On the morning of Saturday, 4th September, 2010, when the Christchurch (New Zealand) earthquake struck, my family, without power, water or phone but otherwise unscathed, turned up at my house with breakfast and a shovel. Ten minutes later there was a large hole in my garden.
Without power or water we are, these days, almost helpless. Nothing that we are accustomed to using works. And when it comes to emergencies, our needs become very simple indeed. A loo, a toilet, a little girls'/boys' room, a W.C., a bog or a latrine - call it what you will - comes near the top of the list. I had no water but I now had a hole in the garden - an emergency latrine.
There is much coyness about toilets. In Australia during world war II my mother rented a cottage from a woman who apologised because the toilet was inside instead of outside as, apparently, she thought proper. In England there was a discreet shed at the bottom of the garden in many old properties, and potties under beds for during the night. Yes, the thought is quease-inducing for us, accustomed as we now are to mod. cons.
Parents of young children know all about holding out a desperate, urgent child who has to go now behind a handy bush - and know too about the warm splashing over an unfortunately placed foot that is all too often a result. What does a desperate, urgent adult do in these circumstances?
In New Zealand the old long-drop has something going for it. Well, darn it, we had a post-hole borer once but I've lost track of it. It would have been useful on Saturday. There's always an old bucket lying around, but some of us (I shall put this as delicately as possible) are way past being able to squat that far down without an unseemly scramble, with the added possibility of accidents, back up again. Stand the bucket on something sturdy? Hmmm - perhaps not - a bit wobbly.
May I introduce the wonderfully named thunder-box? I am reasonably familiar with this contraption, which we used when we were children in Teheran. Think of a large strong wooden box with a hinged lid. The lid had a suitable hole in the middle. Strategically placed underneath stood a large bucket. Beside the wooden box was another bucket containing sand and a small spade. The procedure for making use of this simple and essential piece of furniture - and it was furniture rather than a fitting - will be obvious.
Thought for today, as the aftershocks continue to shake the house sixty hours after the first roar, crack and rumble: it wouldn't be so difficult to construct a thunder-box for future emergencies.