When I was a teenager, we used to take our annual holidays in Italy and my mum insisted my father drive non-stop through France rather than risk another horrifying encounter with a French pissoir. I don't know if you have ever tried to hold your bladder in for four hours in a car travelling at speeds in excess of 120 miles an hour, but it may explain why my mother had the thigh muscles of an Olympic athlete. Those of you who have never been to France may think my mother was a bit picky, but then you've probably never had to squat over a smelly hole in the ground whilst clinging for dear life to two rusty, iron chains in a damp cellar, illuminated by a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling that had last been changed during the German occupation forty years earlier, while a cadaverous male attendant reeking of garlic politely enquires if you would like another sheet of newspaper.
Toilets may have improved a bit since then (though not in France), but taking a pee is still fraught with more unseen dangers for us girls than exploring the uncharted rain forests of the Amazon.
The first thing my mother taught me was to grab a handful of toilet paper and wipe the seat. Then, she'd carefully lay strips of toilet paper to cover the seat. Lesson two was learning to assume 'The position'. This required carefully balancing over the toilet in a squatting position without actually letting any of your flesh make contact with the toilet seat. The flaw in this strategy was that by the time I was ready to pee, my thigh muscles had given up the struggle, I'd overbalance, land heavily on the seat and the trickle of wetness down the inside of my leg meant we'd have to go home to change my knickers.
That was a long time ago. Even now, in my forties, 'The Position' is excruciatingly difficult to maintain for more than thirty seconds, especially when one's bladder is bursting.
If that wasn't bad enough, when you have to visit a public toilet, you usually find a line of anxious women have got there before you, which makes you think you must have taken a wrong turning and stumbled across a half-price sale of M&S underwear. So, you wait, trying not to look as if you're squeezing your legs together and smile politely at all the other women, who are also trying not to cross their legs and smiling through clenched teeth.
As you get closer to your goal, you start checking for feet under cubicle doors. Naturally every one is occupied. Finally, a door opens and you dash in, nearly knocking down the woman leaving the cubicle. You get in to find the door won't latch. It doesn't matter; you have long arms and tell yourself: 'I'll just keep one hand against it.' At this point you would hang your handbag on the coat hook if there was one—but there isn't—so you hang it around your neck whilst glancing furtively about to make sure no one saw you commit such a dreadful faux pas. You could put it on floor, but given that the floors in public toilets are invariably wet, you might just as well pee in it yourself.
Finally, you yank down your knickers, and assume the dreaded 'Position'.
Ahhhh, relief. More relief. But then your thighs begin to shake, not helped by the fact that your left arm is stretched to its fullest extent trying to keep the door shut. You'd love to sit down but you didn't have time to wipe the seat or lay toilet paper down, so you hold 'The Position' as a quake that would register an eight on the Richter scale travels through your aching thighs. To take your mind off the pain, you reach for what you now discover is an empty toilet paper dispenser. In your mind, you can hear your mother's voice saying: "Darling, if you'd cleaned the seat first, you would have KNOWN there was no toilet paper!"
Your thigh muscles are seconds away from snapping like old knicker elastic. You remember the tiny tissue that you blew your nose on yesterday—the one that's in your handbag, which you cannot unzip because you only have one free hand. So you take your hand off the door and scrabble about in your bag until you find a ball of paper that would barely cover a gnat's arse. You smooth it out and fluff it up, but it is still only slightly larger than your thumbnail. At this point someone pushes open the door because you've taken your hand away to open your bag. The door hits your handbag, which thumps you in the chest and you and your bag topple backward against the toilet cistern—which is disconcertingly wet.
"Occupied!" you scream, as you slam the door shut, dropping your precious, tiny, crumpled tissue on the wet floor and parking your naked bum directly on the odious toilet seat. You recoil instantly, knowing only too well the damage is done. Your bare bottom has made contact with every imaginable germ on the planet because YOU never laid down toilet paper on the filthy seat—not that there was any, even if you had bothered to look. You may even have contracted a sexually transmitted disease—or worse, been impregnated by some adventurous sperm that escaped from the disgusting slut who sat on the seat before you, and has been patiently biding its time waiting for its next victim.
You know that your mother would be utterly ashamed of you if she knew, because you're certain that her bare bottom never touched a public toilet seat in her life. By this time, the automatic sensor on the back of the toilet is so confused that it flushes, sending up a stream of water to rival Niagara Falls that sucks everything down with such force that you grab onto the toilet paper dispenser for fear of having your bottom dragged off to Australia.
At that point, you give up. Your skirt is soaked by the splashing water, your blouse is sticking to your back, there's pee running down your legs and your expensive Aubade knickers look like the cat's been sleeping in them. You're exhausted. You try to wipe yourself with a crumpled bus ticket you found in your pocket, and slink out inconspicuously to the washbasins, but not before laddering your tights on the broken door latch which you now discover has a bloody great nail sticking out of it.
You can't work out how to operate the taps with the automatic sensors, so you wash your hands with liquid soap (most of which ends up on your blouse) and dry them under the hot air blower because, of course, there are no paper towels in the dispensers. Have you ever tried drying liquid soap with hot air? Ten minutes later you stumble out and shuffle past the queue of waiting women, still cross-legged and, at this point, you no longer care that your manic grimace is met with disapproving stares.
Just when you thought things couldn't possibly get any worse, one kind soul at the very end of the queue points out that you are trailing a piece of toilet paper on your shoe as long as the river Nile! (Where was it when you NEEDED it??) You rip the paper from your shoe, shove it in the woman's hand and tell her cattily, "Here—you might need this."
As you leave the house of horrors, you spot your husband loitering impatiently outside, having long since entered, used and left the men's toilets and read a copy of Gone with the Wind whist waiting for you.
The icing on the cake will be when he asks: "What took you so long, darling, and why is your skirt tucked into the back of your knickers?" Silently you curse the bitch who pointed out the toilet paper stuck to your shoe, but omitted to mention that your bum has been on display to every pervert in the place.
Male readers will now know not only why women take so long to powder their noses, but also why we always go to the toilet in pairs. It's so the other woman can hold the door shut and pass you the toilet paper under the door.
Elizabeth Goodchilde is a freelance writer, TV script writer and lifestyle consultant from Hampshire, in England. Elizabeth's work has been published extensively both online and in print. She is married with two gorgeous children and several pedigree cats. She is also an infrequent contributor to one of the UK's most highly regarded satire and humor ezines, http://www.utterpants.co.uk for whom she writes under several different pseudonyms. She can be contacted via utterpants or directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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