On one of our many visits to see our French grandchildren we went to the picturesque town of Annecy in the Rhone-Alpes region of southeast France. If you’ve never been, I can thoroughly recommend it. The scenery is stunning and the historic old town reminds me of Venice.
Anyway, I digress.
My pet peeve, on this occasion, is regarding the bizarre public toilet arrangements in France. (I’ve since been informed there are now automated toilets in the UK)
It was a freezing afternoon in late November. Frost glistened on fallen leaves. Shadows lengthened as the light faded to dusk. The warmth from the cosy restaurant, and rosie afterglow from copious glasses of red wine consumed with a hearty lunch were already a distant memory. The icy breeze cut through several layers of clothing like a laser chilling my bones, and freezing my eyeballs in their sockets.
As I wandered towards the Pont des Amours bridge on Lac Annecy photographing the autumn colours, my bladder reminded me it was desperate for the loo. No it would not wait. I needed to find public toilets, now!
After several attempts to ask for directions and my pidgeon french falling on deaf ears, I performed various comical charades in desperation. How hard could it be to make people understand I needed a pee pee, and I needed it NOW! So where were the nearest toilets?
I finally made myself understood and headed off in what I hoped was their general direction. Arm waving, shrugs and finger pointing will never replace a SatNav system. After about a twenty minute walk I finally located them the other side of the river where I joined the lengthy queue of screaming toddlers and harrased mothers.
By now the cold had penetrated my aging bladder as I stood cross-legged in the queue. The queue swelled as ‘extended’ family joined the ranks in front of me. Not speaking the language I growled inwardly, as I tried to ignore my bladder’s growing call for urgency.
Finally, it was my turn, and as I waited patiently for a lady and her gaggle of children to finally make an exit, a pregnant women stepped forward to jump the queue and take my turn. No way said my patient bladder which was ready to give birth.
As the previous occupant opened the door I jumped forward and grabbed it. Once inside, after hitching up several layers of clothes, while making sure nothing came into contact with the ground except my feet and with handbag firmly gripped between my teeth, I perilously hovered over the toilet in the stance position. Guys you don’t realise how lucky you are!
It was then the lights went out and I heard gushing water from what I can only assume were jets in the walls. Frozen, like a rabbit trapped in the headlights of an oncoming car, I waited as the longest pee in history took its time. I hastily readjusted my clothing and headed in the general direction of the door. Remember it was pitch black. The type of blackness where you are not even sure your eyes or open.
The sound of gushing water continued.
I found the wall and edged along its boundary until I felt the door handle. It was locked. In panic I screamed and pounded the door with my fists. Black space and the sound of gushing water my prison began to feel like the Titanic (okay, slight exaggeration). Eventually there was a click, the lights came on and I fell sobbing through the door into the waiting crowd…
and my daughter…
‘Mum, where on earth have you been we’ve been looking for you everywhere!?” she said, in the exasperated tone usually saved for naughty children.
‘Why are your feet so wet?’
Mortified, I looked down at my feet.
My daughter growled her disapproval and pointed to the notice and the traffic light control panel on the wall, which in my sprint for the door I’d failed to notice. I’d entered the cubicle on amber which meant once the door was shut (in theory) there should be no one inside. It then changed to red, which was why the door could not be opened until the automated cleaning cycle was complete and the lights extinguished. I shuddered when I thought of the toilet throne itself. What automated process did they use to clean that?
As I studied the notice in more detail: These toilets are cleaned and disinfected after each use. Maximum time of use 15 minutes.
Idle curiosity did make me wonder what happened after 15 minutes.
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