Bog Blog: It’s a Matter of Convenience…

My mother’s favourite sayings about not doing housework went down rather well with readers last week (you’re clearly all just as slovenly as I am), so here’s another of her wonderful maxims that made me the woman I am today: “Never pass a toilet without using it.” Now, it’s probably sensible to take this one with a pinch of salt, particularly if you’re in a well-facilitated office or shopping mall and have things you actually need to achieve with your day – some of the malls out here have loos every fifty yards or so and if I took Mum’s advice literally it would take me all day to get from one Starbucks to the next. But the essence of the advice is very wise indeed: you’ll never be caught short if you make the most of a convenient convenience.

One is unlikely to be caught short in the average villa or apartment in Dubai. As I mentioned in a previous post about food poisoning, our two bedroom apartment boasts no fewer than four toilets. FOUR! We have two each! We can rotate or alternate, just for fun! It is a blessing not to have to decide who gets to go first on returning home from a long journey, and we don’t have to take turns in the morning when getting ready to go to work (waiting for someone else to finish in the bathroom is a desperately unique and lonely agony).

That’s the private privy, though; the public loos out here are actually quite diverse and their style depends entirely on the part of town you’re in. The horror. The horror.Some restaurants, parks and malls feature the traditional squatter – a horror that never fails to make the average expat recoil in utter dismay. I’ve seen many a poor woman queue up for ages only to have her anticipatory relief cruelly shattered by the sight of a perilous, porcelain hole-in-the-ground. They stop, reverse and return to the queue; their silent eye-contact seems to say, “Quite frankly, I would rather die.” Such lavatories are of course fine if you’re familiar with the procedure and have a cunning clothing strategy, but I wouldn’t usually choose to use one. Any port in a storm, though, and I have sometimes had little choice when travelling and in a bit of a tight spot… On a trip into the desert last year, the only loo available was a filthy squatter at the back of an old petrol station. I’ll spare you a detailed description of the loo itself – I’m sure you can picture something suitably stinking and medieval – but here’s a photo of the alleyway outside it… I know, I know. I should have been warned. I should have turned back. It doesn’t exactly lead one to expect a glittering palace of hygiene, does it?

I was interested to read in the UK press this week that unisex toilets are increasing their presence back home. Brighton and Hove City Council are pioneering these ‘gender neutral’ facilities for many reasons – partly to make public toilets more family friendly and partly for the inclusion of transgender individuals (for those of you with suitably poor taste, feel free to insert a pun here about coming out of the water closet…). Presumably it’s just a more economical and pragmatic approach too. I understand these arguments, and I’m sure many parents will be delighted that baby-changing facilities are no longer to be restricted to the female facilities, but – am I the only one who finds public unisex loos a bit disconcerting? I once worked in a school that had unisex staff toilets and I have to say, it was simply appalling. It’s easy to get emotive about something so personal, but it felt fundamentally wrong to be washing my hands and straightening my tights whilst standing next to my male head of department. Of course there is also the issue of dignity and privacy – again, I won’t get bogged down with unpleasant details, but, when it comes to strangers of the opposite sex, there are certain sounds and smells one simply shouldn’t have to be subjected to… My measured language here belies my true strength of feeling on the subject: inside I’m screaming, IS NOTHING SACRED?!!! In my humble opinion, unisex public loos could only work if each individual cubicle had its own hand basin and mirror, was self-cleaning, sound-proof and HERMETICALLY SEALED.

