Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

News from the other side of the fence

Since six out of my ten links are women this post should prove esoterically instructive. My subject is public urinals, following a visit to one equipped with a twee little bowl for three-year-olds. Hygienic chinaware is not an obvious cause of poignancy yet this was my reaction, possibly influenced by Blake in the latest and last of The Guardian’s poetry booklets.

The bowl was unpatronised and forlorn, coming as it did at the end of a line of higher and wider orifices for adults. Its tininess spoke of latent persecution. Little child what ails thee? I imagined myself saying to a crying infant whose tears were providing an additional libation to more conventional fluid flow. That I’m here and not on remand confirms I kept this sentiment to myself.

Public urinals are not really for little boys. Some are so austere as to discourage the function for which they are provided. Jugoslavia in 1965 led the world in causing men – in extremis up to that moment – to ask whether they were really capable of discharging their obligations there and then. The most luxurious evacuation I experienced was underground in Germany where there were back-lit niches containing men’s toiletries and an impeccably groomed sixty-year-old Wagnerian lady to receive my pfennigs. There may have been carpets.

Once urinals were flushed by a cistern and ball-cock arrangement. Now some are flushed immediately in response to that which has just happened. This is both abrupt and accusatory. Protection against unwanted splashing is not best served by bowls; stainless steel troughs found in the more rudimentary sports changing rooms are far more effective but have a dismal industrial look. Unlikely to attract a sonnet.

Novel progress 3/2/10. Ch. 14: 0 words. Chs. 1 - 13: 58,239 words. Comments: Roof falls in on Clare but it's not the expected roof.


Plutarch said...

I thought that you were going to mention, in due course, the renowned urinal exhibited upside down by the French-born, artist Marcel Duchamp as part of the Dada, anti-art movement in
1917. The urinal in question was signed R Mutt and wittily and entitled "Fountain". Following the daring orginality of this innovation, subsequent installations such as Tracy Emin's Unmade Bed, have seemed pale and immitative.

The little bowl positioned a only a short distance above the floor could have been for a three-year-old, but could also have been there, in the age of politicalcorrectness, in case of the needs of mature dwarf.

The Crow said...

At the end of a very long trip with my middle sister, we stopped at the Welcome station just inside the Alabama state line. Neither of us had been to a restroom for over 200 miles and were rather anxious to find one. We both trotted toward the restrooms and I took the first door on the right. I found one of those ceramic devices you described attached to the floor, with a cake of soap at the drain. I had no time to take a closer look but went straight to an empty stall and shut the door behind me. I heard someone else come in behind me and presumed it was my sister. I asked her what she made of that basin on the floor with the cake of soap in it.

"Is it for washing your feet?" I asked her.

From the stall next to me came the answer, in a deep masculine voice, definitely not my sister!

"No, ma'am. That's a urinal," he said, "and this is the men's toilet. I will wait until you leave before exiting, ma'am."

Whether he was waiting to save me the embarrassment, or himself, I'll never know.

Dear God - most of my family don't even know this story on me, and here ...

The Crow said...

...and the cake of soap, he informed me, was one of those deodorant cakes that are attached to the inside of toilet bowls. Gives the user something to aim at...that's what he said.

Avus said...

I certainly agree about those urinals that auto-flush during use. One can be left with a somewhat embarassing splash pattern over the front of the trousers.
Does one ignore it and hope others are unaware, or explain it and thus draw attention to it?

Sir Hugh said...

I flew to Geneva to start one of my Grande Randonnée walks in June 2000 – here is an extract from my journal.

“During the flight I bought light refreshments with English currency, and got 1.2 Swiss francs in change.

At Geneva Airport, desirous of using the toilet I searched this out and found to my dismay that it cost 1 Swiss franc, and not having bought any Swiss currency I thought I was doomed, but then remembered the change I had got on the flight - what a relief ! I have to say that the toilets were the most immaculate I have seen anywhere, and so I was astonished to see a large, gleaming bluebottle crawling up the toilet pan until I realized that it was glazed into the shining white porcelain. I supposed this was the Swiss way of giving one an early introduction to their sense of humour?”

Rouchswalwe said...

In Japan, I became quite enthusiastic about the water spigots on the top of the tanks of flush toilets. You were able to wash your hands in the water flowing into the tank for the next flush and thus conserve water. A picture is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WaterSavingToiletJapan.jpg
I still think it's a super idea. My first encounter with a squat toilet at Narita airport was quite funny, but I quickly learned the advantages and now find myself missing them (although not the toilet slippers).

Barrett Bonden said...

In extending the barriers of taste (or widening the envelope, in cant officespeak) I was interested to see who might respond. The usual suspects, of course.

Plutarch: If I'd been able to spell his name, relate him to the Dadas and give an appropriate date I might have considered his inclusion. I've seen the work; I believe there are further inscriptions on the bowl, probably at the same high literary level. And whereas this isn't the first time I've referred to lavatories in Works Well (Wretched schoolboy humour, says Mrs BB) it is a first for dwarfs.

The Crow: Alas, had I been a decade or two earlier with this post you may have avoided this mind-scarring experience. It is my fate to be a prophet of things and people now in the past. I was interested to see that even in the most awkward of social encounters men from the South still refer to women as ma'am. However, if that fellow still needs something to aim at when he steps up to the bowl, his politeness may only be skin-deep.

Avus: What you have outlined is one of the tests that defines the English gentleman. If you don't know the answer then your hopes of belonging to that diminishing group are seriously in doubt.

