Monday, 15 August 2011

A step too far...

This morning, I was in the First Class Lounge at Euston station ("ooo, get me!" etc) and popped to the bathroom before my train was due to leave.

I opened the door, and the gents was dark. So, I thought, maybe it's one of those "motion detector" arrangements where the lights come on in response to somebody jiggling about in front of a little magic eye. So I gingerly stepped into the gents and flung my arms around trying to get the lights to come on. I didn't want to move so far away from the door that it would close behind me, as I wasn't sure I'd be able to find it again in the dark. Still nothing.

So I wandered around to the front desk, and asked if they could switch the lights on. I was told to walk in there, and the lights would magically come on. In fact, the guy from the front desk came around with me and walked boldly in. He had to walk in at least 10ft away from the door before the lights came on - did they really expect anyone visiting the loo would close the door behind them and walk 10ft into a blacked out room before the lights came on?

I'm generally not a fan of things which do something automatically. Taps which turn themselves on, urinals which flush themselves as soon as you walk away, lights which turn on when you enter the room, doors which open as you approach them. I understand the convenience argument and indeed the hygeine argument for some applications, but I intensely dislike the social akwardness which can arise when you presume something is automatic, but it does nothing as you approach.

If you are walking towards an automatic door, there's always that moment of doubt that it's not going to open and you'll end up walking face first into the glass. Worse still are the automatic escalators - rare in the UK but quite common in Sweden - which appear to be static steps but suddenly start moving as you step onto them. One can't stand still on the escalator though, as if they didn't start moving, you would be left standing on the top step of a static staircase - which would just be silly.

When approaching a set of automatic revolving doors, there is the question of speed. Obviously they take some time to get up to speed, but once you've stepped close enough to get them started, your are close enough to the doors that you are somewhat committed to stepping into them. As you step in, they revolve slowly, but even in the half revolution until you step out again, the speed can pick up significantly, meaning you have to speed up to keep in time.

But places where automatic doors would be useful, they never seem to be fitted. Train doors for instance. When faced with a door button with two hands full of luggage, it would be rather nice if the doors automatically opened if someone was standing by them when the train stops. Similarly, the doors between carriages on trains - when carrying a couple of cups of coffee from the shop, finding an elbow or nose spare to press the button with can be tricky. Though these doors are even worse; they don't even have movement detectors to stop them shutting, so if you happen to be standing halfway through in a queue to get off the train, they will continue to poke you in the side and spring open again rather than stay open until you've moved.

But the worst, for me anyway, is the idea that there are automatic things in the toilets. I am very British about all things lavatorial, and the idea that there are magic eyes watching me and making things happen when I move makes me feel somewhat self-conscious and as though I'm being watched. It's bad enough when it's only the taps, but toilets which flush themselves as soon as they know I'm walking away is just a step too far for me...

1 comment:

  1. My problem with automatic lights in toilets is that if you're having a seat, not moving much - say you're quite unwell - there's a chance of them going off. And then you have to move - somewhat gingerly - usually out of the cubicle to do something of a dance in the middle of the room, lower garments around your ankles.

    And that's when the door opens...

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