Saturday, February 05, 2005
Aspects of the Gents' Toilets - or The Unbearable Lightness of Peeing
As most gents' toilets are only tended to once every five years, toilet paper is a rare sight. Typically you only notice its absence directly after frantically running into the toilets to evacuate your bowels, then have to wait until nobody else is around and quickly dash to the next stall, a process you may have to repeat once or twice to find one with any bog roll left in it. Try keeping your morale up by whistling the theme from The Great Escape whilst furtively flitting from bog to bog, you'll feel like you're dodging Nazi guards whilst searching for secret weapon schematics or something. If your quest proves fruitless, you must shuffle home in shame, getting odd looks from people who are wondering why there's a swarm of flies following you. If they ask questions, tell them that the flies made you their God Emperor. That'll throw them off the scent, so to speak.
A technological marvel restricted exclusively to public toilets, nowhere in the world will you find one of these machines apart from the humble public convenience. This is because they are as effective at drying your hands as a rubber band is at downing an attack helicopter. The standard push-button model is fairly straightforward to use, but are a dying breed - most shopping centre lavvies now use futuristic Minority Report laser-activated dryers which you activate by gesticulating vaguely in their direction, causing them to blow hot air for approximately two seconds before they turn off again. Regardless of how long you hold your hands under the dryer, you'll still be leaving the gents drying your still-clammy hands against the back of your jeans, which to the casual observer makes it appear that you never got to the toilet in time at all.
Naturally unique to the gents', the urinals should only be used when all of the enclosed stalls are occupied or if you don't mind exposing your genitalia in front of the large tattooed psychopath who is inevitably also using it. When making use of the urinal it is imperative you look directly forwards and don't let your gaze wander onto one of your neighbours' "Esteemed Members". Doing this will either get you a kicking or an undesired boyfriend. The trough-style urinals contain inexplicable bars of horrible-looking yellow soap called "urinal cakes". Their true purpose eludes me, as all they ever seem to be used for is a target in whimsical games of urinary marksmanship between football supporters. Also known as urinal "pucks", for some damn reason. Maybe the toilet attendants play a disgusting version of ice hockey with them or something.
Prostitutes' phone numbers
Not content with filling every phonebooth in the world with calling cards and thus drawing suspicious glances upon any innocent gentleman who has to use it for a legitimate call, hookers also advertise in gents' toilets, with phone numbers hastily scrawled on the wall tiles in felt tip. Some are for males, but the great majority are for ladies of negotiable virtue, leading one to wonder if they themselves stealthily dash into the men's toilets to write them down. If so, do they claim they're transvestites when they inevitably get caught by the male patrons? And more importantly, why the hell am I devoting serious thought to this?
Modern public toilet sinks appear to be designed by the same person who thought up the laser-guided hand dryers, as they share their hot-breathed cousins' gleeful impracticality of use. To use one, you are required to hold down the tap with one hand to make it release a pathetic trickle of water, so you have to juggle between hands, washing one at a time, because taking pressure off the tap for a microsecond immediately cuts the modest flow of water. This mechanism is probably one of the many employed to make public toilets "retard proof", the idea being that you can't just turn the tap on and absent-mindedly leave it running until the entire washroom becomes flooded. Be forewarned that the water itself will either be uselessly cold, or hot enough to melt a hole through RoboCop. A perfunctory soap-dispenser thing is usually included, which is for display only. Don't attempt to use it, as it's either permanently empty or has been filled up with caustic lime by some anarchists.
Helpfully placed above the sinks, gents' toilet mirrors provide the clearest, most unflattering image of oneself since the Portrait of Dorian Gray. Looking into them will reveal and accentuate every single pock-mark, zit, solitary inch-long unshaved facial hair and acne scar that your horrific zombie face has to offer the world. As a result your ego will go on holiday and you'll spend several weeks lurching around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, scowling with bitter envy at the walking examples of physical perfection which accost your vision at every step.
The gents' toilets would of course be incomplete without the "gents" themselves. The term "gentlemen's toilets" originated in the Victorian period, when toilets were wonders of steam-powered Imperial enterprise probably only used by eccentric members of dignitary, the working classes being too ignorant to make use of them, instead humbly relieving themselves into tin pails or out of open windows onto someone's top hat. But since that time the toilets became an equal-opportunity environment, accessible to anyone with a central nervous system. As such most are now the seedy domain of rentboys, muggers, psychopaths, and advertising executives. Thus, the term "gentlemen" no longer really applies. However, there is hope for the future of the public convenience, in the guise of the railway station pay toilets. Which are glorious.
By the simple method of charging people 20p if they want to spend a penny, most undesirables are filtered out of the toilet equation by the principle that they'll be put off the lavvies by having to pay, instead taking their business elsewhere. Unlike almost everything else relating to the rail system, this appears to work perfectly, and thus station toilets are again exclusively the realm of the dedicated urinator.