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U3A Writing: Loos

Joan Murton tells of the loos she has loved.

Where, in this frantic world in which we live today, can we hope to get a few minutes totally to ourselves ? In my experience, only in one place. The Loo.

What bliss it is, to close the door and shut out the disturbing, disrupting world.

For as long as it takes, we are alone. What rapture. We can plan that new wardrobe; ponder whether to treat ourselves to that new book. No telephone, no children, no male to disturb our daydreams. No wonder I love loos !

There have been many I remember. The purple and yellow one which restored my sanity when the children were tiny, is one. Yes, they did scream outside, but I was safely inside, with my crocus colours to sooth me for the fortchcoming tantrums. It was a pity that a mad architect had placed the loo at the top of a steep flight of stairs. That worried me sometimes. My peace could easily have been spoilt by one of the children falling down the stairs.

What must be an unique loo/bathroom of my acquaintance, is approached through a discreet, mahogany door, on the first floor of a London club. The indication that it is for ladies only, is a beautifully scripted sign. No fancy illustration of a crinolined figure with a parasol.

From the Adam green, carpeted foyer, three shallow steps take one to the gently lit action room. No plastic flowers here. Fresh flowers according to season; daffodils, roses, chrysanthemums. The room contains every necessity a lady might require to return to the world perfectly groomed.

I like the way the Americans refer to a loo as the ‘bathroom’. Though sometimes far from accurate, the word conjures up a degree of comfort.

My top, for luxury, bathroom – though this one should be, perhaps, more aptly referred to as a sitting room – is situated in an exclusive country club in Henley on Thames.

It is spacious, expensively carpeted, furnished with brocaded settees, matching armchairs and a writing desk, complete with notepaper and envelopes. (Whatever does one need writing paper for in a loo?). The little private rooms are sound proof. The world does not exist beyond the heavy, dark wood doors with their gleaming brass handles. Such tranquility. It is easy to imagine the ladies attending the Henley Regatta, fleeing to this sanctuary to escape the boring conversation of their menfolk.

My first encounter with a television set in a bathroom took place in – yes, you’ve guessed, America. The hotel appeared to be quite normal until then. Five star rating, but not too ostentatious, though I did notice that the tongs for the ice bucket were goldplated.

At first glance, the bathroom was the usual large, gilded tapped, marbled bath affair. . I was peacefully admiring the luxury when, suddenly, the television set, unnoticed on the marble vanity unit until then, announced its presence. It switched itself on to welcome me. For a terrible moment I thought it was to be a constant companion in the bathroom, but I quickly located the ‘off’ switch. What an intrusion !

There have been many ‘bathrooms’ in which I have taken refuge, which had not the slightest similarity to a bathroom. There is one I shall always recall with nostalgia. We had eaten lunch overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in a remote village on the Italian coast. Much wine had been drunk and a visit to the nearest ‘bathroom’ had become necessary. A waiter was asked for directions. He looked doubtful, but I insisted. He brought a very large, ancient looking key and beckoned me to follow.

We passed through the kitchen to an outbuilding. He indicated a door and the key. I unlocked the door and was repulsed by the stench. A crisis was brewing, however, so I plucked up courage and entered. It was dark, dank and decidedly smelly. I foolishly closed and locked the door and almost stumbled into the hole in the ground.

This was one loo in which I had no desire to linger. I had to get out. I tried to unlock the door. It was impossible to turn the key. Panic. I banged on the door frantically. Nothing. I banged again. An Italian tenor voice shouted something, I knew not what. The voice banged on the door and repeated what ever had been said. At last, a baritone voice said, in broken English, words to the effect that I should pass they key through the gap under the door and he would unlock it. I got the message quickly !

Why will that loo always be recalled with nostalgia ? Because all the time I was trapped in that hideous place, a wandering violinist, outside in the fresh air, played Come Back to Sorrento!


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