I had lunch with a friend in an Italian place in Oxford Circus. We ate a good lunch and laughed a lot. As my friend got up to leave he asked me if I needed a hand with anything before he left. I didn’t but would guard his goods while he nipped to the gents. Needless to say, his absence made me reflect on parental advice. “Always go before you leave”.
Signage can be a challenge for anyone faced with the decision about which door to pick. I can never remember if the triangle points up for a woman or what the symbol is for male or female. Then there are the signs that are in relief and the same colour as the door. How do you know if you are about to enter into another country?
For any woman who has ever been caught short, and found themselves compelled to make a dash for the only available loo, there is one sure way to know if you are in the right place. The sniff test.
Undeterred by not being able to read the signs and work out which was the men’s and which the women’s loo, I opened both doors and sniffed. Then I plumped for familiar territory, where I sat, enthroned, handbag at my feet. I was having a moment of quiet reflection when I heard the door open and a pair of size tens stopped in front of my cubicle. There was only a handbag between our feet. Someone had a made a mistake.
All I had to do was sit tight, handbag on lap, and wait for the man to leave. The door opened and what appeared to be a coach load of men tripped past. No matter. My plan was still a good one. All I had to do was wait for them to leave. I waited. I waited some more and while I waited I would treat this as a fly on the wall experience and would emerge the wiser for what happened in the gents.
What does not happen in the gents is much in the way of hand dryer action.
I waited some more, more men. Plan “B” was called for if I was not to spend the rest of the afternoon trapped in the loo. Moments like this are exactly what the white cane is for. I would wait for the sound of silence and then emerge, wash my hands and leave with my dignity, and my cane, in tact.
To burst forth onto an unsuspecting public is not an easy thing to do under these circumstance. It’s not like Cilla Black shouting “surprise surprise”. The longer I remained concealed the more shocking the reveal.
After what felt like an eternity the moment arrived. I opened the door and looking neither left nor right, and with nothing but an educated guess as to where the basins were, I emerged and guessed right. I washed my hands, went to the dryer and realised that I was not alone.
It’s important, in these moments, not to flinch from the inevitable astonishment of others. Never apologise. It was hardly my fault that I found myself in a space that was the preserve of men and had failed the sniff test.
I hope I put all those men to shame with my ritual hand wash. I don’t mind that they probably heard the sound of running when the door shut behind me.
As the world gets more complicated and the arrival of new signs to indicate a new order in the use of public loos is upon us, spare a thought for the confusion of those of us who have enough trouble making sense of the old signs.
The web is awash with suppliers of easy to read LARGE signs and #RNIB have lots of good advice.