Wherever I am, whatever the distance I have to travel when I leave somewhere, I always go to the bathroom before I go.  There is no scenario where I think – it’s only a few minutes – what could possibly go wrong?  Firstly because thinking that is practically inviting something to go wrong, and secondly because I channel my namesake grandmother in many things, but this one apparently first and foremost. 

As a result therefore, there isn’t a place in London or anywhere else I have been where I haven’t visited the restroom/toilets/bathroom/ladies’ room/loo/ powder room/well you get the picture.

These have ranged from normal to disgusting (in one case so disgusting that I actually did say, I’ll wait – what could possibly go wrong on the 25 minute drive home) to space age, to so funky that you go back to your table and tell everyone about it and then everyone takes turns to go and see what all the fuss is about.

I am sure that when people first meet me, they think that I go to the loo to avoid paying my share of the bill, but I can assure you that isn’t the case.  I always disappear a little before we leave because it’s even worse when you go just as everyone is putting their coats on and come back to an empty table and two or three sweating friends waiting impatiently when everyone else has already gone to our next destination.  As they get to know me they realise that it is one of my (hopefully but probably not) endearing idiosyncrasies which I then get teased about.  A lot.

What I do know is that I am rarely the person hopping from leg to leg on their doorstep talking about how I should have gone before I left.

No matter, I was talking about public toilets.  I am not sure where to start.

I’ll start with the unpleasant.

LADIES – What are you doing in club toilets?  Are you disrobing and performing acrobatics whilst peeing?  We all have a common goal so to speak, let’s get it together and aim for it ok?  I know even the skankiest women’s loos are better than any men’s rooms, but I imagine that men go into the men’s room, point vaguely in a direction and leave.  I went somewhere with a friend and he said that the loos were so disgusting that he held his breath the whole time.  I say this to illustrate that he was in and out quickly, he wasn’t a trained Navy SEAL with a larger than average lung capacity or anything.  As women, we do not have this option.  I mean, I can get in, get it over with and get out fairly quickly but not in one breath’s worth.  There is a certain amount of disrobing involved at the very least you have to find somewhere to perch/hang/suspend your handbag before you do anything at all.   So disgusting toilets are just really disappointing.  I would like to see more people treating public facilities as they would treat home or a friend’s house.  You wouldn’t go to a friend’s house, stand on the toilet seat and hope everything goes where you want it to would you?  (If the answer is yes, please feign illness if I ever invite you to mine).

I have friends who are so worried about germs and the like that they are in my opinion a little over the top with their precautions.  They never sit, always crouch – ok that one is very common.  Clearly all those squats at the gym have given them the quads of steel necessary to hover and do their business. The never touch the flush either, choosing instead to operate the flush lever with their feet, they pull their sweaters over their hands in order to unlock/lock the cubicle doors.  Swing doors are either kicked open or barged open and the whole experience is carried out with clinical precision.  I read somewhere that there are actually more germs in our mouths than on your average toilet seat, but frankly, I don’t think these ladies are taking any chances.

So enough said – you get the picture, some public loos (yes, even ladies’) are gross.  No big shock there.

Ok so now I would like to talk about signage.  I feel like the trend has been to over-complicate.  I understand that with the women’s movement (wow, I never thought I would use that term) the age old stick figures of men and women are no longer valid.  After all, women don’t always wear skirts blah blah blah, but those were the signs I recognised.  Maybe a word on the front.  Ladies’ for example, or Men’s.  Even ladies’ or men’s in the local language.  But this current trend for ambiguous signs is confusing, disconcerting and just plain annoying.  Picture this:  You are in a restaurant with a friend.  You leave them alone at the table to use the facilities.  You ask the waiter for directions to the ladies’ room.  He tells you that you have to walk the length of the restaurant, through a hidden door, down three flights of stairs,  down four long, dimly lit and smelly corridors, each one colder than the last, until you come to two doors.  Both of them have hats on them.  One has a red feather and one has a slightly darker red feather.  Both feathers look – well unisex.  I stand there.  Is the lighter one perhaps more curvy?  Could this be the girl feather?  But the darker one maybe has a hint of pink?  I toy with the idea of pushing one of the doors open and looking in to see if there are urinals.  But the thing about urinals is that checking to see if there are any means you have stuck your head in the men’s room and inadvertently watched up to 5 guys peeing.  Not really my thing.  So you stand there.  Waiting.  Hoping someone who is practised in the art of feather deciphering will happen by, be obviously male or female and you can finally use the facilities.  Meanwhile, your friend is sitting alone in the restaurant wondering why it has taken you so long to go and do a wee for goodness sake.  All I am saying is, let’s use signs that are easily read and understood.  Being trendy is a good thing, but not if it leads to people dancing outside your facilities waiting for someone else to come along so that they can start a think tank and throw out some ideas as to which feather ‘looks more girly’.

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Ambiguous toilet signs which can be interpreted in several ways

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I mean. It isn’t helpful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which leads me to my next point.  Automation.  In a bid to make everything ‘more hygienic’, public toilets are not more and more automated.  Gone are the days, when you went in, did your business, flushed the loo using a chain or a lever, turned on the tap  to wash your hands and used a towel to dry them.  That is –like- so old school.

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WTAF

Now you go into the toilets, and find an empty cubicle.  So far so good.  Although you would think that with all the automation and hi-tech gadgetry they would have worked out how to make the engaged/vacant door thingies work.  So you do your thang, whatever and then you have to flush.

