Friday, 13 February 2015

What's the Latin for 'toilet'?

One of the perks of my job is being able to truthfully tell people that you buy large quantities of diamonds on a regular basis.

A word of warning: If you ever go to Hatton Garden to buy diamonds, you will be shown into a bare room with a small table and one chair, and someone will bring in a little, folded piece of white paper and place it on the table before you. then leave the room to let you unwrap it.

You can unwrap it if you want, but if you ask to see a different selection of gems because these ones were not quite what you were looking for, you will be told that these are the only ones for sale at this point and then you will be shown to the door. You will never be able to buy diamonds at that establishment again. This is extreme control of the market.

I have a friend who is a classic, Irish, 'Father Jack'-type Catholic priest and he spends a lot of time trying to help the street kids of Brazil. He tells me that most of this time is spent trying to stop the boys from getting into the girls' knickers. He went to Hatton Garden with some emeralds for appraisal that he bought there, and told me that he met the very nice man who I had recommended to him, who sat at a large desk with a portrait of the President of Israel hanging on the wall behind him. I got the message. We can't all be Catholics.

He - in turn - recommended me to conserve some small, stone figures of Saints which adorn the rood-screen of our local, massive Catholic church where he lives in an attached annex.

I was to survey the damage in the half-light of the church, have a quick chat to the Father in his private quarters, then report to the architect who was in charge of the fabric.

"First of all, the figures are a French (I believe) magnesian limestone, and not Bath stone as I had been told." That is where I began and that is where I ended.

"They are Bath stone," insisted the architect.

"No they are not," I insisted back.

"I have been an architect for 30 years," the architect said.

"I have been working with stone for 40 years, and I know Bath stone when I see it," I said back.

Like the dissatisfied diamond buyer, I was shown the door with the implication that I should never darken the threshold again.

I have never met an architect who was not an infuriating combination of overly self-confident and ignorant. I have just walked off a job controlled by a similar architect who was more interested in using the project as a shining example of their personal skill and wisdom rather than the simple community pub toilet renovation that it actually is.

Usually, I wrong-foot such architects by asking them if they have ever read Vitruvius's (the Roman father of modern architecture) book on the subject, written over 2000 years ago. Most of them have never even heard of Vitruvius. In his day, the training of an architect took 21 years.

One day, I was having a bit of an argument with a somewhat upper-class, middle-aged architect, and I resorted to this tactic to shut him up.

"Have you ever read Vitruvius?" I sat back and waited for him to begin stuttering.

"Yes, and I have read it in Latin as well. Have you?"

Those public school-educated nobles can spot a plebian like me a mile off.


  1. Darling Tom,

    Talking of diamonds......

    At a recent party of the kind where a 'great crowd' is guaranteed, diamonds of all shapes and colours were the jewellery choice of the night. They dangled and sparkled from earlobes, they glistened and hung from smooth, slender necks, they dazzled from bracelets and cuffs......white, yellow, pink and black.

    But, as we so often argue to ourselves, what to do when in no way can one or does one wish to compete?

    Wear nothing but the clothes is an option we have employed previously. After all, would we wish the indignity of being shown the door at Hatton Garden?!

    But, on this occasion, we tried another tack.

    'What fun your jewellery is!' a diamond studded guest exclaimed.

    'Yes, plastic......the new diamonds' came the reply.

    1. Whereupon you threw the glass of Cava into their face?

  2. and so the world turns...hilarious though.

  3. I thought you just popped into Screwfix or B&Q.

    Not all architects are as you say but I know what you mean.

    1. No mate - these came all the way from Tunbridge Wells.

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you (said gullible Bigus Dickus).

  5. In answer to the question, is it latrina? I do have Latin 'O' Level, but I still had to look it up.

  6. I think that KitKatCot is right. Latrina. Believe it or not, I was a Latin scholar.

    I tend to agree with you about architects. They are an unbelievably arrogant bunch.... and usually design nothing more more than flat roofed extensions.

    1. I do believe you, Cro. Anyone who went to a school which was founded 1000 years ago has to be right.

  7. The only thing I can add about architects is that they do seem to charge rather a lot for their drawings/plans when they send the bill in Latin or in English.

    1. A friend of mine got an architect to produce some drawings for a riverside development here in Bath, and when they finally arrived, the architect had drawn them with the fronts facing AWAY from the river, with no windows overlooking the water front. He scribbled a drawing on a bit of A4 and instructed the architect to follow his brilliant solution.