Years ago I was watching a TV newscast and one item concerned the events that day in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This was during the time of the ‘troubles’ so there were plenty of such news bites. The structure I saw in sheets of flame was the Belfast bus station.
Strange to see a place I’d been in the previous year being destroyed by an act of terrorism, and all I could think was, maybe it’s a good thing because that place had the vilest public toilets I’d ever encountered in my life. I don’t think they’d been cleaned since the Battle of the Boyne. But, when I was in there, it was one of those times in which desperation made one ‘grin and bear it.’
Anyway, that brief intro is designed to provide entrée into my subjet de jour, which is –, and if you’ll excuse the indelicacy – toilets. That is, restrooms, washrooms, loos, bogs, salles de bain, crappers, WCs, privies, johns, and whatever else your vocabulary includes in the realm of ‘spending a penny,’ or having a tinkle, or a whiz, or any one of the euphemistic kiddie names people use for the simple act of micturition.
I’m not going to ponder the workings of the great public conveniences around the world that I have experienced because that has already been done. Most, blessedly, are nicer than that old one in Belfast, and some, like the one at Fortnum and Mason’s in London, are quite exquisite. No, what I want to consider is the domestic lavatory and toilet.
You can tell a lot about folks by their bathrooms. Ours, for example, boasts a plethora of reading materials in the form of magazines. If you want to spend time there, then you can divert yourself while tending to nature’s urgings. We also have ‘nice’ soaps like Pear’s and other glycerine types, as well as a handy bottle of Purell. I like towels, so we have matching towels. And, there is art on the walls to peruse. Not only art, but home-produced (as in, painted by me) art. That’s the main bathroom. The ensuite is more our private domain and we find it personally welcoming, with its Jacuzzi jet-tub (lovely for evening encounters a deux) and pedestal basin.
Some people (maiden ladies, I think) are a bit euphemistic about the reason for the “smallest room in the house” and they attempt to disguise it’s functionality by putting cut little knitted covers for the spare toilet paper, designed to make you think it’s a blue poodle rather than tissue with which you wipe your bum. People who do this are the ones that have fluffy toilet seat covers, and a mat around the loo itself. Obviously they don’t have a male resident in the house who stumbles in there at 3 a.m. to have a leak and is determined to not turn on the light so that he won’t awaken completely. Just sayin’ …
They are also the people (invariably delicate females) who turn on the faucet when they are ‘washing up’ so that nobody will hear them actually ‘going.’
Now, the toilet itself can be a puzzlement. The device (not invented by somebody named Thomas Crapper, despite that ongoing myth that is akin to the one that says the brassiere was invented by a German named Otto Titzling) goes back a long time, and the modern flushing sort, as we understand it, arose in Britain in the mid-19th century. Queen Victoria had them installed at the Royal palaces throughout the realm. Most of hers were quite exquisite blue and white porcelain, and were manufactured by Royal Doulton.
That said, if the English invented the things, why are English toilets the crankiest and often least-efficient to be found anywhere? When we arrived in London last October Wendy, who’d never been to the UK, went to pee in our hotel room bathroom. I warned her that she mustn’t expect the toilet to operate in the manner she was used to at home. I knew that from experience. She tended to her task and when finished, I could hear her wrestling with the flush handle. “I give up,” she cried out. “I can’t get the (intercoursing) thing to flush.” I told her it was all in the wrist action. You must give it a smart turn and then let go. I showed her. It worked on just the second try. Weeks later, and after many hotel rooms, she finally mastered it. I don’t know why they are so (in North American eyes) awkward, but they are.
Of all my travels, the most modern and water-frugal loos I’ve encountered was on the Cook Island of Rarotonga. Now, one might think that on a tiny archipelago a million miles away in the South Pacific, such a thing might be rather rudimentary. Not so. These were high and low volume flush babies and every one we encountered worked like a charm. I almost felt ashamed in being a North American with our profligate toilets at home. I know you can get them here, but I’m yet to see any brand new houses in new developments sporting them. I don’t think that’s right, if we’re really serious about diminishing water supplies.
And, on that final ‘green’ note, I shall close.