01 November 2009


Two posts in one day! Unusual, I know, but I just remembered something else I wanted to blog about - complain about, really.

What is it with the English and toilets (or bathrooms, or restrooms)? When I first started coming to England, it was a place that spurned central heating, and having stores open on Sunday, and decent cakes, and other basics of life that reasonable members of society take for granted. These days it has improved in all these areas: one no longer has to shiver in the corridors or huddle close to the feeble gas fire; one can shop until 5 on
Sundays; as a previous post has discussed, the cakes can be positively succulent. Yet still the English seem to believe that going to the toilet must be a form of punishment: almost without fail the toilets are hideous dim enclaves - rooms that make one suddenly realise the actual, full meaning of the word "dank." It seems that, by some architectural quirk or secret agreement, all of them are designed to have a chill breeze flowing through them on even the warmest summer day. The toilets themselves have the cheapest possible plastic seats, and the floors are made of this weird substance I've never seen anywhere else, like sandpaper thickened with plastic and applied in a gritty sheet. Even my toilet here at home has a version of this floor!

Now, I'm not saying I think that toilets should be lavish affairs, or that one should necessarily give unnecessary comforts to an area that is,
let's face it, not one you use very often, and not one whose appointments you're much interested in as you do. But one could contrive to put together a public bathroom, or a bathroom in a public area (like a store), that suggested cleanliness, pleasant brightness, and perhaps a bit of elegance - indeed, there might even be advantages to doing so. Not for the English, however! The only pleasant and attractive public toilets that spring to mind are in the Russell Square Hotel (quite swish, actually, and in all-white motif) and the Waterstone's on Piccadilly (where they went for a stained wood and tile look). Although things may be changing at least even in this department, because the last time I went to King's Cross the formerly truly divey public women's restroom had been given a gray granite and light grey floor tile upgrade.

(Incidentally, while there I had a look at the take-away amenities machine [because one of my more obscure even to myself fascinations is with what type of condoms is offered in a given public bathroom - yes, I don't get it either], and they were selling "extra-strength condoms." I'd never seen these before, and on the train home I got into a bit of a think about why one would choose to use them: after all, extra-strength would seem to equal thick, which would seem to equal not good, in condom world. Then I remembered that King's Cross is famous for its prostitutes - and it all made sense. How thoughtful of you, King's Cross! Snaps to you.)

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