We bought our ten bedroom country house in North Northumberland in 1997. Originally built as a hunting lodge, it had since been a private home and more recently an up-market hotel. It took several months to convert it into something resembling a family home and I spent several nights in the building on my own after a day of stripping out walls, tiles and hotel furnishings. My brother Steve visited one day and as we walked along the west wing corridor he pointed out the similarity to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. I just ignored the comment. It didn't spook me at all.
We moved in during the Spring of 1998 and the house seemed warm and homely if not a little large for the five of us; me, my wife and our three kids. Possibly the least scary room of all was the toilet in the front hallway. Narrow, wood-panelled with a small window letting in light, it was by far my favourite toilet of the seven we had to choose from. I spent many happy hours sitting there in the mornings, enjoying a peaceful dump and a read. I could almost say it was my favourite room in the whole house. And then it happened.
I'd been suffering from loose stools for months. I was never off the toilet. The doctor thought it was Irritable Bowel Syndrome (it later turned out to be lactose intolerance, but that's not really important). One day things were so bad I'd bunged myself up with Imodium. An overdose on reflection. I was also suffering from an anal fissure (a tear in my arse) that caused incredible pain if I so much as farted. (At the time I thought it was piles, but that's not really relevant either). I thought a few days without passing a stool would do me good. I wasn't thinking ahead. Sooner or later I was going to pay the price.
He pointed out the similarity to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. I just ignored the comment. It didn't spook me at all.
The stool, when it eventually arrived, was like a sack of hardened cement weighing me down. I wasn't sitting on an elephant, I was sitting on a stegosaurus. I went into that bathroom like a condemned man. I'd never felt fear like it. I sat down, breathed deeply, and waited for the movement to begin. It came in contractions, every time the pain getting worse. I breathed as deeply as I could, grasped the radiator, sweat ran down my face, I groaned and I grimaced. It was like shitting a roll of red hot barbed wire, except there'd be more give in a roll of barbed wire. And then, after ten minutes or so, it got stuck. The pain was at its height, and it got stuck. It wouldn't shift, backwards or forwards. I rocked back and forth trying to hypnotise myself, trying to suppress the agony. I'd never known pain like it. I had visions of Elvis. I knew that if I didn't bleed to death, my heart would pack in any second. I thought about calling to my wife in the kitchen to say goodbye. I thought how ironic it was me, a man who made a living out of toilet humour, dying on the toilet. I really thought that was it.
The pain reached a hideous crescendo, and I felt my bumhole rending itself in twain. Then I reached the watershed. The girth of the stool began to reduce. As the log slid slowly out the pain subsided. The feeling of relief, the joy to be alive, was immense. I was euphoric. Before wiping what remained of my arse I turned to look at the stool. It looked like a rusting German bomb unearthed on a building site. Like the fortunate family whose roof it might have fallen through, I was lucky to be alive.
The next day I went to the doctors and bent over while he stuck a telescope up my ringpiece. He diagnosed the anal fissure and gave me some ointment for it. Since then I've been fine. But that room has never felt the same. The ghost of that giant stool haunts it to this day.
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