It’s less convenient when you’re just starting out. Someone comes and encases your nether regions in a lovely warm, cuddly nappy and changes it once in a while and when they’ve caught a whiff of something. You go on like that for a number of years until your parents (or carers) panic either that a) everyone else’s child has learned to use the big boy/girl toilet by the time they are about 3 months old or b) your child is starting big school. If then.
Teachers are reporting that more and more children still cannot use the lavatory by themselves when starting reception class at 4. MsDD only just made it and, if fact, missed the first few scheduled days of her school life when, at 3, she refused to go by herself. As it happened, her (then) adored big brother started the new school year and she was so desperate to start school and wear her big girl boater and blazer that she taught herself in one day. This has largely been the story of her academic life since then: a stubborn refusal to do anything she’s told until she realises its necessity for herself.
In her Lower Kindergarten class was a boy whose mother had concealed the fact that he had not toilet learned and who wet and soiled himself repeatedly until he was sent back home to learn and restart in the January term.
So we all learn eventually, except of course for those with problems that prevent them learning at the usual stage, and everything proceeds happily from then. More or less. Parents will be familiar with the last-minute mad gallop across the boxes in the nether regions behind Gap Kids to their staff loo when your four year old suddenly simply has to go. If you’re lucky and they let you, that is. I have found that a threat to make them clear up the inevitable accident waiting to happen when they don’t let you usually makes them let you.
It’s embarrassing, though, isn’t it, admitting that you have to pay attention to a call of nature? I remember that I was well into my teens before I could pluck up the courage to ask my friends about the toilet arrangements in their house. Once I even wet myself rather than face the embarrassment of asking for the loo. My hosts’ manners were so impeccable that they must have chosen to disregard the obvious puddle of wetness on my corduroy skirt.
Mindful of this, I’ve always made sure any child visitor to our house knows the exact position and functioning of our facilities to avoid similar embarrassment. It is perhaps mindful of this that we have reserved the four lavatories in our house: at least one on every floor. The one just by the front door more than justifies its existence.
I’ve always had a horror of public conveniences, and managed to avoid them for the first part of my life by largely not drinking anything. On a 36 hour overnight train journey on Christmas Day 1984 from Beijing to Suzhou I lay on my bunk for the whole journey, picking at the Dundee Cake my mother had sent, in order to avoid having to use the rudimentary train lavatory.
Which is all well and good while you’re young and your muscles are, shall we say, well-toned. Just wait, however, until you’re caught short after a good night out or you’re pregnant or you’re at the theatre, say the Royal Opera House where scores of well-heeled ladies in evening gowns suddenly materialise in a loo queue ten seconds after the curtain has gone down for the interval. There are never enough loos for women who, subject to hormonal exigencies and varying pressure on their plumbing, of necessity take a little longer than the menfolk to spend their respective pennies.If only we could be like my dogs and go (discreetly) wherever we wanted.
The problem is exacerbated as one ages or tries to be healthy and drink more water. When I was having vocal therapy, my voice specialist demanded that I finish a 2l bottle of water every day. Eventually my bladder accustomed itself to this extra load but not before I was caught short at the end of a dog walk, first jiggling, then dancing around, finally disgracing myself, a Trevi fountain in my Hunters, as I waited to cross a busy road from the park. Whoopsie!
I regularly find myself with caught in a traffic jam for a 15 minute journey that seems to take 40 minutes and dying for the loo. I jiggle around at the wheel of my Smart car, desperately trying not to let it all hang out. It doesn’t ever get funnier. Once I drove the whole way from Bromley to the Ashford Eurostar terminal, very late to meet a train, bracing my foot against the footwell to alleviate the desperate desire to go, then screeching to a halt in an illegal parking space before making a mercy dash to the little girls’ room just in time.
Why am I telling you all this dear reader? Am I making you squirm and cross your legs? Well, last night I engaged in a most enjoyable dinner out at the Skylon restaurant to celebrate my OH’s 50th birthday. The Skylon shares its facilities with the concert-goers of the Royal Festival Hall, which is odd but manageable. Obeying an urgent call of nature necessitates a sort of samba to the loos but it is quite possible to reach a stall in time especially if you time your pee break for outside an interval.
But last night, at dinner and subsequently in the bar I partook of coffee and a lot of water, filled up like a never-ending wine glass by a helpful Japanese waitress. Still possessing a little of my horror of public toilets, I did not follow the advice of Alexandra my piano tuner who, WITHOUT FAIL, uses the loo before she departs anywhere. It was on the train from Waterloo (not even taking the pee here) that I started to jiggle. On the platform to change at Lewisham my need became more urgent but there wasn’t enough time before our connection train to visit a loo. No matter. There are loos on the train. Except that all the loo doors were locked. I sashayed along the carriages to check, hopping off and on the train at every station as I made my way along the whole length of the train.
Reader, you’ll be glad to know that I made it home in time before an untoward event occurred but it was a close run thing, with the OH taking the wheel of the (unsympathetic) Boywonder’s little car and screeching around the leafy avenues of Beckenham with me lounging in the back trying to reduce the pressure from my zippy trousers on exactly the wrong place of my bladder. Yes that was me. Stupid fashion people. I only just made it.
So I say this:
- Please Train People, free up at least one loo on your trains in the evening.
- Please Theatre people, provide more ladies’ loos
- Always visit the facilities before leaving a place, especially when partaking of coffee or tea.
- When you’ve been pregnant, follow the advice to do the pelvic floor exercises. They’re deadly dull, I know, but it you don’t you’ll regret it.
- Get your bladder trained up by drinking loads of water every day. Eventually this will pay off.
- Never, ever indulge your inner toddler and put off visiting the loo to the last possible nanosecond. By that point you will have gone past the last possible nanosecond: trust me on this. That hugely interesting thing you’re doing will still be there when you haven’t wet yourself.
- Try a she-wee. I have. They’re not all that.
Goodnight then. Sleep well. Those of you who like an evening cup of tea and are over 40: you’ll be up at leat once in the night so I might see you then.