Baby boomer, London suburbs 1960s
I have had a curate’s egg of a relationship with the little room, the bog, the gents, the WC whatever you want to call it.
At home as an infant it was just a toilet, not somewhere shared with a sink or bath or shower. It was turquoise with tiny square tiles behind the sink and a sign next to the toilet roll encouraging my brother and me to ‘wash your hands now’ which seemed to be an unfair request while performing. I failed, every time to wash my hands and pee (etc) at the same time.
At my gran’s where we holidayed every year the bathroom was huge, on two levels and, though I didn’t know it at the time had been designed by a steam-punk psycho. Over the sink was a gas fired water heater the size of a Saturn V rocket with the same number of dials as in the engine room on the Starship Enterprise. Indeed I doubt Mr Scott could have got that bloody thing to function without the small and bowel liberating explosion that accompanied every attempt to wash my hands.
But that was as nothing to the monstrosity above the toilet. Back then, of course, all toilets were fed by a water chamber high above the bowl. You would do your business, pull the chain and release a veritable torrent of water to send your gift to China or some place below the floor. Only Gran’s wasn’t the Torrent model. Oh no, she had Tsunami 2.0 and the noise with which the wall of water hit the bowl was too much for these sensitive ears. How old was I when I decided there was as much chance of the Dominic Raab being declared human as I was going to be in that room when the flush was triggered? Five? Six?
I wasn’t a rebellious kid; far from it but that was a terror too far. Monsters were abroad and I was having none of it. Mum, of course, resorted to subterfuge and trickery. She experimented with lengths of string, angles and runners and came up with an arrangement that meant I could stand on the landing and pull the chain and be on my way to France before the cascade reached terminal velocity.
School toilets, in contrast held no terrors. There was a pit with a quantity of porcelain and brass fittings that I recall for the odd little green verdigris corners that the cleaners couldn’t or didn’t bother to reach. The cubicles were slatted so you could see who was inside. I doubt such things would be allowed today. That was all very well, at Primary school until the moment when I attracted the ire of a bunch of the girls, led by an extraordinary force of nature with red hair, stick thin arms and a clout like being hit with a wall. Vivienne and her Sirens had a little trick: they dragged their victims through the girls’ toilets. This was terrifying, made more so by the lack of the familiar porcelain and the fact that the cubicles were unslatted and so you couldn’t know what went on inside. Mostly we got away before we found out but the boys speculated on the foul and egregious but oddly exciting possibilities of the experimentation that these latter day Torquemadas undertook within.
My experiences however were a class and a half below my father’s. At some point he was invited to a switch black tie function at the House of Lords. Like so much State architecture that saw first light in the nineteenth century, the House of Lords is a statement building, of the ‘Call That A Parliament, Loser’ style of comparative design. The adjectives that might describe the House Of Lords have been banned under the Control Of Descriptors (Excessive Hyperbole) Regulations 2015 which will be repealed instantly we leave the EU and allow Boris Johnson and his fannying acolytes to ram their Latin platitudes up all our National Orficies (Orifi?)… sorry where was I? Oh yes the House of Lords. Dad partook of all the sumptuous food and delicious wine on offer and found himself in need to relief. He asked a white gloved flunky for the gents and was directed to a pannelled door.
Inside he could not believe the scene. Italian marble for the urinals with gold leaf trimmings, fresh Andean water constantly flushing, sinks purloined from Roman palaces and repurposed, rare hardwoods for the toilet seats, towels of the finest Egyptian cotton… He took his place at the nearest personalised urinal and contemplated his surroundings as he waited on relief.
Meanwhile the door opened and in staggered another guest from another function. He too looked around and then joined dad in the adjacent urinal. ‘Amazing huh?’
Dad concurred that these were the most extraoridanty facilities he had ever been in.
‘Only one problem, of course,’ said his neighbour, ‘they really do make your prick look shabby.’
This was written in response to Irene Waters ‘Times Past’ prompt for June: Washroom stories