First of all, pardon the silly title, but have you ever read “Tristram Shandy” by Lawrence Sterne? It’s one of the funniest and most charming books I’ve ever read. It was, by the way, published in numerous parts (Volumes I-IX) from 1759 to 1767. I was thinking about it today because I was considering a blog about toilet paper, and I kept putting off writing it. I must say, though, I found some most interesting lore via Google. Who would have thought it could be such a major topic? Though just consider life without it.

To get back to “Tristram Shandy”, throughout the book Sterne keeps promising a chapter on buttons, but he never writes it. One can only wonder. Anyway, I am now going to produce my chapter on toilet paper, or “bathroom tissue” as the marketers prefer to call it, distancing as far as possible from its actual use. Indeed, the marketing of the product is a marvel of circumlocution and sanitized imagery. We can now visualize butterflies, fluffy chicks, and pretty flowers, not to mention “pillowy softness” in association with what is, in common parlance, ass-wipe.

But I digress. Have you noticed that the rolls of toilet paper are becoming narrower and shorter than they used to be? Or is this just my imagination? Think of how much extra profit Purex or Kimberley-Clark can make by shaving a mere one millimetre off the width of the roll. The package of Royale (how’s that for ass-wipe?) claims the product to be “Soft & Thick” (“Doux et épais”). Ha! There is something called “finger puncture” that the manufacturers must be careful to safeguard against. The word “thick” offers comforting reassurance.

Then, there are the various scented and aloe impregnated varieties, promising, what?, additional “comfort”–anything to distance us from the actual use of the product.

The reality is, though, that good ol’ toilet paper has become a necessity of life. Think, if you dare, how much of it enters our sewage systems everyday. There are millions of dollars to be made. Even more millions if you shave off a millimetre or two and shorten the roll by a few sheets, while, naturally, raising the price.

When I visit my daughter in the States, I am filled with envy at the wide and thick toilet paper they always seem to have in plentiful supply. Maybe Americans are just more into these things. I mean, have you ever tried Italian carta igienica? Might as well use sandpaper–still, Italians seem pretty happy as a general rule.

I’m taking my cue for digressions here from Lawrence Sterne. Read “Tristram Shandy”. You’ll love it! Even without the chapter on buttons.


About tdurrie

An aging radical with thoughts about society, education, arts, politics, and food.
This entry was posted in Tristram Shandy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Judy Helfand says:

    Hi Tom,
    I stopped by here today because my blogging/twitter friend, John McLachlan, tweeted about your new blog. I will go on record: I have not read “Tristram Shandy”, but I have lived in the country, sans sewers, and I know alot about toilet paper. I was an innkeeper for almost 12 years. I can tell you we always bought unscented one-ply tissue. We had a contest once to guess how many rolls of toilet paper 9,636 guests used in 12 months. The answer: 1056 rolls. Also, we never put kleenex/tissue paper in the bathrooms, as these products do not break down easily in a septic/leach system. I think you are correct about the profit scheme. 40 years ago someone told me that CREST toothpast made the dispensing hole in the tube larger, so you would use more with each brushing episode. True or not, I don’t know.
    By the way, I still buy one-ply unscented, as now I am accustom and various perfumed scents cause allergic reactions for many people.
    I wish you much luck with your blog. It looks lovely and I love “rants and raves.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s