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Wordie Wednesday: gardyloo

gar·​dy·​loo | \ ˌgär-dē-ˈlü \

Definition of gardyloo

n Used by people in medieval Scotland to warn passers-by of waste about to be thrown from a window into the street below. The term was still in use as late as the 1930s and 1940s, when many people had no indoor toilets.

According to this thorough article, legend has it that the 12th century French King Phillipe Auguste was covered in the contents of a chamber pot, and decreed that all upstairs residents were obliged to warn pedestrians before throwing out waste water. In 1749, the ‘Nastiness Act’ was passed in Scotland; it decreed waste could only be tossed out between 10 p.m., when the bells struck at the St. Giles High Kirk, and 7 a.m. the next morning. The person tossing the waste was also supposed to call out “Gardez l’eau!” meaning ‘watch the water,’ which later became corrupted to “Gardyloo!” King Phillipe Auguste didn’t like hot weather. His layers and cuffs and frills itched even in temperate weather, and in the heat, his leotard chafed in all the wrong places. Yet, a monarch must remain royal at all times.

It seemed France had settled into a long, hot summer, the kind that creates droughts and gives birth to infestations of insects. The sun shone interminably and crops soon withered in its heat. Even the nights provided little relief.

It was on one of these hot late afternoons when the king sought relief among the shaded streets of the tall tenement buildings. His entourage moved slowly down the cobblestone streets, the heels on their buckled leather shoes clacking noisily against on the uneven stones.

A servant used ostrich feathers to fan the king as he walked. Fashioned from the tail feathers of the large bird, the fan was rather unwieldy. The servant waved it rhythmically to create a breeze and dry the sweat from the king’s brow. When arms tired, another servant stepped into the task. And so the walk went, down the cobblestone streets in a shifting rotation of fan-waving and ogling.

The streets around the king’s summer residence bustled; the wheels on carts clacked in unison with the horses’ hooves, and cows bellowed in the heat. Swarms of midges made life miserable for the animals and their people. In the shadows of vendors’ stalls, children begged for handouts or idly shifted small pebbles around with their feet.

High above the street, the open windows of the tenements caught the warm breeze wafting between the buildings. Work-worn women wiped the sweat from their faces as they scrubbed clothes and wrung them out.

Jeanne had just finished the laundry for her family of five, the littlest ones running circles around the washtub in a game of tag. “Regarde!” she shouted as the children ran through the puddles on the floor.

Amelie, her second eldest, worked at the other household tasks – sweeping the floor with the cornstalk broom, mixing bread dough and setting it to rise in the heat, trying to keep the youngest children out of her mother’s way.

The king rested, panting in the heat and slipping his fingers between his neck and his frilled collar to relieve the chafing heat.

“L’eau!” he demanded.

“Amelie! Le chamberpot est plein. Videz-le s'il vous plaît,” Jeanne instructed her daughter.

Emptying the chamberpot was Amelie’s job when her older sister, Marie, was absent. Of all the jobs Amelie had to do, this was her least favourite. The pot’s smell permeated the room in the heat, and it was heavy to lift up to the window. She took a deep breath and hoisted the clay pot with both hands, shuffling her way towards the window.

Without looking out the window, she hoisted the pot up to the sill and tipped its contents out onto the street below.

King Phillipe Auguste got his water. And then the shit hit the fan.

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