STINKY, STONKS AND WHIFFY HONKS
‘Stinky, stinky, stinky – we didn’t thinky… One bad pong and we have a stinky adventure song…’ Josh sang to his toy dinosaur, Dino, as he put on his coat.
John glanced at his wife with a certain look that suggested that Josh was clearly from her side of the family.
‘We’re all going on a stinky adventure…’ cried Tingle with a giggle as she dashed towards Auntie Joanna’s white camper van. It looked like a pearl and was covered in colourful swirls and rainbow coloured flowers. The van itself was quite a sight and the seats could be transformed into a comfortable bed when someone needed a nap. Tingle climbed into the back seat and glanced around. She loved that there was a kitchen inside because they could all have hot drinks when it was cold outside.
‘Stinky, stinky, stinky,’ cried Josh waving his dinosaur. He followed quickly behind Tingle and climbed in clinging onto Dino. There was no way Dino was going to miss out on a stink adventure.
Tingle and Josh’s parents gazed at their children. How had one pong resulted in the whole family going pong detecting?
‘Oh is there anything we need?’ asked Dianne.
‘You will probably need Wellington boots. Who knows where we will end up?’ Auntie Joanna said as she checked her fridge. ‘We have plenty of snacks.’
John studied Auntie Joanna with a certain look. ‘I’m scared to think about where we’ll end up with one of your adventures Jo. If Wellington boots are required then that makes me all the more concerned.’ John turned to his wife, ‘I will help you with the wellies,’ he said offering to carry two of the pairs.
Four pairs of Wellingtons were placed in the back of the van next to Auntie Joanna’s pink with silver flower Wellington boots. John studied the spangly little numbers. They were so Auntie Joanna.
‘Oh and if we have Wellington boots we also need scarves,’ said Auntie Joanna thoughtfully.
‘Is it going to be cold?’ Tingle asked.
‘No, they aren’t for the cold my lovely. It is more a case of having to cover your nose to avoid a pong when you can. Hiding your nose with a jumper won’t always work. Also you can add a nice smell to a scarf, to help cover the nasty smell,’ Auntie Joanna said as if it was obvious.
John adopted the ‘oh I should have known face’.
Finally Auntie Joanna climbed in to the driving seat and waited for everyone to get comfortable. ‘Seatbelts on!’
There was a mass of clicks as everyone put their seatbelts on. Auntie Joanna switched on the engine and started to drive.
‘Where are we going?’ Josh asked.
Auntie Joanna glanced in her rear-view mirror. ‘Well I think you and Tingle need to figure it out. A bit of a pong puzzle.’
‘How can we figure it out?’ asked Josh with a strained look on his face.
‘I am going to ask you a few questions,’ Auntie Joanna replied.
‘So as you know the Great Stink took place in 1858. That is quite a long time ago. So where do you think the stink came from?’ she asked.
‘You said London,’ replied Josh waving Dino.
‘Yes you’re right… And in London where do you think the big smell came from?’ Auntie Joanna asked.
‘People’s bottoms,’ replied Josh with a giggle.
Tingle chuckled too.
‘Not quite,’ said Auntie Joanna glancing in the rear-view mirror. Josh and Tingle were grinning.
‘The toilets?’ Tingle asked.
‘Sort of,’ said Auntie Joanna. ‘What you will find interesting is that the first flushing toilet was invented in the 1590s by Sir John Harington but they weren’t popular because there was nowhere for water to go because sewers hadn’t been invented.
‘What are sewers?’ Josh asked.
‘Ahhhh that is the place where everything you flush down the toilet ends up,’ Dianne said glancing over her shoulder. ‘Like a big lake of toilet water.’
‘Errrrch!’ said Tingle. She was thoughtful. ‘What did they do before you could flush a toilet then?’
‘Most of the time people used a hole in the ground or a chamber pot. Of course that was quite stinky.’
‘What’s a chamber pot?’ asked Josh. The Great Stink was a whole new world of discovery for him.
‘It is a chair with a seat you lift. You go to toilet on it and that goes into a ceramic pot. That special seat could be in the front room or in your bedroom.’ Auntie Joanna watched the children’s response in the rear-view mirror again and smiled to herself.
‘Yuk!’ cried Tingle.
Josh looked horrified. He didn’t like the idea of a secret toilet chair one bit. ‘But that must be smelly in the room.’
‘Exactly,’ replied Auntie Joanna. ‘The alternative was worse – go out into the garden and dig a hole.’
‘People had to pop out to the garden to go to the bathroom? What if it was really cold in the winter?’ Tingle asked. She didn’t like that idea one bit!
‘I don’t like it,’ cried Josh. It would have been dark and there could have been monsters outside. There might be toilet monsters… Or worse… creepy crawlies,’ he said.
‘Do you realise how lucky you are now?’ Auntie Joanna asked with a grin.
‘I like our bathroom,’ said Tingle. ‘I don’t like the idea of leaving the house to go to the toilet,’ said Tingle glancing at Josh. He wouldn’t like it either. ‘It would be really horrid in the middle of the winter,’ she said thoughtfully.
