So, I needed to use the toilet because I was in Britain. If it were the USA I would have opened this piece with I needed to use the bathroom, despite not actually needing a bath. Anyway I was headed for the loo and confronted with the first of many choices.
Three doors. One marked with a stick figure of a human, stood face on despite not having an actual face. A figurine defiantly splaying open both arms and legs. Or there was another near matching faceless individual but this time with only one fat leg and apparently partially hiding behind a triangle. Plus another poor soul with a tiny pin head but no arms and seemingly sat down on an exercise ball.
At least the one on the exercise ball gave some clue as to what was in there. It said accessible toilet. Presumably indicating that the other two doors were totally inaccessible and therefore not really doors at all.
But I’m educated so was aware that the term accessible is a more delicate and inclusive term for disabled because, presumably, anyone who may need a little mobility assistance is clearly far too mentally sensitive to deal with long held terminology. Unlike the pointlessly ‘inclusive’ word accessible, which because of its careful curation will obviously never be considered the same way.
But right now I had a pressing need and I decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt to enter one of the rooms to carry out my business. And I choose to attempt to enter one of the presumably inaccessible rooms.
I chose to venture into the one marked with a twin legged human shaped figure as I wasn’t hiding behind a triangle at the time and it appears that I may have chosen wisely as there were a row of other men doing exactly what I needed to.
They were all standing in a bit of a row, closely facing a wall of steel, steadfastly staring intently at the wall whilst nodding glimpses to the task in hand in a way that implied any sideways diversion may start a contretemps, or nuclear war or something.
For my purposes I had to join them, but deciding which two to slot in between created an anxious moment. Previous decisions had led to various unsettling outcomes. From barely concealed harrumphing to enforced banter with complete strangers. Or unintended splash back from either or both sides or the Niagra scale watering during the automated flush cycle. Or the awkwardness of suddenly being unable to enact and having to slope away without having ‘performed’ implying that the visitation was nothing more than sightseeing.
Then there is the issue of the order of completion. Pick badly and you may be left with a decision to be made if nearly all the others complete apart from the guy right next to you, thus presenting a choice on whether to remain standing shoulder to shoulder with a complete stranger whilst the rest of the wall had cleared, or to shuffle sideways as if to suggest the neighbour is in some way undeserved of your proximity. I tend to just ‘style it out’ and have even been known to shuffle ever closer just to see the effect. The effect being that they finish before actually finishing and beat a hasty retreat.
And I still had the unenviable task of closely staring at an out of focus wall from short distance interrupted by casual glances downwards to monitor operations whilst noticing the channel below is freshly running past with a dirty orange liquid which nasally is anything but fresh and seemingly sluicing various and peculiar detritus which clearly never emanated from a human appendage. All whist wondering if someone will arrive on the scene and push you facewards into the steel trough.
I decided to use one of the cubicles instead.
But which one? There is usually a handy guide to which are vacant. A green for go or red for wait based on the attitude of the door lock. In this case too many were apparently occupied, displaying their ‘keep away’ red warning flash. One was red but the door wasn’t closed fully, hmm? And one was a bit indecisive, mostly green but a bit of red showing. Thankfully one was pure unadulterated green. It became my cubicle of choice.
However, the door was not fully opened so I nudged it carefully to see if there was already an occupant, albeit one who cared less about the intricacies of public cubicle door fastening.
But it swung open. No one inside but due to the hinge arrangement immediately swung back three quarters shut again. I made a quick mental note that the green/red cubicle that I had previously discarded may have been a possible venue after all. But I was here now and once more pushed open the door to reveal my newfound personal peeing point.
I closed, and locked, the door behind me and stared at the ominously closed lid. It’s at this point I’m always minded to think of the generally accepted polite notion that one should always ‘put down the seat’. Apparently for the ladies. Not that any were likely to be passing by this place of gentlemen of course, but nonetheless some well-meaning soul had decided to adopt formality and fully drop the seat and additionally close the lid. I wish he hadn’t.
The trouble with seats in combined male/female facilities and particularly men only establishments is that those who are prone to overshare their wastage all over the pan, seat and surrounding county are exactly the sort who do not think of others and raise the seat first. The polite aiming sort, who make attempts to keep splash back to a minimum are the ones who are most likely to raise the plastic ring. The accepted practice of lowering the seat to assist a future female visitor should be reversed to everyone raising the seat afterwards in case an inconsiderate oaf is the next to arrive.
For there is nothing worse than picking up the edge of a closed pan only to be confronted with a dripping under belly. You will not be able feel you have fully rinsed that off your fingers for about a month of intent scrubbing. However, you will have learned a lesson and in future always tear off a wad of toilet paper in order to raise the lid. I am an expert so dutifully spent six minutes trying to extract a bit of tissue paper that didn’t tear off into a fingertip sized sample from the wall mounted dispenser which must have had a bit of a cob on because it steadfastly refused to give up its contents without a battle.