Sir Hugh: The Swiss have no sense of humour. During the course of a series of annual ski-ing holidays at Crans Montana the value of the Swiss franc dipped sharply and I made a joke about this at the bank. The young man behind the counter went white and then was quite rude. Happily for him, the franc returned to its God-given value the next year. There's probably a much simpler explanation for the bluebottles but for the life of me I can't come up with it.

RW (sZ): Ah, now we're talking. Japanese loos. With so much electronic technology left over the Japanese have used up the surplus attaching them to lavatories, or at least this was the case at our hotel in Osaka. Mrs BB acted chicken but in the spirit of technological curiosity I pressed one of the buttons. There was a roaring windy sensation uncomfortably close to that which I hold most dear and, without looking down, my curiosity was sated. As to the hand-washing loo it will be a true sign of economic collapse when this facility is switched from "pre" to "post".

herhimnbryn said...

I have never ventured into such a hallowed all male place. Rock on Crow!
I have frequented a 'long-drop' composting toilet in the middle of an australian no-where. It was not a pleasant experience. I think the blow flies considered the facility their personal Ritz.

Julia said...

Deep in darkest Zizkov, the grittiest, most blue collar nearly still communist Prague neighborhood, where more beer is consumed per square meter than in any other part of the Czech Republic (and thus, we imagine, the world) there is a pub called the Shot Out Eye. Named after the general who gave the neighborhood its name, the pub sports a bathroom famous for its grime AND its padded headrests conveniently located above the urinals. Will promises to take a camera next time he visits.

Barrett Bonden said...

HHB: Your experience easily exceeds mine. I'm baffled by the description. "Long drop" is normally associated with the more humane form of gallows which breaks the neck of the client as opposed to strangling him. I can see a subsequent connection with compost but somehow I think I've gone down the wrong alley.

Julia: I can't believe it. I thought I knew all there was to know about men's comfort stations yet here is not just novelty but a beautifully evocative device which forces the imagination to... well, imagine. I worry about the task you've set Will; cameras and loos often lead to blows. However if he does pull off this scoop I think I should post the pic, not you. You may remember we had a discussion many months ago about American idiom for WCs and I learned that southern men call them "facilities". I think that's in keeping with your bell-of-the-ball upbringing and your image should not be tarnished with anything that undercuts such an admirable euphemism.

herhimnbryn said...

Long drop = the depth of the lav!

Julia said...

I absolutely agree. A favored alternative is that you come to Prague and take the photograph yourself (well guarded, of course!).

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: I didn't give this place the value it deserves in my response. Shot-Out Eye: I've never heard of a bar name so suggestive of danger. But let's pass on to what you're suggesting:

First, if anyone asks in Hereford why I'm going to Prague, I'm to say I'll be photographing a red-neck loo.
Similar response to the immigration query under "Purpose of visit".
I get to the loo and go in
(a) Guarded by you (Watching red-necks are quiescent; they've done that sort of thing themselves).
(b) Guarded by Will (Red-necks nod: "Typical Brit")
(c) Guarded by both of you (Red-necks follow us, intent on orgy).
I think you're under-estimating the years it's been since I engaged in investigative reporting.

Julia said...

We can probably rely on a bathroom coin collector to provide the strong arm for us. They are usually of a somewhat large frame and dubious gender so that might do the trick!

Wikipedia has a decent article on Jan Žižka, the Czech general that gave Žižkov its name. He's famous for his eye patch and his use of pistols in battle and is second most famous Jan in the country, right after Jan Hus.

Lucy said...

I've always said you get a better class of comment thread chat here. You might have known this would be a crowd pleaser.

I knew very little of the ins and outs of men's toilets, except for some miniaturised ones in primary schools I'd taught in, until coming here, where of course the very notion of separate men's and women's toilets is generally considered quaint and unnecessary, and walking past the urinal in order to reach the cubicle is perfectly normal, often with the exchange of a terse 'bonjour' with the fellow using it.

Since then I have taken in many different designs of loo, though sadly the wrought iron, Clochemerle type pissoir is no more. There are of course many of those automated street-corner things, where the whole installation is totally flushed when you leave. Apocryphal stories tell of small children inadvertently left behind in them being flushed away to the sewers and drowned.

I remember at the time the euro was being mooted, one of the radio comedians saying that what was wanted was not a single European currency, since everyone liked changing their money for their hols, but a single European toilet.
However, I'm inclined to disagree, and rather to think that variety is the spice...

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: Dubious gender? Perhaps he'd require payment in kind. I wonder if I'm going to sleep soundly tonight.

Lucy: Finger on the buttton, Luce. I confess to doing risqué crowd-pleasers as a way of testing my respondents' talent for euphemism. But this hasn't gone the way I expected. I imagined myself bringing valuable clarification to my lady guests and the traffic's gone in the other direction. Your willingness to experience variety in this field of endeavour raises the age-old comparison between male and female powers of containment. The cast-iron bladder was definitely a bonus handed out to Eve in the Garden of Eden. My desperate rearguard action on the basis that men usually drink more litres than women has got me nowhere. Suffice it to say I would hate to tackle one of those auto-pissoirs under the gun, as it were.

Lucy said...

Mmm, needs must where the cast-iron bladder is concerned I think. In our household it is otherwise. One of our friends, when her husband asked if anyone needed a pee before leaving for somewhere, stated, 'Of course not, Tom never goes to the loo'.

I am glad I came back for this one, since the CV is 'karguts', which is very appropriatefor this blog I think.

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: I suppose bladder control is a comparatively simple matter for someone who is capable of looking at the world sub-atomically. "Molecules I command ye!"