Some ‘washrooms’ in this part of the world are dazzlingly high-tech, with toilets that flush themselves, automatic taps and soap dispensers with invisible sensors and those extraordinary air-blade hand dryers that blast you dry in five seconds flat, rippling the flesh on the backs of your hands. It’s easy to get used to these modern facilities and I sometimes find myself in public toilets in Britain, waving my hands about in a vague and confused way, only to experience the extraordinary revelation that I actually need to rotate a handle or address some sort of lever in order to make water and soap happen. On flying home, the contrast between the glossy, automated loos of Dubai airport and the grubby grief-holes of Heathrow never fails to startle me. After disembarking the plane, it’s my first real taste of home and what a vile taste it inevitably is… For prodigal daughters of England and indeed travellers from foreign lands, these airport loos – with their broken locks and toilet seats, dirty floors and absence of toilet paper – are a rather sorry welcome to our green and pleasant land. The toilets on the trains as I complete my journey home are equally awful. Have any of you experienced those strange, large loos with the automatic semi-circular door that slowly rolls open to reveal the toilet within – as if it’s the top prize on Family Fortunes? The system of buttons is horribly confusing for anyone vaguely intimidated by technology, and there’s the feeling of not quite being in control… On a deeply primitive level, one likes to be within leaping distance of a door handle, lest the toilet door should suddenly fly open (is that just me?). In such loos, there is always the horrifying thought that the automatic door might just start slowly sliding open to reveal not only the Family Fortunes prize but some poor, startled punter perched atop.

Royal Suite Bathroom, Burj Al ArabI was taught to appreciate a good loo from an early age. On camping holidays as a small child, my mother and I would always pop in to inspect the facilities before we settled on a particular camp site for the night. I was never exactly clear about what our objectives were with these missions – there were no rigid criteria – but there were obviously certain complex, unwritten codes of hygiene provision that needed to be met. Many of the facilities in this part of the world would more than meet my mother’s high expectations, I’m sure. Some of the loos here are marvellously ostentatious and luxurious. The Ladies in the posh hotels are simply a joy to behold: they sparkle with gold and marble. There are huge white hand basins with shining taps, softly lit mirrors and beautiful upholstery like a prima donna’s dressing room. No soggy, sagging roller-towel dispensers; these lavish lavs have piles of soft, freshly laundered handtowels. There is something quite blissful about choosing from a range of fragrant soaps and hand creams, sitting in an armchair and doing your makeup with a place to actually put your handbag down without it getting soaked. A really good bathroom isn’t purely functional, it is a peaceful, sanitary sanctuary. Beautiful loos are to be appreciated on both an aesthetic and an anatomical level and can be a pleasure in themselves. So, dear readers, to amend my mother’s advice ever so slightly – never pass a really nice toilet without using it…

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46 Comments

  1. skavop

    I enjoy your toilet humour. The best toilet I ever visited was in an upscale night club. Fancy soaps, flufffy handtowels, perfumes. I spent the night going back and forth to it with different friends and probably none of the women that were there that night can describe what the rest of the club looked like. It blew our minds because in Dublin it’s hard to find a toilet that even works, let alone one that”s pleasant to be in.

    • 😀 Brilliant! I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been to hotels here where I’d be quite happy spending the evening chatting with a friend in the loos rather than returning to the bar!

  2. great post — but unless it is Octoberfest and I am in my early twenties I opt for luxury over a hole in the ground — though when I was a teenager and we worked detassling corn (a job that many a southwestern Ontario lad and lassy had) we had to make our own loos in the cornfield —

    • Crumbs. I don’t think detassling would have been the job for me! What exactly does it involve? (besides improvised toileting) 🙂

      • It is taking the tassle off the very tippity top of the corn — such fun

      • 😀 It does sound fun and not at all tedious or repetitive. I spent a week strawberry picking once and it nearly killed me. I don’t think I’m cut out for manual labour.

      • I hate manual labour–I picked beans for a day, tomatoes for a day but at least with detassling you did not have to bend over and you were doing it with all your friends –they hire high school students to do it — now they supply them with portable johns

  3. As always, a beautiful read! Loved the Family Fortunes allusion; you’re not alone in the “can I reach the doorhandle?” predicament 😀 My mum taught me to “hover” over public toilets, ominously explaining that I “might catch something nasty”. It was very fun to put into practice on 1970’s BR trains. This training now stands me in good steed for the dreaded Turkish toilets you describe. They are rife in France, and are found everywhere from bars to French motorway “facilties” (note inverted commas…), which are lower than bog standard. As for unisex, I’m not bothered. PF would tell you that I am smellier and noisier than him, and after subjecting my perineum to three births, I happily barge into the mens loos if I need a toilet…

    • oops, that should read “stead”, not “steed”.

