Frivolous Monsters

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.

bury     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.

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17 thoughts on “Toilet Tales 01

  1. Chrissy Layton on said:

    “some-sort of public information desk where all matters toilet are concerned” I’d like to see this instituted as a policy. With a little official information kiosk and a hired person with a name tag ready to answer any toilet question.

    • The most important part of your sentence is the word “hired” because the number of times I’ve been accosted, by people who think I work there, I think I should at least be on the minimum wage by now!

  2. The last time I saw somebody sitting outside a toilet in an official capacity was when I flew up from the South of France to the North in order to rummage and forage my way through two days of internationally renowned flea market action. Having eaten lunch in a restaurant, I went inside to use the facilities and there was a formidable French woman who had set herself up at a table demanding 30 cents for using the loo. Incroyable!! I thought it was worth it to avoid an accident in the imminent future and also to observe people’s reactions when asked for money to relieve themselves after they had paid to eat in the place. Some proffered their restaurant bill hoping this might buy them a couple of minutes but ‘Non!’. Some refused to pay and I don’t like to think about where they went instead. But, mostly, there were lots of gallic shrugs and submission to this unscrupulous money grabbing activity. When questioned, she said she had to clean more often but having a constant queue of people in front of her and sorting through her glass jar full of euros, I don’t know when she got the time.
    Perhaps you could offer a similar service to the owners of your coffee shop on busy days.

    • It’s funny you should say that as I think the only time I’ve seen it was on a day trip to Boulogne when I was about twelve. I didn’t have a clue what the small tray of change was by the sinks and I think we only realised when we tried to get out. This was just a small “public” toilet. I don’t think the old woman (I say woman but I guess it must have been a man) had much luck from us as half a dozen schoolboys, who couldn’t speak much French, went through like a whirlwind.

      I should have done that. Left a small tray on change on the corner of my table. I don’t think it would have gone down well though around here. I guess the only places it works is French toilets and in high class nightclubs everywhere!

  3. I’ve always enjoyed your tales from the coffee shop, and this reminds me why. Well done! Now if only I could stop wondering what the woman afraid of locked toilet doors would have done if you weren’t sitting there…

    • Thanks for saying that. The first time they were more added as short anecdotes, I think, but I’ve worked very hard into working them into something long and more meaningful with a lot of extra content. Saying that I still haven’t quite finished.

      As for the woman I have known of a man in there who has walked in on someone, under the auspices of the door not being locked, but then the staff told me they had suspicions that he’d done it before… I guess it’s not that hard to unlock from the outside if you’re prepared.

      And also I’ve felt duty bound (again) to throw myself in front of people when I’ve seen kids go in here and not lock the door. See I just can’t help getting swept up in events and involved.

  4. Just wondering – can’t you sit up near the window with your laptop gazing out across the world with a thoughtful expression on your face like they show in the TV dramas and adverts? One day you might make the Bury Costa Coffee Bury’s answer to Edinburgh’s ‘The Elephant House’!!

    • I very much wanted to become the JK Rowling of Bury. Please, she’s richer than the Queen now. They are very good with me in there because (I presume) I don’t cause a fuss and hog the place at peak times. Saying that I have found out (I’m nosey like that) that the last girl I went on a date with has been hounded by the residents of her local coffee shop because she put in a complaint as she’d turned up with her laptop and the place, particularly the noise of the coffee machine, was too noisy for her to carry out a work conference call on her computer!

      And the really good thing about this Costa, as it was, is that it was square (with the added little passage way around to the back past the milk fridge, one table, the emergency exit, and the toilet) with two walls of glass. So with my good seat on the comfy sofa up against the wall you literally could see everything. I did a lot of gazing there.

      • You say ‘wanted to become’ – now you haven’t given up yet surely? Whilst there are still coffee shops in Bury there are places for you to gaze, observe and write. Or, have you moved to Manchester?

    • I was trying to word things carefully – and failed, obviously – so some things might go unnoticed. Change is coming. I haven’t finished writing the last one of these but there is some sort of conclusion on its way. And it isn’t success.

      I still hope for success, but failure swims all around me, and saying that I’ve had a new blog post (secretly on that topic) ready to go for weeks now, but I’ve just hit one tiny snag. It’s one of the posts I’ve been trying to write for months, possibly years, and some new information came to light recently which helped me tie things together and spur me on to finish it. The only problem is that it revolves around one image… which I was sure I photographed, probably last summer, only now I can’t find. I’ve scoured three different computers and an external hard drive. No luck. The next problem is that to retake this picture the opportunity only comes around every three weeks and on Friday it was a no show. I guess I’m a long way from success.

      p.s. I can only afford to go to Manchester rarely. So I can’t relocate to their coffee shops or the library. So it’s not that!

      • Change of direction, re-evaluating, re-grouping and setting off again into the fray is not failure. Sometimes it’s difficult not to see you life simply in black and white terms, but the world is grey and nuanced and ‘success’ comes in various shades. In our shrill, celebrity culture it’s hard to remember that.
        Hope you locate that photograph.

    • I do my re-evaluating with my head in my hands these days. Change, but not of my making! I’ve given up on looking for that photo after an extensive search. Even looking on-line for a similar one I could use. If nothing else turns up I’ll have to wait around for another three weeks again!

    • Well that would be nice. But what I have in mind is much more mundane, but has blighted my life. I had my camera ready last Friday (after waiting for it to come around) to find you-know-what didn’t turn up like clockwork and that I’d have to wait another three weeks to try again. Enigmatic, eh?

    • Still too nice. It’s an imagine which could only be meaningful to me, which my skewed brain filtered into something which is (possibly / hopefully) an amusing tale worth telling. With added classic silent film comedy.

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