In my younger days – say at St Josephs College, London SE19 in the 60s, they used to dish out punishments for ‘toilet humour’ – these days I notice we sometimes hear the phrase ‘potty mouth’ directed at someone using smutty / graphic language (whatever!).
I only mention this to forewarn those of a sensitive nature that this little blog will be touching on matters somewhat closer to the earthy side of life – and believe me in India, you can’t escape that!!
Now that I am basking in the cleanliness and tidiness of Western Australia (more of that later) I find I shall be able to stop collecting toilet paper, or tissues from restaurants or indeed anywhere I found them.
For the uninitiated, there are two types of loo in India (especially in public places): the “western” style – which you can work out for yourself – and the other one.
This one consists of two parallel foot places – usually foot-shaped, though much larger – each side of an oval hole which heads off downwards. These are especially fun to use (as you might imagine) on a moving, swinging train!
Obviously, for the westerner, unused to the techniques – not to mention the angles – involved, these are best avoided. In some up-market versions, there is a wall-attached shower nozzle; the intention being for you to use it like a DIY bidet! Even less appealing for the novice user! But avoidance is not always possible. My paper-collecting mania started within days of my arrival in India.
Picture my plight if you will – hot, sweaty, a bit lost – on day 3 in Bangalore. And in pressing need of a loo.
I had sought out an AA meeting (often a fun spiritual chore in a strange country!) and actually found it without too much trouble, arriving 20 mins before the scheduled start at 7pm. It gets dark – always – at 6.30 in this part of the world. So it was dark but a small group had gathered outside the closed school where the meeting is held.
My request to use a loo if possible had me directed to a far corner of the school courtyard where (it seemed) the kids’ toilet blocks lay. I have no idea which ones I entered, could find no working lights, but on trying the second door and seeing a row of sinks, I figured I must be close and gingerly stepped in. By now, bear in mind, it was almost completely dark and I waited a moment or two to get used to the lack of light.
Ah, a row of cubicle doors and, inside each, inevitably, one of ‘those’ loos – and (of course) no sign of a paper holder (ha ha!) much less any paper. Of course, up to this point, an encounter of this nature had never crossed my mind. My nephew’s apartment of course, has “western” style en suites! Though I noticed later (apropopos of nothing) that the daily woman’s little room in said apartment, has the other type. Make of that what you will, in this day and age!
So……. without going into too graphic a detail – I had to go – and not just for a wee!! Carefully removing the little wallet (money, passport, credit card) I habitually carry round my neck on my travels, I hooked it over the lockless door (I knew I would hear anyone entering the room anyway). Hoping against hope, I searched all pockets for a paper tissue, a bill, a receipt, anything? To no avail. And even if I dared consider it, this dark and unappealing place didn’t have as much as a tap, let alone a bidet-style hosepipe.
In the face of increasing desperation – both for relief and a solution any way you look at it – inspiration struck.
I have – also in the little travel wallet – a very expensive notebook and matching pen! Montblanc supplied by Smythsons of London for those who care for such detail. I bought it as a client-impressing tool in my Butler days; it also holds my credit card(s) and driving licence.
For today’s needs, though – it held the notebook – albeit that the replacements are about £7 each – and the sheets are approximately three inches by two!! Just think about that for a moment……..
I draw a veil over how many special Smythsons/Montblanc sheets were used that dark evening, and resolved to Never (never, ever, ever) venture from home without at least a few tissues, some sheets of loo paper, or at minimum a copy of the Bangalore Times or equivalent. Needless to say, I mostly forgot to do that, so each lunchtime (coffee-time, tea-time) I was the one sneaking off to the loo whether needed or not, to grab a few sheets. Or half-emptying the paper napkin holder on the dining table.
You may laugh – but believe me, there are times, especially travelling around India – when the sudden onset of that phenomenon “when ya gotta go, ya gotta go” – means business and you can be having a gentle walk through what passes for a temple rain-forest garden when it happens. Then the only thing between you and total disaster might be – a rather small bush! At times like that, it pays be at least partly prepared with that little stash of paper! And a prayer for rain!
But that’s another story which I won’t tell. But, there are two post-scripts to this tale;
One: I cut out an advert from the in-flight magazine en route from Chennai (Madras) to Singapore; the Shower Toilet Seat (from Ideal Merchandise in Japan) : a toilet seat with a built-in shower! Can be installed on any toilet, improves personal hygiene and even helps ease the pain for people with haemorrhoids!! Now – if I could just find a way to adapt that into a small knapsack, like those ones that already have a water bag inside, I reckon I could make a fortune!
Two: 5 minutes after the Lavvygate tale above, I was in need of more water and ducked through the traffic across the mad Bangalore street and, on the point of paying, realised I had no money! My little travel wallet also holds whatever money I am carrying – and it was still hanging somewhere in the dark on the back of one of those kids loo doors! Fighting rising panic as I rushed back – had it been stolen? Worse, had it dropped off a moving door, down into an unmentionable (and irretrievable) abyss? My heart was pounding. To my great relief – for the second time that night! – things worked out OK in the end!