It wasn’t so much the problem that she had a streak of kleptomania, it was more that our mother worked for a local council institution and so the stuff that she “liberated” from her employer was of local council institutional quality, in other words, rubbish.
In her normal life our mother was as honest as the day was long, its just that when she got to work she and her workmates would “liberate” anything that wasn’t nailed down, indeed they even had a pair of pliers for removing the nails that were nailing some of the things down when they wanted them that badly.
Carnegie College Leeds was one of only two centres of excellence for sporting prowess and athleticism in the whole of the UK, most of the country’s athletes in the 1960s and 1970s had graduated or trained at Carnegie College Leeds or Loughborough and so it was with some pride that when teachers and school friends asked me where my mother worked I’d reply “Carnegie College” and they’d step back in amazement and new found respect at the thought that my mother must be a world class athletics coach, or similar.
She was a cleaner actually, she’d clean the toilets and make the beds for the students that were to become this nations athletes and PE teachers, her domain was Bronte Hall, a hall of residence for 100 or so girl students, six cleaners to look after the place they’d pair off and take a floor each and retire to their “staff room” (really a cupboard with six chairs and a kettle in) for coffee and biscuits every hour on the hour.
And they all nicked stuff, all of them, and all of their houses were just like our house in that anything that was cleaning related at all, dusters, towels, face cloths, floor wax, pledge furniture polish, and izal toilet roll, all had the words “Bronte Hall” written on them in indelible ink, writing “Bronte Hall” in indelible ink being Leeds City Councils “this’ll fool ’em” method of fool-proof crime prevention – it didn’t work.
The quartermaster at Bronte Hall must surely have wondered where the hell all of that izal toilet paper went, how on earth could 100 students go through acres and acres of toilet roll in this manner, why their allocated three sheets a day didn’t even come close, and of course the suppliers had chosen izal toilet paper because of its immense unpopularity in the population at large for no-one bought the bloody stuff in the shops, you wouldn’t ever buy the stuff if you were in your right mind, maybe some crazy people did and your usual mix of sadist, but anyone who had ever used izal once would never use it twice.
And yet for years when I was a kid our house only used izal toilet paper.
Toilet paper for sadists or lovers of the art of defecation, for izal had two very distinct sides to it, two aspects for wiping your arse with. If for example you prefered not to actually wipe your arse at all and wander afield all day with the result of this mornings ablution sticking to the back of your pants you could use the shiny side of the izal sheet for the shiny side of the izal sheet did not actually wipe anything clean at all, it may have moved it around a bit but the shiny side of the izal sheet was so shiny that nothing stuck to it and so your buttocks were left smeared, but not clean.
The complimentary side of the izal sheet was the rough side, toilet paper so rough that it also had another use for sandpapering lengths of rough cut wood, just rough wood mind, izal paper was far too rough to have used to get a fine finish on a length of wood but it would certainly take the rough edges off. If you chose the rough side of the izal sheet then sadism was surely your sport, since the demise of the izal sheet you just don’t hear those screams of agony in public toilets cubicles as unsuspecting users realise in horror that they’ve just sandpapered their arse instead of wiping it gently, you’d do better with an angle grinder.
And there was one more thing that izal made that we always had a good stock of in our house (with “Bronte Hall” stencilled on it of course), the izal air freshener. Not for us a little plastic plug-in lilac and lavender dispenser, not for us a spray can of orange and cinnamon chemical compounds, no, we had a large bottle of green disinfectant into which was plunged an inch-wide sponge wick which was attached to the screw-top lid and by means of extracting the wick out of the bottle a little further every day you’d get a lovely fresh whiff of disinfectant.
Just like a public institution our house stunk of disinfectant and hurt you when you went for a shit.