    • 🙂 A lifetime of hovering has given me powerful quads and core muscles! I think the unisex thing is particularly disturbing in a professional context for some reason… p.s. I managed to resist stealing your bog standard pun 😀

      • I’m most impressed by your blogging etiquette. Hey, I’ve just realised that only one letter makes the difference between “bog” and “blog” 🙂

  4. I feel I must stand up (no pun intended) for the Asian crouching type of loo. We came across them for the first time in Indonesia and were often pleasantly surprised to notice that they were cleaner and somehow ponged less than your average motorway cafe loo in the west. The crouching over the hole took a bit of getting used to but since in general one hovers over any public loo, we took it in our stride (!) and saw it as a good way of exercising our thigh muscles..

    • Hello! I’m sure you’re right – I could certainly get used to it if required to do so by circumstances. And a crouching loo is better than no loo at all! Excellent work with the puns 🙂

  5. I judge the quality of a hotel by it’s ‘facilities’. It is so nice to find individual, fluffy hand towels, hand cream and sparkling cleanliness. I always double check the door lock before taking a seat and NEVER use those circular tardis type conveniences found on city streets in case the door decides to roll open half way through. Hate the idea of unisex although I have been known to use the men’s portaloos at festivals when the women are queueing half way across a field…

    • I think that’s fine at a festival. I think most things are fine at festivals 🙂 I’ve used the gents at theatres a couple of times when I’m in danger of missing the second half… I think it’s fine in that sort of emergency 🙂 I read somewhere that they’ve designed some of those tardis loos with timers to stop people getting up to naughtiness in there. After five minutes the door automatically rolls open – yikes!!

  6. This might amuse you
    http://real-france.blogspot.com/2011/07/pulitzer-prize-coming-up.html

    And my mother too was a ‘hoverer’…must have done wonders for her leg muscles as she’s on her pins at 96….

    • Thanks, Helen – loved that article. Utterly disgusting and very well written… 🙂

  7. Another toilet inspetor 🙂 I can’t stand turkish loos…interesting they have them in France but not in Portugal. Out of the two countries I thought Portugal to me the most primative, but not it seems on the toilet front.

    I am at a time in my life where I can rarely pass a public loo without thinking, I’d better go just in case!

    • 😀 Those French public loos do sound appalling… It’s no wonder the British are so attached to the likes of Marks & Spencers – public loos with guaranteed cleanliness!

  8. While on the subject of toilets and such, I couldn’t resist posting this very amusing ad which a friend posted on facebook today… I hope the link opens:

    https://homesickandheatstruck.com/2013/03/16/bog-blog-its-a-matter-of-convenience/

  9. This is brilliant. I’ve encountered the exact same situation in Thailand with some seriously horrifying squat toilets. I too have been a “hoverer” in public toilets in the Western world, but simply cannot get used to the serious squat required to make accurate aim in a squat toilet. A devastating experience 80% of the time…

    • 😀 The mind boggles. I had a friend who had to dispose of her shoes after an unfortunate incident with a squat toilet. Her aim must have been pretty bad too!

  10. 🙂 🙂 That takes me back to my first visit to France on a school trip to Arles when I was 16. I still remember my sheer horror at my first sight ( and smell) of a Turkish loo and the appalling contortions to use it safely. Nowadays we travel in a very small campervan with its own loo so those terrors are in the past. However the unisex loo is part of village life and I’m completely laidback about it. 🙂

  11. Rick

    Yet another lovely, funny blog. However, all you girls should have a look at the latest “must have” catalogue that came with last week’s Saturday Telegraph. The item concerned is called a “SheWee”. It will solve all your Loo problems (unhygienic, squat or otherwise) at a stroke! I should point out this item was brought to my attention by my dear wife, as it is not the sort of thing I normally spend much time considering or researching.

