within 50 metres of anyone else. So it’s the perfect way to enforce social distancing.’
Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy UK.