The vet stares down at my penis and pushes his glasses further up his nose. I’m still leaning over, both hands gripping the trousers bunched around my ankles. For a moment social convention fails us both. It’s impolite to stare. It’s unacceptable to bare your junk to men you hardly know. Our senses return at the same instant. I pull my trousers up around my waist. The vet makes a hasty retreat.
There are few places in everyday life less agreeable than a public toilet. They rank just above sexual humiliation dungeons, the showers in Wormwood Scrubs prison, or Essex; but these are places you can usually avoid.
Definitely avoid Essex
I won’t get into the issue of an increasing number of public toilets in London charging for the ordeal of using them, as this would quickly depreciate into a quivering abortion of apoplectic rage. Instead I’ll mention the inevitable macabre innards of such places: the stench of ammonia as if you’ve just penetrated Satan’s urethra; skid-marks so ingrained in the bowls as to predate Aboriginal cave paintings; men in long raincoats who don’t even pretend they’re in attendance for any other reason but to glimpse your testicles (this is particularly disturbing for women, for a number of reasons).
The worst public toilets are on British trains, with doors purchased wholesale from a clear-out of the old Star Trek set.
Not pictured: space torpedoes launch button
A button-press slides the door open. Inside, another button-press slides it closed. In theory, this is functional for disabled users. In practice, it’s a source of never-ending embarrassment for most of us and illicit fetishistic pleasure for everyone else. While people search for the button that fires phasers at the Klingons, they forget to press the button that locks the door.
This is why I found myself standing directly outside the toilet on a crowded train as the door slid open to reveal a middle-eastern man in mid-bowel movement. He lunged forward, swearing profusely, one hand vaguely covering his equipment, and slapped the Close button.
He still forgot to lock it.
When the door opened on him again two minutes later he stayed seated to launch a volley of abuse. The guy who had opened the door grabbed hold of it and tried to wrench it shut while screaming ‘sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry!’ I decided to find somewhere else to sit.
My downfall came at work. I had returned to the toilet to complete the necessary paperwork after having previously been prematurely called away. The lock on the door was broken. I was facing the bowl, trousers and pants around my ankles, one arm behind me in mid-wipe, when the door opened.
I avoided the vet, an unremarkably stoic Swede, for the rest of the day, fretting wildly over what he might be telling his harem of attractive nurses. When I later encountered him, I was again just coming out of the toilet.
‘Don’t worry!’ he laughed. ‘I spend all day neutering dogs. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.’
To this day, I wonder if this was a veiled comment about the nature of my penis.