  12. I’m one who always looks out for loos, and definitely hovers over public ones. I can’t stand the idea of sharing. Women have such intimate issues and as a teenager I would have died of embarrassment at having to open packets of sanitary stuff overheard by a male of some description…

    The most horrific loo story I have was when I was in Egypt. We were on a bus coming back from Sharm al-Sheikh (this was about 1984) which had no loo stops. Or it did, but there were no loos where it stopped so you were expected to squat in a desert with an audience of onlookers. When we got to the terminal, I was DESPERATE, and conveyed my desperation to the staff who had told me there were no public loos. They let me use the totally disgusting staff loo and when I came out I found a crowd of men who parted like the Red Sea to let me through.

    By then I didn’t give a damn, I was relieved!

    • Sarah – we need a SheWee!! Perfect for all those long and difficult journeys through the desert! 😀

  13. I just wanted to let you know, how I love your blog and have nominated you for Liebster Award http://ryanphotography.co.uk/2013/03/18/the-liebster-blog-award/ . Thank you for writing such an inspiring and enjoyable blog to read.

  14. Funny post! I agree that unisex bathrooms are disgusting! It’s kinda OK when they are a one-person toilet but to go with men in the same room – eew!

  15. great and funny post. Yep my mother used to say the same. “Anyone for a last pee?” before leaving home, leaving someone’s house, leaving a department store, leaving a bar or restaurant. You never know when the next toilet is going to be. Wise woman your mother. 🙂

    • She is indeed. Yours too 🙂 Anticipating the urinary needs of others is clearly a skill good mothers never lose.

  16. Great post! I thought the porcelain hole-in-the-floor loos were only found in France, but thankfully they are beginning to be replaced.
    No, it’s not just you who needs to be within leaping (or preferably reaching) distance of the loo door handle.
    I have noticed that lots of public loos in America have doors which have a quite a bit of space under the door, and about a centimetre gap all the way round the door. I feel quite disconcerted when I am using them – as though I am on show.
    My mum was the same as your mum, and I am carrying on that proud tradition – go when you have the chance, because you never know when the next opportunity will be (obviously this does not need to apply in the malls of Dubai. 🙂 ).

    • Thank you for your lovely comment! Hooray for practical mums everywhere! I would also feel quite exposed by those American doors. I’m sure I’ve seen some loos where they just have a sort of barn door covering only the middle section of the cubicle *shudders with horror*

  17. Shane

    Posh gent’s (or should that be gents’ – for once in my life I’m not sure where the apostrophe should go) can have their problems, too. Yesterday, in a restaurant near Slone Square with a modern trough-style basin, I had to work out which of the two troughs served which purpose.

    • Oh heavens! The worrying thing is, even if you chose the correct trough, other people may not have done… 😀

  18. Too funny! And I love your Mum’s quote. In out household we cal it “going on spec!” While living in Khartoum, Sudan we learned “any port in a storm.” Unfortunately the public loo was often just a wall – not even a hole in the ground – not so tough for the guys, but a bit tricky for the ladies! All the best, Terri

    • I like ‘going on spec’ 🙂 It’s definitely more tricky for the ladies! Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  19. Great stuff….again! I’m surprised to read that there are air-driers that really do dry your hands. I’ve never been able to find one. Plenty of water-movers ….. after the use of which I then dry my hands on my clothing. Thanks for the laughs! 🙂

    • Yes indeed – most are just water-movers 😀 The Dyson Airblades (?) are truly terrifying though… Any skin you have left after the violent blasting is always bone dry 🙂

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Lucy Strange

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