Spontaneity & the art of toilet-making

12th June 2014

A consistent rule of thumb, among young drinking men, is this: the best nights out are those that are unplanned.

There is a special joy in the spontaneous that taps into a core human desire – to be tickled, surprised, and stimulated out of the vale of tears which Parisians bleakly call ‘metro, boulot, dodo’ (commute, graft, kip).

The joy of spontaneity is an insight I return to again and again in my work: in the conceiving of brands and the communicating of brand stories, how can we tap into that which is fresh; ungovernable?

I remember a language teacher telling me that the most difficult thing to master in a second tongue is not technical or commercial conversation, but rather a casual chat over a drink. The subject matter can go anywhere. Casual chats, it transpires, are ungovernable.

Last night, for example, began with high drama and ended in Yuletide merriment.

We arrived to the ancient castle of Turku, the small city that was once Finland’s capital. Ascending to the banquet hall, an old, encased painting caught my eye. It was clearly executed by a master.

A nobleman, standing over the coffin of a similarly old, but decidedly dead, peer, stared with fierce intensity. He was not mourning. No. His face and pose betrayed rabid disgust. This was confirmed by a disconcerting act: with his left hand, he pulled on the deceased’s long beard.

Around him, minions cowered.

I stood, transfixed.

At the foot of Edelfelt’s painting, an explanation: Duke Karl insults the corpse of his enemy, Klaus Fleming.

The scenario seemed to contravene the politeness of noble art: a moment of extreme, and usually private, human emotion was on raw display.

Our party of 60 embarked on a medieval feast. I sat beside a dear friend and colleague. As the victuals and beer were laid out, and we were encouraged to eat with our fingers, the conversation turned to the largest toilet factory in Europe. She had paid a visit.

This place produces 24,000 toilets a day.

I was giddy at the thought, and passed around the mushrooms coated in tar. Tar!

We moved to quality control. It transpires that each toilet is checked at differing water pressures to assure that its flush is… flush. The factory’s quality man, a big bruiser reminiscent of a bouncer, would systematically throw 30 small, plastic, sausage-like objects into the bowl and pull the handle.

His quality standard: if five or less sausages are left floating after a flush, the toilet passes the test.

As this important but occluded element of the toilet business was shared, the medieval lutes in the beautiful banquet hall struck up.

Strains of ‘Angels we have heard on high’ – a Christmas favourite – filled the midsummer air. I looked around, bemused by the randomness of it all, as Finland’s midnight sun shone brightly.

We are all 25 year olds in our own heads. We may claim an interest in being content, or in control, but our real human need is simply to feel. Surprise, disgust, delight, nostalgia; all serve purpose. For when we provoke our emotions, or find them unexpectedly provoked, we connect with our living soul.

And that is surely better than lying in a wooden box, being pulled by the beard.



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