Monday, 7 December 2020

Christmas decorations. Christmas theft. Some language stuff. A little toilet humour.

Out running earlier this morning I noticed more and more Christmas lights everywhere. Also a vast number of HUGE trees, already sparkling in windows before 9.00 am! Ostentation in the key word in this year’s Christmas decor. And a new crime has sprung up as a result of all this outdoor trimming. I keep reading reports and seeing posts on social media, sometimes with video clips of the crime, of the theft of the fancy and rather expensive Christmas wreaths that people are fastening to their front doors. Goodness me! Is this prank thievery or is someone setting up a market stall or an online sales outlet?   

On Radio 4’s Women’s Hour that are currently talking about the Covid 19 vaccination, moving on the vaccination in general. Pregnant women should not have the vaccination, they say, as we don’t yet know what side effects there might be and we don’t need another thalidomide problem. The vaccine has been rushed through, understandably, and as with the virus itself, we know so little about it. Fortunately pregnant women come into a low risk group. Ah, the complications of modern living!

One thing that has been annoying me in all the discussions of the vaccine, and the vaccination, in almost all the news and discussion programmes has been the dumbing down of language. Nobody talks about vaccination, as if the word is too technical for public consumption. It’s almost always a “jab”, which is fine in a quick headline, or in the notice in the chemist to “get your flu jab here”, but somehow sounds strange and wrong in serious discussions. Or maybe it’s just me being linguistically picky. 

Before they moved on to vaccinations, they were talking about ladies’ toilets. There was a time when there were no public toilets and ladies found it very difficult to stray far from home. We’ve had the same problem during lockdown of course. Public loos have been closed, cafes have also been closed, meaning that popping in for a pee has not been possible. It’s always been easier for men who could go and stand behind some kind of barrier but it’s much more difficult to find somewhere sufficiently sheltered for a discreet squat. 

Guests on Women’s Hour swopped toilet stories: getting locked in public loos, being unable to pull tights up in a confined space with a broken arm in plaster, confessions overheard, famous people met in a public loo and so on. So here are some of mine.

When I was studying for A-Level French our teacher was at pains to tell us that “la toilette” did not mean “toilet”. No, “faire la toilette” was the whole business of getting ready for the day, preparing to go out, brushing your hair, checking your “look” and so on. But she never told us what the French used for “toilet”. I think she was too much of a “lady” ever to admit to needing the toilet.

So when a friend and I managed to go to Paris in the Easter holidays before we sat our A-Level exams and found ourselves in a cafe and needing the loo, we had no idea what to ask for. But we were resourceful girls, with reasonable French, apart from that glaring vocabulary lacuna, so we tried various circumlocutions until finally the waitress had a lightbulb moment and said, “Oh! La toilette!” And pointed us in the right direction.

Years later, on a visit to Paris with a bunch of secondary school pupils, I had to bargain with a cafe owner to persuade him to allow my group of 15 girls, age 12 to 15, to go in and use his facilities without all having to sit down and have a drink of some kind. The odd person popping in for a pee without consuming anything was acceptable but 15 was a bit much. We agreed a reasonable fee, however, and all was well. 

Then there was the bar we went to frequently as students in Spain. If I needed the loo I had to go to the bar and ask for the key. Then I had to go to the end of the yard behind the bar and unlock a small shack where there was a toilet, fortunately a clean one. Obviously Spanish ladies were not expected to need the loo. Late 1960s Spain!

By the way, until only a few years ago, when they moved to smart new premises, in Bar El Puerto, a lovely fish restaurant in Vigo, you still had to ask for the key to the ladies’ loo! Early 21st century Spain.

Still in Spain, on an exchange visit with some of my sixth form students I popped into the toilet in a cafe in Malaga. A group of older ladies almost screamed when they saw me and asked what I was doing there. Well, going to the loo, I told them. So they helpfully pointed out that this was the ladies’ toilet. So I straightened my shoulders and puffed out my chest and assured them, “Soy mujer”. Okay, I was wearing jeans and a sweater and my hair was very short but nobody had ever mistaken me for a man before! I decided that maybe it was time to abandon the “gamine” haircut!

And finally, on another occasion when I accompanied students on an exchange, I was woken by my phone ringing at about 2.00 am. It was one of my female students. It was the eve of San Juan, when bonfires are lit and parties are held on beaches and in gardens, and people leap over bonfires - a sort of pagan midsummer ritual that has been subsumed into the Christian calendar. My student was with her Spanish partner at a party in the garden of one the Spanish teenagers. The father of the hostess had locked his door, saying none of them was allowed in the house as on the previous San Juan’s eve they had somewhat trashed it.  If they needed the loo, they had to go al fresco. Now, my student, 17 going on 18, was in a panic as she claimed she had never in her life done a wee in the open air! Really? A sheltered Salford girl? Maybe she had never been on country walks! And now, a bit drunk, she was phoning me for help. I was not impressed and gave her short shrift, I am afraid. But her hosts took pity on her and let her into the house to use the loo.  

That’s enough of that. The day is trying to brighten up. Maybe we should go for a stroll, get some vitamin D, before my zoom Italian class this afternoon.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. There is a bar at the puerto deportivo in Cabo da Cruz, Boiro, where you still have to ask for the key, then go out and around to the back. Not good on a rainy day.