Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Spend a Penny?

I was out in Nottingham the other night, the nice side this time. The right side of Nottingham at night is a beautiful place. It was my brothers birthday therefore tradition dictates that we must drink and be merry in the City of Merry Men.

There arent many more disconcerting things to be faced with than a male hanging around in the mens toilets. They'd be in serious trouble hanging around toilets in my home town but this man was hanging around in an altogether more accepting place. Hanging around in toilets in a pub was his job.

He sells 'nose powdering services'. I know he's there, i've encountered him before, in this pub. I feel distinctly nervous walking in past the bouncers, they're probably already on the walkie-talkie as i walk by telling him that another lamb to the slaughter has baa'ed by.

I dont feel nervous because he's a man working in a mans toilet, i feel nervous because i feel pressured to use him and pay for his services. I know that he's there, at the back of my mind whenever i'm in that bar, and that knowledge seems to precipitate the need to wee. I may not have drunk liquid for a whole year before entering this bar, but i can guarantee that i would need to wee within minutes of being in there.

I normally do all i can to avoid going to the toilet in this place - i thought i'd done all i could this time, I'd even been before i came out thinking that it would tide me past this bar. But it didnt. I needed to break the seal.

Its easy to tell yourself to ignore him and not pay for his squirt of handwash and the passing of a few paper towels, especially when the drink gives you the added bravado. Its simple to deceive yourself into believing walking out of a toilet without washing your hands is an easy thing to do. But on my descent of the quiet stairs which took me away from the hustle and bustle i realised that the bravado had done a runner and it was me and my conscience against the King Hustler. And my conscience was scaling the fence of desertion.

I did actually check in my pockets before i went that i had some change. What would i have done if i hadnt - not gone to the toilet because i didnt have change to pay the hand squirter? Hopped around? Crossed my legs? You know me too well.

I walked into the toilets, damn, i was on my own, i was the only wee'er there. I would have had a chance if the toilet was busy. Perhaps the main bar was full of men crossing their legs waiting for the next pub. They'd smirked at my naivety when watching me follow the signs to the toilet.

With a quick nod of acknowledgement to each other, he'd engaged me. He was clever, he'd made eye contact. I was in his territory now.

I did my business, i cant say it was a comfortable experience. And i'm pretty sure that i can speak for him too. I didnt think about much else other than my toilet exit strategy, and it wasnt clear in my mind as i turned - i was confused as i started to walk, but his positioning was good. The gap between him and the wooden partition was inches and he had the residual space covered with an oustretched arm clasping a bottle of handwash, offering it to me. There was no way past - i was headed off at the pass.

Do i say 'no thanks mate' and risk the toilet man, who i had known for less than a minute and would know no more once in the safety of the other side of the toilet door, thinking im a dirty toilet non-hand washer? Or do i surrender to the hustle, pay my money, wash my hands and spend the next hour wishing i'd not have done? Why should i pay to wash my hands?

'Say no, say no, say no, say no' something shouted at me from inside. It was drowned out by the sound of my conscience, who had now switched to the toilet mans side and was sat on his shoulder taunting: 'he's going to think you're a dirty toilet non-hand washer, you are!'. Typical conscience.

'Thanks mate' i said as he squirted his cheap Boots own label handwash into my hands. Mate? He was no more my mate than George Michael was. I washed my hands and was offered a couple of sheets of kitchen towel to dry my hands on. His foot then stepped on the pedal bin offering a home for the used towels.

I looked down at the little ashtray on his gold coloured hostess trolley, two lonely pound coins looked back up at me, so i ferreted around in my pocket for something smaller. I know his trick, take all the lowest denominations out to give the impression that anything less brands you as a cheapskate. For the love of God man please let me leave this place with a little bit of my dignity intact from the robbery.

It's just one heist from start to finish in this place. As if the price of a drink wasnt extortionate enough, i'm also getting charged for expelling the expensive drink that i've just bought. Shall i pay to breathe too? What about rent for the floorspace i'm taking up? There's probably some laboratory the other side of the toilet re-bottling the stuff to sell back to me.

Then i detected a coin in my pocket and pulled it out, amongst the plethora of silver coins i'd pulled out the only pound coin in my pocket. Great. No going back from here, i've shown the dog the rabbit. I dropped it in. A pound? For a squirt of hand wash and a couple of sheets of cheap kitchen towel that just moved the dampness around my hands? I'd probably paid his overheads. It was all incremental profit after me. And yet i was the one that did all the work in this little transaction.

As i made my way to the door i noted out of the corner of my eye that, in amongst the washing products on his trolley there were pieces of chewing gum. My chance to at least get something back from the crime. I turned round and chose one. 'Thanks' i lied, and made my way out of the toilet, congratulating myself as i went on showing the toilet man that he couldnt mess with Watski.