The raising of the seat cover then presented the next issue. A blocked but still well used bowl of sewage. No previous indication of such a surprise treasure find. The loose fitting seat cover, with broken hinge and only two of the four rubber feet still in operation managed to suppress all notion of this hidden swamp and amazingly all associated aroma with the integrity of a spacesuit.
I thought of flushing this horror that had now hit me hard in the nose but reasoned that adding more liquid to this may actually result in a tsunami of effluent all over my trainers. And I didn’t want that.
I remembered the half-caste green/red cubicle and exited my current position to head off in search of this Eden.
However because of the epic struggle I had with the tissue dispenser I had been in there for a few minutes and now the joint had become more crowded. The line of reprobates had grown to a full complement and I could hear the harrumphing and muttering had increased exponentially. The trouble was the ones waiting for a gap in this queue and one immediately shot into my vacated cubicle as I exited. Before I could even explain why he shouldn’t. He was turning around and undoing his trousers as he entered and I heard the squish as he crashed down onto the seat without pause.
“Aww, shit!” he audibly exclaimed presumably accurately describing what he sat on. He then flushed, accompanied this time by the expletive ‘bollocks’ presumably to describe what had just been unintendedly washed. The seepage slewed gently out past the door.
I washed my hands and left the premises. After all, actually having a pee didn’t seem all that necessary now.
Public toilets are a disgrace. Not always where they are needed, too often closed, unhygienic, badly treated, poorly maintained and seemingly unsafe. It’s time I took a good look at the loo and sorted something out.
Despite all the above these establishments provide a service we all need at some time. For some of us many times. We seem to be getting it all wrong so I wish to propose that we give the industry a big shake and get it to clean up up it’s act.
The first requirement is that they should be there, where you need them. Too often one cannot find the facilities in a city centre. We know that they are often within large shopping malls or at rail stations but these obvious places aren’t always available throughout the wide conurbations of our large cities.
Furthermore the smaller the city, or town or village the less likely there is a guarantee of a place to spend the penny. Legislation should be there dictating the siting of loos where councils or communities are failing to provide these places.
The next requirement of public toilets are that they should be open. Always. All the time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. And twice on Thursdays. Whatever we do to improve our toilets will be pointless if one is stood outside a locked door with a bladder based imminent pressing need.
Next up on my bullet list is a redesign of our toilets. At present the buildings are often dark, dank intimidating places. Security can be suspect and the basic Victorian architecture and styles seem to contribute to this. As a society we still seem to be too culturally sensitive to a basic human need. We all pee and poo. Absolutely without exception.
So why are we hiding this function away in dingy facilities? Let’s build modern, open, light buildings. I agree the actual place of discharging should have some personal privacy but why is the waiting area hidden from view? A glass fronted building would provide a greater sense of safety to those who feel vulnerable entering the building.
To achieve a good balance between privacy and security every cubicle should be fully equipped with everything needed when in there. In other words each should be like a disabled facility, large, spacious, fitted with a pan, sink, mirror, waste disposal bin and hand rails. An extra advantage of this way would be that there is no need to discriminate between the non able bodied and the not yet non able bodied.
Furthermore the facilities should be entirely gender neutral. A common place for male, female or any other way folks choose to see themselves, because we are all people. The advantage of gender neutrality would mean that couples or groups can visit together with the ability to wait for each other in the open glazed frontage area, possibly on provided comfortable seating.
One issue with this new design would be that some may complain that this would be more expensive to construct. I agree this would be the case but we do not live in a land of such struggling poverty that this couldn’t be done if the will was there. I agree that lining up men, shoulder to shoulder staring intently down into a common trough is an efficient use of space but it is also de-humanising, subject to splash back from every angle, therefore un-hygienic and frankly embarrassing, particularly for those with abnormal biology or a need to wait patiently for nature to take its course.
Also too many males clearly see the rapid, casual nature of peeing an excuse to speed through the process and therefore skip the important bit of washing their hands afterwards. This all too common, disgusting habit is one reason many may not wish to share their facilities. But I have a solution.
The doors to these individual cubicles should only operate once the hand washing equipment is used, or make the toilet door exits only openable by the use of an adjacent hand sanitiser.
On a similar note the toilet flush mechanism should be automated or foot operated, to minimise cross transference of germs.
And we should all ‘leave the lid up’. In fact it should ‘spring up’ after seating. Not in an ejector seat kind of approach but a slow elegant rise.
And the hand washing facilities should be controllable, sensor operated affairs and not timed to dispense soap when no water is available, or end up with an inadequate breathless cold air dry that leaves hands still wet afterwards. I have dry skin and damp hands exacerbate this condition, particularly in winter.
Yes there are now some ‘unisex’ facilities being built and welcome they are too, albeit a bit cramped for my liking but overall we can do better. And we should.
Let’s improve the loo.
Author: Vince Poynter
Originally posted in my Blog Section within my web site on 13 September 2019