Saturday, 18 October 2008

Lavatorial travel

I couldn't resist this story in the Independent about bogs (loos, bathrooms, little boys' rooms, public lavatorial facilities, necessaria, toilets, rest facilities) with a view. It's priceless!

I recently published a piece  in Norfolk Nips (the local CAMRA newsletter, which I edit) about toilet facilities in Norwich pubs - the writer's view was that the ladies' loos show the pub's real view of its customers. There is certainly something rather wonderful when you visit a pub that is not in any way chi-chi or gastro, but the ladies' turns out to be sparkling clean and even palatial. One I've visited has apple-scented soap and fresh towels, boxes of tissues, and even (not always tho) hand moisturiser - what bliss.   And it also has very decent real ale.

It's a pity that we put toilets into this little ghetto of slightly taboo subjects, like death and sex, because toilets do have a huge impact on the experience of travel.  A five hour train journey in Poland with the toilet locked... one of the nastiest toilets I've ever visited, in a factory in St Petersburg,  the floor swimming with shit,  and no light in the cubicle, so I had to lever myself up to stand on the seat,   and hold the door ajar with one hand while trying  to get my tissues out of my bag with the other... the little chalets on the bridge at Puivert, on the Sentier Cathare (now replaced by a more salubrious range of toilettes  in the mairie), from which your waste product takes a long drop to the river many feet below.

Belgo's in London had a marvellous toilet with a unisex hand-washing facility around a circular fountain, if I remember correctly.  It didn't worry the French or Belgians at all,  but English people wandering in without having been warned about the  unisex nature of the facilities quite often came straight out again looking embarassed and puzzled.

Toilets have even become green. I remember visiting a little place on the Offa's Dyke path that had a composting toilet; so after the toilet paper, you also needed to remember to place a ritual  offering of sawdust down the chute.   And I remember staying at a country B&B once where I was warned that I might see the owners taking a leak in the compost heap, but this wasn't compulsory and I could use the inside toilet if I liked.

Indeed toilets even appear in literature. Martin Amis and Harold Brodkey, feature extended passages on lavatorial subjects. You can practically detect a 'toilet school' of angry young men.

But the locus classicus of the shithouse in literature occurs during the Renaissance.

If you have any feeling for the pleasure of a good lavatory,  you need to read Rabelais' 'Gargantua & Pantagruel', in which the hero rhapsodises about the many excellent (and less excellent) materials he has used for arse-wiping duty, including (if my memory serves) the neck of a goose.

Now I've come across squares of newspaper on a nail, à la Steptoe and Son. I've seen little nozzles in Omani toilets to spray your privates with.   I've used sand (it's a desert thing. the Wahiba sands are full of sand, obviously, and not full of the other thing, otherwise they'd be called the Wahiba Toiletpaper). But not the neck of a goose.

Not yet, anyway...

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