A definitive guide to the land of lavatories
There is a common assumption that when you are a tourist you should see an area with a local as to experience what they see, know and feel about a space and how they interact with it. And indeed there is a weight of logic behind this rationale, notably increasing one’s ability to do the things that the other tourists don’t, to escape the badge, even if for a moment, and see the true essence of a place.
However, there is often merit in sticking by your guns and ‘being’ a tourist as then you get to experience things that the locals don’t. Londoners, for example, may often speak passionately about the clipped wings of a tower based crow, but can’t recall if put on the spot, when they last actually went inside the tower of London.
Then there is experiencing things that Londoners would simply never contemplate because they are a massive faux pas and something that puts one’s character under some level of scrutiny. This would be activities such as having a steak in ‘Aberdeen Angus steak house’, a drink in ‘Garfunkels’ and finally – ‘using a public loo’.
If you have a night out in a certain part of Paddington – well, you get to do all three.
Toilets, fascinatingly, haven’t followed some linear path of advancement from hole in the ground to bidet and juicy fruit chewing gum, but have instead fluctuated in terms of development, prestige, usage and form. Historians have found that the Egyptians then the Romans had very civilised and sophisticated sanitary systems, even having a goddess dedicated to the sewage system (Cloacina). Then it went back a step when the Romans died out and western Europe became about incessant battles with beards and swords. One imagines during such phase defecting took on the form of some sort of power affirming sport.
In modern times, toilets went indoors, first for the wealthy, then in time, for everyone, and the public loo, slightly outdated as a concept, became an enclosed area where one could make a quick £50 by letting George Michael watch you wipe.
But then these popped up.
It’s hard to know what to think. Liberal approach to indecent exposure? Transparent way to catch the graffiti artist oiks? Or simply that admittance that having gone to both Aberdeen Angus steakhouse and Garfunkel’s, both of which are within 20 yards of each other – you have no shame?
Ergonomically speaking, these toilets are near perfection. The circular divots are shaped as to allow maximum number of urinals for the tube (3), whilst also offering some remnants of privacy, a feat of near impossibility given the total lack of partition between you and the watchful gaze of the tourists, commuters and your own inner monologue of reasonable thought.
It was around midday when I frequented these sanitation cylinders and during the 40 minutes I was there on my stakeout, no-one went within 5 feet of them.
It became clear that only the three musketeers of inebriation, desperation and the comfort blanket of nightfall would bring the confidence to use these facilities.
For the purpose of my writing integrity and giving a proper review, use them I did.
The experience was rather bittersweet. Initial thoughts were feelings of liberty, total confidence in my abilities and desire to slalom through social norms. I felt like a protestor staring into the whites of a coppers eye as I complained about a fiscal system with which I play no part. I got to gauge the paradox of how glamour is often entrenched in anarchy.
But this was short lived, soon the glare of the sun and the corner of the worlds eye was on me. Technique was questioned. Is there a way to do this? Am I doing this wrong? Have I always done this incorrectly? The abrupt finish was then greeted by the starkest of realisation – there is nowhere to wash one’s hands.
Rubbing one’s hands down your trousers with a smug grin may be the trademark of 7 year olds getting a raise from their forlorn mothers, but in this instance, in a scenario akin to residing in the big brother house, all actions merited scrutiny and disdain from watchful eyes.
I fled for the hills.
The Porcelain Gentleman:
It never escaped my thoughts during the whole ordeal that no matter how much it felt like a long standing super injunction with the media about my private parts had been lifted and I was suddenly exposed by a glamour model as an ‘inferior lover’… to certain people at certain times these urinals must be a saviour, a beacon of hope blasting through the paving slabs.
For that reason alone – 4/10