Friday, July 18, 2008

Little White House on the Prairie

Dancey live music playing off the back of a lorry, enticing aroma of pork chops wafting across the field, convivial wooden tables newly swept of the latest downpour – what else could one want to celebrate Bastille Day Eve?

‘So,’ I said merrily to our bench neighbours as we toasted Jeanne d’Arc again (patriotic festivities demand sporting acknowledgement of our English sins), ‘I suppose that big white building is the toilettes?’

Nicole seemed to find this hilarious. ‘I’m afraid that Nature is our toilet this evening,’ she gurgled, before adding, ‘If you go behind that big white building, you’ll find a path leading to some nice thick forest.’

Oh hell! Why did I start drinking? I can’t bear peeing anywhere without a comfy seat, comfy paper, and comfy brick walls on all sides. Our French friends are baffled by this angst. They are happy (females) to run off gaily into the woods for a friendly mass wee-in, or (males) to ask at the end of a meal in the garden, ‘Shall I just faire pipi in the bushes or d’you want me to go indoors?’ Umm, well, I suppose if you’re behind the bushes…

After five years here in France, it doesn’t get any easier. (George is unaffected, having steel innards and needing no loo but our own).

Toilets in a bar or restaurant are usually mixed, so my cunning plan is to survey customer traffic and when it’s safe, move briskly across and scuttle inside. Inevitably the room is small and dark except for a fluorescently illuminated corner with a bloke standing face to the wall, scantily shielded by a half-metre square of wood.

Mercifully, there is a cubicle to go to, but what is the etiquette here? En route, do you smile and nod, "Cold, isn’t it"? Emerging, do you pause to repair your lipstick, smiling chummily as another man stands freshly-zipped at the adjacent basin?

The great thing is that public loos here, mixed or not, are always extremely clean – much more pleasant than I remember in the UK. The dreaded Hole-in-the-Floor is rare, though I did confront one recently in the back yard of a country inn.

It was a sparkling white ceramic depression in the middle of a shed, and easy to use even without a seat – a huge relief. Until I pulled the chain dangling over my head. Immediately 500 gallons of water surged from the back of the depression, filled it up and seethed over the top in a terrifying whirlpool that flooded the shed before I had time to hitch up my trousers and run.

When I returned to the bar George did not notice me signalling frenziedly from the door, so I had to splosh back inside, smiling desperately at customers and wishing I’d been sucked down the hole with the 500 gallons.

Anyway, back in the Field of Bastille Eve, Nicole’s husband had gone off to investigate. He returned looking very pleased with himself. ‘Over there!’ he beamed, ‘A little white house! It’s only a hole in the floor, but it’s a clean one!’

Splendid. Perhaps I'll roll my trousers up first...