Louis the Umpteenth, one of the pre-revolution Kings of France, so it is said, had to produce a stool every morning, to reassure his courtiers. I’m not talking about some three-legged piece of furniture made out of white wood, glued and screwed, or out of tubular steel bolted together, such as you might buy from Ikea. I’m not talking about anything that you would pull up against a bar, table or cow’s udders to sit upon. Who needs a king that is good at metal work or carpentry? Sheesh!

            I’m talking about what your cockney might call a Richard the Third, or your Scotsperson, of whatever colour or creed, might think of as a wee smiling jobby. I’m talking about Pooh, but not the one who was likely to get his head stuck in a jar of honey, however spelled. I’m talking about crap, and not the sort thrown in pairs against the raised edge of a baize covered table. I’m talking about shit, the sort that doesn’t get rolled up in tubes of thin paper and smoked; not unless you’re really desperate. I’m talking about doo doo, not to be confused with dodo. I’m talking about the stuff you have to pick up and put in your pocket if you’re a dog walker within any sort of distance of human habitation or CCTV cameras. I’m talking about the sausage shaped, ginger biscuit coloured waste products of the human body that we call faeces, even if we don’t talk Latin.

            That mention of ginger biscuits brings to mind a story I once heard whilst on an Arvon Creative Writing course. It was told by a retired army major who had a fund of such stories, which may or may not have been original, but which were certainly entertaining. If you’re still out there Paul, I hope you don’t mind me passing it on.

            The story concerned a young leftenant (not lootenant- this was a British Army story), who in arranging a formal mess dinner was suffering the bullying attentions of his senior officer. His working class NCO helped him to get revenge, with a mixture of ginger biscuit and milk. As the guests arrived, a shriek was heard from the ladies latrines (it is a military story). The young subaltern (you see) was dragged to the loos, where his red faced CO pointed out that the whole place had been daubed with ‘shit’. The young leftenant, cautiously and carefully advanced, and deploying his forefinger into one of the ginger and milk mash piles, brought a dollop to his nose, sniffed, nodded, and tasted, tentatively. He turned to the Colonel, ‘by God, sir. You’re right. It is shit!’

            Louis the Umpteenth had to produce a pan of this commodity, every morning. Whether, at the risk of revolution, he ever resorted to the ginger biscuit ploy, history does not record. Whatever was in the pan, he had to pass it around the assembled multitude of his courtly subjects with a view to them taking a sniff of it, and a peek at it, and let’s hope nothing more intimate than that, in order to reassure themselves that all was well with the king, on account of the fact that it was thought, in those good old days, that that being the fact would mean it was also true of the body politic.

            Hence the expression, donnez moi l’ordure mon ami, which passed into English as ‘give me the shit, man’, a general request for information. Of course there was the variation, ‘merdre’, otherwise known as le mot du Cambronne, for all you Battle of Waterloo buffs and for any literary types out there, ‘connerie’ (not to be confused with Sean), was translated, in the Penguin edition of Prevert’s Paroles, as ‘shitstupidity’ (quelle connerie la guerre).

            One wonders if lost in the chaos of the actual revolution that did finally engulf that regal society, there were preserved examples of this quaint custom, that would otherwise have been passed down, from generation to generation of aristocrats, as prized family heirlooms, each a unique record (and one that with modern technology could no doubt be studied to reveal many intimate details) of the king’s days and nights. One can only hope, and keep an eye out, at auction houses and art galleries, where such objects would, no doubt, eventually show up. I can hear now, the beautifully modulated voices of the critics as they discussed them. Ah, yes, his 15th of January was divine, but the subtely of his 2nd October, will be never be surpassed.

The early morning ablutions of the king, probably the second of his regal chores, the first being to test the working order of the royal erection no doubt, may be seen as a precursor to the breakfast newspaper, which of course is also, often, no more than a pan of shit, passing itself off as a commentary on the general health and wellbeing of the nation. 

And, something tells me, it may be thought of as an early form of blogging.

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