At the bottom, through the arched doorway, the first person in line steps out into three inches of piss, lifts up the end of his trouser legs, and wades over to a urinal. Reams of sodden toilet paper decorate the floor, pulping under the onslaught of feet where no one will pick it up, swimming its way around and sticking to the bottom of shoes.
The way these things normally work is you wait for your turn until an empty receptacle becomes available, then you sidle up to it standing shoulder to shoulder with two other men, and try to remove yourself from the reality by staring blankly at the wall ahead, willing yourself to perform the deed which had seemed so urgent only moments before. The more you wish to speed things along, the less able your body feels. A queue of the willing stand behind, staring at the back of your head, waiting for their chance for relief. And then slowly the panic creeps in. Why am I not going? I needed to go so badly a minute ago. Why not now? Have they noticed? They must have noticed. I’ve been standing here for ages. Alright just relax. What, with a wall of other men waiting behind me? Just piss. I can’t. Well try. I am. Well you better do something. Like what? Here we go. No. Right just do your flies up and walk away. And don’t forget to wash your hands.
The assembled crowd do their best to ignore each other while they dance around between the urinals, the sink and the hand dryer; and once finished, make their way back up the stairs, avoiding eye contact with the waiting line of hopefuls. As each one exits he eyes his hands with suspicion holding them out in front, not convinced by the credibility of the soap.
It’s only a matter of time before the Pleasance turn this into another venue.
In contrast the ladies toilets are upstairs and exist in the imagination as a powdered and fragrant spa, with pristine floors, shining taps and, above all, breathable air. The unheard of luxury of going to the toilet without the acrid bite of urine stinging your taste buds and sitting in the back of the throat remains a mystery.
It’s with these thoughts that I join the back of this queue, descending into that foggy hell, with heavy air, flickering lights and gorillas in the mist. The man stood in front looks nervous. Like the first signs of madness he’s scratching and biting his wrist. Someone ought to be looking over these people.
I look across trying to think of my options before someone joins behind me and I’m hemmed in. And then I notice the disabled toilet sitting quietly across the hall and an inner part of me rejoices at its salvation. I am on holiday, why not indulge.
Joining a queue behind another woman I try to look casual so as not to alert anyone else of my discovery, and patiently await my turn. That is the rule after all; women and children first. Patience.
The woman in front of me takes her turn and leaves me stood looking very laid back against a wall outside the disabled door. After a minute or two a man in an electric wheelchair positions himself behind me in the queue. An awkward moment ensues. But hang on a minute, I have my place in the queue. Just because it’s a facility designed for the ease of less able-bodied patrons, why shouldn’t he wait his turn. That’s the rule after all, women and children, then me, then the person behind me in the queue.
Another well-dressed woman walks up to me from in front and says something barely intelligible above the din of the public place. She looks as if she’s trying to muscle her way into the queue so I make clear my intentions. “The queue to the gents is massive. I’ve been here for ages. The women’s is upstairs.” She replies with something again I can’t quite hear and so I repeat and reiterate that this is the queue she sees in front of her now so to perhaps take up her place at the back. This time through the noise and heat I hear her more clearly. “It’s my spine, I can’t make it upstairs. It really annoys me when people use this toilet.”
That’s it. I’m outnumbered and have to concede. Overruled by guilt I join the back of a queue that leads down some steps into a damp underground toilet, and hold up the bottom of my trousers so that they don’t drag along the flooded floor.