Saturday, September 20, 2008

piss poor: adj. pronunciation: \_pis-_pu_r, -_po_r\
First used in 1946, meaning very bad, extremely poor

As I think I’ve mentioned before on these pages, I went to university relatively late in life, aged 38, where I did a degree, one half of which concerned the study of English Literature and, incidentally, met my good friend, David, who has aspirations of getting a novel published. Neither in the critique of said literature in my many essays, nor in the professorial marking of those essays, would you have encountered the words “piss poor”; we chose our words much more carefully. However, some literature is truly bad and perhaps worthy of strong words. If you’re trying to write and get published your first novel (like David) and feel that you are gifted and are really onto something (David’s too modest to put himself in this group) how embittering to see some of the crap that’s already in print … or perhaps even heartening: giving some hope that one’s meagre efforts might encounter the printing press.

We've accumulated some trashy novels somehow, handed on by well-meaning friends or perhaps left by holidaymakers in our gite. What precisely, do you think we should do with novels such as one described on its cover as “Glasgow Ice Creams Wars meets Shirley Valentine”? We tried to sell them at our village’s vide grenier (literally, “empty one’s attic, a boot fair by another name) but didn’t, so I decided to pee on them instead: a liquid critique. Where’s the permaculture in all this, you might ask? Compost … I’m advocating turning pulp fiction into rich, crumbly compost.

It’s from an idea I read in Lifting the Lid: An ecological approach to toilet systems by Peter Harper & Louise Halstrap. They explain, “Good composting needs carbon, nitrogen, water and air. Urine has plenty of nitrogen and water. Fibrous materials like straw have carbon and air. This is the basis of the straw bale urinal.” p129. To digress for a moment, I feel I have to include their instructions on how to use said device: “For men it is fairly straightforward. Women can simply ‘stand astride’ the bale, or sit on two narrow planks, or indeed dangle from a branch if the bale is well-placed.” ibid. Just imagine! They go on to describe an “urban version” of corrugated cardboard in a plastic box, with a “more whimsical” version using books.

In permaculture terms, outputs of part of our system (trashy novels and my urine) becomes an input into another (as compost for our vegetable growing). Remarkably, the paperbacks have proved exception-ally absorbent, more so than the sawdust usually found in my garden pissoir and a lot more so than any paper kitchen wipe I’ve ever bought. (This photo shows them in the second week of their experimental immersion.) Why then buy kitchen roll made from recycled paper? Recycle it? Just tear the pages straight out the book as you read them. How about a dual use recipe book, also a kitchen wipe? I’ve even got the brand name:
“Cook-n-wipe: A Really Absorbing Read”.