Yesterday, at our regular monthly meeting, we had to write a humorous story. Patricia didn’t knock this up in 15 minutes, but two of us did write on lavatory humour and this contribution may have been hidden in Patricia’s archives or been there in the back of her brain waiting to be written.
(One elderly lady to another in the ladies’ room at the Chichester Festival Theatre: ‘Of course designers don’t want instructions spoiling their, erm, designs, but I’m just thinking, where’s the handle?)
Which got me thinking…
I remember the loo. It was dependable. It sat there, foursquare in its hard porcelain whiteness that was freezing on the bum in winter. Above it on the wall a large greyish box from which a chain depended. You pulled on the chain and a cascade of water disappeared those things you wished would disappear. Sometimes. If someone had been in there before you, you had to wait an age before the water would fill up again.
Of course we didn’t call it the loo back then; that was long before the chattering classes took their holidays in Tuscany, and a coy cry of gardi-loo had yet to be heard. We “Spent a Penny”, we “Paid a Visit”, the bold upfront ones announced that we were “Going to the Lavatory.” That was Mother’s preference: the lavatory. She disdained Toilet and winced at Lavvy – I was careful not to let my more bohemian friends name it in her presence.
But whatever you called it, it was there, unchanging – as I said, dependable.
Today we have low-level avocado suites and high-rise conveniences for the disabled. We have Turkish Holes in motorway service stations – not easy for the fashionista in her gold velour onesie. The chain evolved into a lever, and just as we got used to that, it too headed down the road to extinction.
There might be a chrome knob squatting on the streamlined cistern. Lift or press? Whichever you choose is the wrong solution. Even more daunting is the pair of recessed buttons, forcing the dilemma: does this deserve a big or a little flush?
Sometimes the very act of rising from the throne will trigger the flush, sometimes a mad flapping of the hand towards some concealed electronic eye will do the trick. If you know the trick. And the Turkish Hole, of course, the superior kind, will ambush you with an automatic, roaring gush that, try as you might, always swamps your footwear. Well might that elderly lady bemoan the demise of the handle.
And don’t get me started on washbasins… You push the tap, you turn the tap, you pull the tap, you wiggle your fingers under the tap. Sometimes none of these will avail, and it sits smiling smugly while you search desperately for the answer. Ah, yes, the foot pedal. How silly of me not to know that.
We have a public loo in Churchill Square in Rustington. It’s a perfectly splendid loo, clean, warm, smelling inoffensively of pine. It wins prizes, I kid you not. It’s the loo that has everything. Apart from wash basins. Emerge from your cubicle and you will be confronted with two small recesses in the wall. Each has its mirror above, and below that a shiny chrome plaque with little drawings on it. Left to right: bubbles, a shower, a blow drier. Perfectly intuitive you might think, but no.
Place your hand below the bubbles, and… nothing. Place your hand below the shower and you get soap. Place your hand below the blow drier and you get water. And just as you give up in despair and turn away, shaking the drops from your hands, the blower starts up. It’s all very confusing for a Bear of Advancing Years and of Very Little Brain.
Ah, me. Where are the loos of yesteryear?