Thursday, 17 November 2011


‘This toilet is reserved for the use of Intellect’ read the sign on the door.

Putting the works of the mind in their place
Now I have certain pretensions to intellectualism – purely amateur, you understand, I remain a mere dilettante – but I have to admit that the sign may convey a particular, and fundamental, truth .

If you'll excuse my bad language, I'm afraid that I've read rather a lot of intellectual work which I'd have to describe as such a pile of crap that I can only assume the author is simply taking the piss. It therefore seems particularly appropriate and insightful to reserve a toilet specifically for intellectual use.

Of course, the toilet may be only for the use of visitors to an organisation that has chosen to call itself, perhaps a trifle pretentiously, ‘Intellect’, and whose offices I happened to be visiting. But how much duller an explanation that would be - I reject it out of hand as unfit to puncture the monotony of the everyday.

The sign put me in mind of a note of Voltaire’s which I have never been able to track down, but would nonetheless like to believe was by him: ‘Sir, I am in the smallest room in the house. Your letter is before me. Soon it will be behind me.’

Postscript on a related subject: after a conference dinner tonight, the speaker who happens to be doctor, told the story of a visit to a toilet in the Department of Health building in London. Written across the cubicle door were the words ‘2000 people work here. Right now, you are the only one who knows what he is doing.’

He also described life as a bowl of shit, and a doctor’s role as steering patients to the shallow end. Not perhaps the most noble description I’ve heard of medicine, or of life for that matter, but is it wholly without merit?

1 comment:

Malc Dow said...

It's the job of the 'intellectual' to take the piss. What else is there to do?

The Voltaire quote:
‘Sir, I am in the smallest room in the house. Your newspaper is before me. Soon it will be behind me.’

I once sent the paraphrase to a newspaper. Needless to say they didn't print it.