Dr Sarah House - What Colour 'Shit' Today!

I was slightly miffed when Sarah refused to write a piece for this website, since our friendship goes way back to the late 1980s. We shared a lab together compiling our undergraduate final year projects. She grew a range of deadly bugs and I grew escherichia coliform (E-Coli) in our respective petri-dishes. I killed mine with chlorine and I have no idea what she did with her far more deadly friends and organisms. She was far brainier than I and got a first-class honours degree for her efforts.

In the course of our studies, Sarah made regular visits the Loughborough Sewage farm to collect a bucketful of crap for her experiments. I was fascinated to know and enquired each day exactly “What colour shit have you brought in this morning?”. The town was known for its cloth mills and dye-works. So whatever colour of dye they were using on that particular day, would trickle into the sewer pipes and turn the shit bright pink, red or a beautiful shade of royal blue.

Sarah and I had few friends on campus (perhaps I talk for myself?), since most of the time we smelt like shit being around buckets full of the stuff for hours on end. But that mattered little because we were passionate about public health engineering and our little, metallic green bugs thriving in their cosy, warm petri-dishes. We remain just as passionate about the wider subject 30 odd years later.

After university, I went off to the developing world and plied my trade as best I could and learnt the hard way – improving my skills and knowledge over time and through much trial and error. Sarah used her brains to better effect and in the process of her work, identified a number of new areas of work which had previously been overlooked. These related in particular to some of the most vulnerable in society who remained effectively hidden and underserved. Encouraging her peers not to ignore these people Sarah helped to bring them more effectively into the mainstream. Not least she was one of a very few people trying to encourage the WASH sector to consider gender and to understand more clearly, the early stages of gender-based violence and was one of the first people in putting ‘Menstrual Health Management’ into the text books. The first sentence on ‘MHM’ in the Sphere Standards was included in 1997 at her insistence, based on a brief case study taken from a long-suffering Bangladeshi woman. She described, putting her wet menstrual cloths into a plastic bag under her bed, due to the shame of having them. There they would become mouldy - before she actually went on to use them again!

There is so much more I could say about Sarah and her marvellous but under-valued achievements – since she refuses to say them about herself. So, when she last talked to me about her struggles with her physical and mental health issues, Asperger’s syndrome and other things, I myself began to think outside of the box. The attached podcast says it all in an engaging pictorial fashion, encapsulating so many of my own thoughts and struggles and in such a fascinating, descriptive and comprehensive manner. Take a look and see if you recognise any of the signs.


I have her permission to use it and to disseminate it as widely as possible. I whole heartedly agree with her piece in so many ways and simply couldn’t have put it quite so concisely. I am now going off to get a diagnosis to see exactly where on the spectrum I exist!