Toilet Tales 01
The Daily Telegraph finally got with the programme and printed an article on “café conquerors”, and “coffee shop lingerers”; those hardy souls who consider the price of a coffee to be the rent for office space, which they then proceed to hog, so it’s nice to know that I’m clearly a trend-setter seeing as how I got in on the act before it became over-fashionable. A trend-setter and an all-round menace to society, it seems.
Not so long ago my home town was completely devoid of high-street coffee shops, barring the odd traditional back-street tea room, but then they came with the arrival of a family run chain which took up residence in the old Burger King roost: a crime they weren’t ashamed to admit, no doubt due to budgetary restrictions, as they left the décor of the windowless upper floor untouched and preserved for future generations as if it were an archaeological site of special significance.
As I started spending time in there, writing and dreaming, I got to meet the wise old coffee seller which dwelled within and he explained to me the coffee shop wisdom that Bury was the Dewsbury of Lancashire. Whatever the hell that means. Although when I say wise he did also go on to tell me how he was set to open another outlet in Middleton which, from my experience of occasionally passing through there on the bus and regularly being abandoned their when the bus driver decided to go no further, led me to believe that he can’t have been that clever.
That coffee shop didn’t last for too long after the gangs of marauding kids who used to hang about outside the bus station took over and swamped the place, changing the atmosphere and making the place somewhat unbearable, thus my residency in the Costa Coffee which had just opened by the world-famous Bury Market began. Their success meant that soon both the franchise and parent company got into something of gangland turf war because where once there were no coffee shops, all of a sudden, there were then five of them, give or take, as Costa Four only boasted a mighty six, possibly eight, seats which the local newspaper described as “chic”.
After a while hanging out in there I got asked by the good-looking blonde assistant manager as to what it was I actually did, spending all my time writing in there, and it was nice to know that the staff took an interest in their customers although, it seems, they also might have been taking bets on the outcome. One fear expressed was that I may have been writing about them and, even though my review of their Chocolate Tiffin was a big thumbs up, it is interesting how you can inspire paranoia in people around you by staring at them before dropping your head and frantically noting things down.
I was obviously trying to impress the assistant manager, she was a bit pretty, as I gave her the optimistic answer of Failing Writer. You may wonder how this was optimistic, but as the reply I usually gave people was Failed Scientist and Failed Writer I felt that this newer response implied I at least had some-sort of hope.
I turned out to be a café conqueror of such low-status because I played the game and avoided the peak times on market days and to further avoid the ire of the staff, and the risk of banishment, I frequently refrained from hogging a good comfortable seat and retreating to where no proper paying customer would ever choose to sit: outside the toilet within sniffing distance of fresh urine. I know my place in life as well as in lingering society.
I have found from this lowly position, through sitting outside the toilet for extended periods of time, that not only can you also freak people out by just looking up at them as they emerge, as if you knew what they’ve just been doing in there, but apparently that you’re duty-bound to act as some-sort of public information desk where all matters toilet are concerned. One old Gimmer once rocked up and asked me if there was a special key for the door; I thought only if life were some fantasy kingdom and I was the Key-master who only deigned to allow entry upon the answering of a caffeine-themed riddle. What is the Dewsbury of Lancashire? Instead the door was only locked because there was already someone inside, with deference to the age-old one-in one-out system, which you would have thought he’d have come across at his age.
It was at the end of another day when a particularly attractive girl – all legs, nose, and red hair – was on the throne when a local character turned up in the guise of a large middle-aged woman. Legs-nose-redhead didn’t even give me a glance when she emerged and, devastated, I put my head back down into my work and heard the door shut, before it opened again a couple of inches, and the door bolt gave a fluid in-out in-out waggle as if this woman was trying to send me a message in Morse code. I looked up to see her emerge back out and when she saw my curiosity she asked if I was going to be sticking around for a few minutes. As a café conqueror worth my salt I was going to be there long after she was gone and so she asked me if I could do her a little favour and “look after the door for her”. Feeling that I needed just a little bit more information than what had already proffered she told me that she had a phobia about locking herself inside public toilets and so when she had to resort to using them she didn’t like to lock them at all. She then let the door swing shut behind her and she set about her no doubt monstrous business with very little standing between her and the general public. And that very little was just an inch thick pull-to-open door and me.
So there I was, defending her honour against all comers, whilst she performed unmentionable acts with the door unlocked all the way through.
When she emerged she offered me a more detailed explanation. This’ll be good, I thought, and the punch line to my story which I was already mentally writing. She said that many years ago, she had a friend, who once locked herself inside a toilet, when she was in Barcelona…
Yes, I thought; that, right there, that really does explain everything doesn’t it.