Sometimes it’s a button. Ok, no problem, I have pushed buttons before, sometimes quite successfully.  Or there are two buttons, and one is infinitesimally smaller than the other which means you have to make a decision about saving the planet or ridding the loo of your paper and stuff.  Let’s just say that the ‘light flush’ is exactly what it says.  It is a gentle disturbance of the water that results in everything that it was supposed to get rid of remaining where it was and laughing in your face.

Other times, there is a sensor, and you are supposed to wave your hand in front of it to activate the flush.  I find that these can differ wildly sensitivity-wise.  Sometimes, you reach for the loo paper, and the slight movement of your arm activates the flush while you are still on/hovering above the loo.  Most inconvenient.  Other times, you can stand there waving at it like a lunatic for about 10 minutes trying to adjust things like the speed of your waving and the distance from the sensor incrementally.  All for nothing.  Then you open the door and that activates it.

I was in Athens recently and went out for coffee with a friend.  I stood near the loo for an age looking for a handle, a chain, a lever, anything.  Eventually I realised there was a pedal by the loo.  I stood on this and it finally flushed.  I emerged into the handwashing area only to realise that there were no taps to operate either.  Again I looked high and low, and noticed the foot pedals near the sinks.  A bathroom operated entirely by foot pedals.  A little weird.

And it is only getting more complicated.  The taps now turn on either randomly or when you brush the tap with your fingers, or when you put your hand under the tap.  There are too many factors.  I come back from the bathroom with a sense of deep accomplishment if I have managed to do all of the steps I had planned within 15 minutes.  And 15 minutes is a long time for your date to sit alone waiting…

And just as an aside, I would also like to mention the timed lights that now exist in so many public loos.  What is that all about?  I get that they don’t want to pay to light up a whole room if there is no one in it.  Ok so far.  However switching on the lights and having them on a 45 second timer is a little too much (or should I say too little?).  I mean, sometimes you need a little longer.  Sometimes you are still sitting there when the lights go off.  And then you have to wave your arms about frantically to try and alert the light sensor that you are still in the room.  And if that doesn’t work you have to stand up.  And if that doesn’t work, you have to pause proceedings,  get dressed, walk to the door, pretend you are leaving and then sneak back in to gain another 45 seconds.  I mean it is a bit cloak and dagger for the luxury of not peeing in the dark.

Anyway,  my point is that we are now all used to automatic toilets, even though we don’t have them at home.  At least I assume we don’t have them at home.  I certainly don’t.  And so there is nothing more embarrassing that standing in front of a sink with traditionally operated taps holding your hands still underneath the faucet waiting for the water to start.  I mean.  Turn the tap doofus. Mortifying.

But not quite as mortifying as something that happened to me the other day at Heathrow Airport.

I had gone to collect my sister and her boyfriend who were flying back from their holiday.  I arrived in plenty of time and decided to go to the loo.  I went into a cubicle, and looked around. It was disgusting.  I spent a few minutes tidying it enough to be able to use, all the while moaning to myself about how women should know better than to pee all over the floor.   I left the cubicle, washed my hands and walked out of the toilets only to be passed by a man walking in.  What an idiot I thought to myself smugly as I turned to see the large sign that said ladies.

Only to discover that I was the idiot who had walked into the mens’ loo by mistake.  I don’t even know how I managed it.  I must have been pretty distracted.

So embarrassing – especially since it turned out we were both waiting for people on the same flight so he kept staring at me the whole time I was waiting.

Maybe even more embarrassing and awkward are the toilets in posh places which have toilet attendants.  I don’t frequent these places but occasionally I happen to go.  I can’t think of any other type of establishment that has toilet attendants.  These are usually women (in the ladies’,  I can’t speak for the Gents’) who are bored to tears and after a tip.  This makes them the most over-the-top flamboyant flatterers known to womankind.  I went to the loos once upon arrival at my destination and the woman complimented me on my hair and top before I went into the cubicle, and she complimented me on my shoes and tissue (yes, you read correctly, my tissue) on the way out.  I smiled and tried to think about whether I had any change on me.  I went again at the end of the evening and she had yet more compliments for me, I think she commented on how I hadn’t creased my clothes and how quick I was in the loo.  I was gobsmacked.  I mean, not only was it not sincere, but it wasn’t even a thing.  I mean it is like being complimented on your ability to eat with cutlery, or to not  pick your nose.  And this woman was sitting there smiling away fully expecting a tip for having found 6 positive things to say to me.  Of course I tipped her.  I have never been complimented on my tissue before, I was thrown.  Still this lady wasn’t the most annoying toilet attendant I have ever come across.  That was a lady who used to hover over you and squirt soap onto your hands and then lotion onto them when you had washed them.  Good heavens woman.  I can manage to do these things unassisted.  Do you think I employ someone at home who stands by the sink and waits for me to put my hand out so that he/she can pump some soap into my hand at the right moment?  I mean is there ever a point at which you think, I wish I didn’t have to do this myself.  I wish I could stand there like an incompetent lemon and have someone else do it for me.  For a pound.

If she had told me how soft my hands were though, the pound would have been well worth it.  I mean, how often do you think I get compliments?  I am more than happy to pay for them, and if they are original, then so much the better.

So now you know.  Take away delivery guys fair warning.  When I answer the door, instead of telling me that you brought my food (which I can usually deduce because let’s face it, I only placed the order half an hour ago, and you are still wearing your helmet), tell me instead that I opened the door really well, or that I look really nice in my pyjamas. Then watch me get all big tipper on you.  Because I really do open a mean door.  And I totally rock my pyjamas.

 

 

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