‘We are very lucky to have proper bathrooms now. At one time people didn’t have proper showers or baths. They would sit in a large metal tub and fill it with water they boiled from the kettle.’
‘I like our bath,’ said Josh.
‘It must have been horrible for children in those times,’ said Tingle.
John glanced at his wife and held her hand. She knew what he was thinking. He was glad that he didn’t have to go to toilet on a chair in the corner of the room. Watching football or the Grand Prix would be ruined by the thought of it.
There was a thoughtful silence amongst the family as they considered how life would be very different if a flushing toilet had not been invented.
‘So the stink didn’t come from the toilets?’ Tingle asked breaking the silence.
‘Nope,’ Auntie Joanna replied. ‘So what do you think people did with what was in the chamber pot?’
‘Flush it away?’ Tingle answered.
‘They didn’t have a flusher,’ Auntie Joanna said in a matter of fact tone.
‘They put it in a hole?’ Josh suggested wondering where all the once bottom belongings would go.
Auntie Joanna shook her head. ‘Worse than that.’
Tingle and Josh glanced at each other. What was worse than that?
John glanced out of the window at the forest as they drove. How had an entire conversation about the history of toilets unfolded?
‘I don’t know,’ said Tingle.
‘Josh?’ Auntie Joanna asked.
‘They threw it somewhere?’ Josh said guessing.
‘You are close. They threw it out of the window or threw it in the river,’ Auntie Joanna said, waiting for the response.
‘Errrrch!’ Josh said waving Dino.
‘Oh disgusting!’ Tingle cried. She couldn’t believe it.
‘In London people threw it out of the window onto the street. You had to be very careful where you walked, and your timing, otherwise you could end up with a nasty surprise on the top of your head. It was useful to wear a hat during those times.’
Josh laughed and then frowned. He was so glad people had stopped doing that.
‘So they threw it in the river?’ Tingle asked.
Auntie Joanna nodded, ‘Ah haaa,’ she said. ‘You got it.’
‘Which is the biggest river in London?’ She asked.
‘The Thames,’ both Tingle and Josh answered at the same time.
‘So imagine lots of people throwing all that nasty waste in the river. Also there weren’t as many people as there are now but all that dirt filled the river every day. What made it worse was the water was not cleaned like it is today. So that dirty water went to pumps where people collected the water and drank it. That dirty water made people very ill,’ Auntie Joanna watched the whole family caught up in the thought of people drinking the dirty water from a pump that came from the dirt-filled river.
‘I don’t get where the Supreme Stench comes in,’ John said. ‘London was making a bad smell without any help from a master stink-making wizard.’
‘Well the Supreme Stench was not known by that name in the beginning. When he was young he had a skill for making beautiful perfume. He made different aromas for the upper classes who, rather than smell bad smells, wanted to cover them up with perfume and avoid them. You have to remember that bathing was challenging then because of the style of clothes they wore. Rather than putting effort into getting undressed people would not bathe regularly, so they had to cover their bad smell with a good smell.’
‘But… that makes no sense. They must want to have a bath?’ Tingle responded with surprise.
‘Errrrch!’ Josh couldn’t believe it.
‘In that time the fashions were different and to get dressed was quite a challenge because the ladies wore large dresses, corsets and many layers. The men had some quite strange attire too. What made it more difficult was to fill a bath involved boiling lots of water on stoves or over a fire. In all honesty bathing was a hassle. In the lower classes many only took a bath once a week and the whole family shared the water.’
‘Oh no… that is horrible!’ Tingle said, she was very glad she had a proper bath at home, rubber ducks and a shower.
‘In Victorian and Edwardian times they washed their hair once every two weeks or once a month. The wealthy washed more regularly because they had servants who could prepare baths for them.’
Tingle couldn’t believe how one pong in their hallway had revealed that Victorians didn’t wash very often and many went to the toilet in a hole.
‘So… we are going to a secret place at the end of the Thames… A very special place that was created after the Great Stink. What do you think that is?’ Auntie Joanna asked with a mysterious glint in her eye.
Tingle and Josh looked at each other and shrugged. It could be anything, and knowing Auntie Joanna it would be somewhere really random.
‘Are we going to where the Little Stinkers live?’ Josh asked feeling excited about the idea of seeing a Little Stinker. He had no idea what a Little Stinker looked like.
‘You’re sort of right,’ Auntie Joanna answered. ‘The Little Stinkers would have lived there at one time.’
‘So where are we going Jo?’ asked John.
‘We are going to the pumping station – Waftness. That was the last place the Great Stink affected. They still have wafts now and again.’
‘The pumping station?’
‘Yes. You might be interested to know that when the Great Stink became so bad it created a thick green cloud that covered London – it was a real pea-souper. That is where the expression ‘pea-souper’ came from. Of course when you can’t see ahead of you because there is a thick, green cloud of disgusting smell then something must be done. The stink was so bad that politicians in the government had to cover their noses with handkerchiefs. People passed out in the street and the Queen got very angry. She was not amused!’
