I have no idea how many times I've been to the toilet in my life. But I'm going to suggest it's probably upwards of one hundred thousand times. And yet it's something we never talk about. When you watch TV or films, how often does a character say "I'm just popping to the loo", unless it's in order to remove them from the scene for dramatic purposes?
And yet we all do it. Even though I have no direct evidence, I'm pretty sure that even The Queen uses a toilet.
But so shrouded by societal secrecy is the whole process of going to the toilet that the insides of toilets can remain something of a mystery. I was was astonished, for instance, to discover that an adult female friend of mind had never seen a urinal. Logic says to me "but why would she have seen one?" but the idea that something I've used pretty much every day of my life since a very young age would be such a mysterious object to someone else fascinated me.
In one of my previous jobs, the general manager of the company one day got a comfy chair for his office. One of the women in the office walked in and said "that chair is just like the one in the toilets". None of the men in the company were at all aware that the ladies toilets had a comfy chair in; there was no comfy chair in the men's toilets. From that moment on, I had images in my mind that whilst the men's toilet was rather functional, although entirely sufficient in that function, the ladies toilet was an oasis of relaxing calm. Probably with floaty drapes and scented candles to go with the comfy chair.
I guess my point here isn't so much that I think ladies' toilets really are more luxurious than men's toilets. Rather my point is that I have no idea what the inside of a ladies' toilet would look like and so my observations on toilets are only the product of spending many minutes - and pennies - in the gents.
When going to the toilet in a restaurant or pub or whatever, the first issue you face is what lies beyond the door. Is there just one single toilet in a room or is the door the way into a group of toilets, each with their own little room? The only way to find out is to push the door. But what if it's just one of those toilets with just one in there. Second only to the utter horror of walking in on someone who's sitting on the loo is having to stand outside having wiggled the lock and having to exchange awkward glances with the person as they come out and search for the person who was wiggling the handle whilst they were doing their business. Pushing the door is fraught with risk.
Once in, of course, the situation is then clear. Except if you find yourself in a two-door toilet.
This has sprung up recently in many places; the toilet where you go through one door, and there's a second door into the toilet itself but only one toilet in the facility. Which door do you lock in this situation? Also - what is the point of the inner door.
My view on the point of the inner door can be summarised by a description of a toilet I find terrifying in a bar in Seattle, which I've outlined below
Ostensibly, this is just a single room toilet, but it plays to what I believe to be one of the most fearful experiences. The experience of sitting on the loo more than arm's length away from the door. And in this room, the door is a LONG way out of reach. So I wonder whether the inner door is a kind of lavatorial comfort blanket within arms reach that you can lean against should the outer door start to waggle.
Worse still, actually, is the one below, which is a workplace toilet at one of the places I worked
You can't even see the door from the toilet here. Buy maybe worse, the layout of the room is such that when you first walk in, it's not clear whether there's just one toilet in there, or a row of them - so your instinct isn't to turn and lock the door as soon as you get inside. And if you're anything like me, that leads you to wonder whether you locked the door at all when you're in a - how do I put this - inconvenient position for getting to the door quickly to check it's actually locked.
But what if you can't even see the cubicle door right in front of you?
What's particularly disturbing about this toilet - another workplace toilet - requires a little explanation. In line with eco-friendly policies the toilet lights come in when you walk in and set off a motion sensor and then turn themselves off again when the sensor hasn't detected motion for a particular period of time. All perfectly sensible so far.
Except if you don't think about where you put the sensor. I've shown the position of the sensor with a yellow star, and the cubicle doors go from floor to ceiling. One thing I do like about British toilets - is that the cubicle doors close fully. It's very unnerving for a British person to use one of those American toilets where you can be sitting there and notice that there's a half inch gap all the way around the door. But that's not the point.
But the point is that once one is attending to one's duty in the cubicle, one is out of view of the motion sensor. I'm not sure whether the limited jiggling possible whilst on the toilet would set off the motion sensor anyway; but it certainly won't detect motion with a solid wooden door in the way. So that means that there's a very good chance that, presuming it's not a busy time of day for the toilets, the lights can go off whilst you're sitting there. And you'll notice from the picture that two of the cubicles don't have windows at all, meaning that the only thing you can do is sit there until someone else walks in and turns the lights back on. At which point, you'd walk out of the cubicle revealing to them that you've been sitting on the loo in the dark. Or can you attempt to complete your use of the facilities in pitch black and hope that when you emerge from the cubicle, set off the sensor and get blinded by the renewed light, you've tucked yourself back in sufficiently.
Nobody wants to be suddenly illuminated to find they're not properly dressed.