‘So what did they do?’ asked Tingle. She looked out of the window. They were driving beside the river and there were lots of large metal bridges crossing it. ‘Oh look we are by the river and there is a mist. Oh and look swans!’
Josh glanced out at the river. He couldn’t imagine everyone throwing all their dirty stuff into it.
‘So good that you pointed that out Tingle. So you see that mist and how it moves. It just sits on the surface. Well the Supreme Stench used his magic to make a lot more of that and he made it really dense.’
‘What is dense?’ asked Josh
‘He made the mist really, really thick and into a green cloud. He made that green cloud rise up into the air and cover London,’ Auntie Joanna answered.
‘So where are we going?’ asked Dianne who had been quiet and thoughtful for most of the journey.
‘It is just ahead of us. Can you see those large chimneys?’ Auntie Joanna gestured to an area between some trees.
Dianna frowned, ‘No but I can smell a pong. Oh that smells like…’
‘Poo!’ cried Josh.
John looked deflated, ‘Jo I just saw the sign that says sewage farm. Are you taking us on an adventure to a sewage farm?’
‘Might be!’ said Auntie Joanna with a grin. ‘This isn’t your average sewage farm though.’
‘Of course it couldn’t be average Jo.’ John studied Auntie Joanna with a look of concern. ‘Anyway, how do we make an average of sewage farms? What sets this particular sewage farm apart?’
‘You’ll see,’ she replied.
Tingle and Josh covered their noses with their jumpers.
‘Stinky, stinky!!!’ cried Josh. He covered his dinosaur’s nose too.
‘Auntie Joanna are we really going to a sewage farm?’ Tingle couldn’t believe it.
‘Well we are going to the pumping station. The place was built to pump out all of the dirty water from the Thames when the tide went out. It is very clever. You see all the politicians couldn’t deal with the stink. Every day they woke up to a disgusting smell and no matter how hard you try to ignore a horrid whiff – such a pong makes people feel very sad. Imagine eating your breakfast with the smell of a meaty dog’s blow-off haunting you at breakfast every day.’
Josh and Tingle giggled while John shook his head at his sister in law.
‘Well it was like that but worse. During the day the weather would heat up and the stench increased. Women fainted on the streets and people became increasingly angry. So much so they gathered outside the Palace and the Parliament. Something had to be done about it! There was a stink uprising and even a few stench related riots too.’
‘So what happened?’ asked Tingle as they drove down a narrow road towards the pumping station.
‘The Queen requested that the government took action to resolve the stink. The thing is she didn’t realise that the awful stench had come about because of something that she did. She also had no idea that the Supreme Stench was behind the Great Stink. He was very clever and calculated because he made the hugest smell in history look like a natural phenomenon.’
‘What does the last word mean?’ Josh asked waving his dinosaur, who had definitely never heard that word before.
‘Like nature had created it magically by itself,’ Dianne replied.
Auntie Joanna pulled in and parked outside a large brick building. It was quite a sight with ornate brickwork and large chimneys. She checked her phone. ‘As I thought. The people at the pumping station have noticed some unusual pongs. The bad smell we just drove through was the sewage farm but on top of that there have been some rather guffacious odours turning up.’
‘Guffacious?’ asked Tingle. ‘I like that word.’
‘Oh I invented it. It means it smells like a fart – but it is a bit more polite.’ Auntie Joanna glanced in her mirror as Tingle placed her hand over her mouth and giggled. Auntie Joanna was definitely being naughty.
With a quick turn of the seat, Auntie Joanna glanced at the group with a concerned look. ‘I am going to wind down the window. It isn’t going to be pleasant, but you will soon understand why we have to stop the greatest stink ever to take over the world. Ready?’
‘Oh… Is anyone ever ready to smell a bad smell?’ John was clearly not impressed.
Auntie Joanna wound down the window and a whiff that smelled like rotten eggs, mixed with gone off cabbage and a hint of stale garlic wafted through the window. Tingle and Josh sniffed and covered their noses again.
‘That’s really horrible!’ Tingle said.
‘Disgusting!’ Josh cried.
Dianne and John looked horrified while Auntie Joanna put tissue up her nose and wound the window back up. ‘You understand – this isn’t your average stink. This is the ultimate stink brewing. If we advise the authorities they will just laugh at us and it will take a long time for them to get involved. By that point it will be too late.’
‘Dogs won’t like it one bit!’ said Tingle.
‘Well done for thinking of the dogs Tingle. What made you say that?’ Auntie Joanna asked.
‘Well dogs sniff everything, so if there is a smell like that then it will make them very sad. They will probably stop wagging their tails.’ Tingle’s expression grew gloomy.
‘Poor doggies’ said Josh.
John studied his son and daughter. Potentially the greatest stink to descend on mankind was about to engulf the world, and his children were concerned that dogs would stop wagging their tails. He glanced at his wife with a certain look on his face. She smiled back knowingly. If anything, the group had to stop the stink so that dogs could wag their tails and sniff whatever they liked freely.
Illustrations by Robin Dry – Thank you!