As I’ve got older, finding a toilet has taken on a more dominant role in my life. This has had an unforeseen impact on my childcare responsibilities – e.g. nurseries tend to fine you if you arrive late to pick up children so if you haven’t factored in a pitstop on the way, or arrived in time to go to the loo, you could end up spending a lot more than a penny.
In the past, I’ve arrived to pick up a grandchild at a nursery in a Victorian house bursting for a wee. This is not good. Someone pointed up a flight of steep stairs with kiddy gates at either end. But how do you work out how to open and shut the so-and-soing things while hopping from one foot to another like a demented hobgoblin? And doors were marked ‘Staff only’ or ‘Private’ – as a child of the 1950s, these are places into which I do not venture. However, I’ve discovered such notices rarely hold water in a court of law so you need to be intrepid and sally forth. Primary schools and purpose-built nurseries are a better bet but, trust me, steer clear of the kiddies’ toilets which means crouching down low (not good for arthritis) over a teeny loo while trying to aim accurately and weeing in a rush in case someone sees you over the low door with your pants down. Oh the horror. I’ve also been caught short at the primary school waiting to pick children up and had to walk the long walk of shame across the playground, ring the doorbell and declare myself to the scary staff in the office. Not nice.
So I’ve tried to locate public toilets en route, but they keep changing things – it’s called ‘progress’. There used to be a customers’ toilet in the Co-op cafe (you could also get an all-day breakfast for £2.49). Now it’s an upmarket M&S Simply Food and they seem to think their customers are too posh to pee. Wrong! Dear Directors of Marks and Spencers, spare a thought for desperate folk passing by on their way to carry out their grandmother- and grandfather-ly duties – invest in a loo – it makes commercial sense. People will feel kindly disposed to your store on the way out and might buy something. There used to be free toilets in the public car park that were ok in a dank, puddles-of-questionable-liquid-on-the-floor kind of way but they shut them for refurbishment. There’s another one – it looks like a space capsule and, as everyone knows, turns off the light and leaves you in the dark with your knickers down, squirts you with water like a car wash and then opens the door to reveal you sitting half-naked to passing shoppers. And all for 30p – I don’t think so.
Meanwhile, in Bariloche, Argentina, where my son’s family lives, I sometimes walk down to pick up my grandson from nursery. Ok, walking’s good to keep us oldies fit, but doing exercise can have a knock-on effect. Public toilets are a rarity there but, olé olé olé olé, smiling cafe owners and restauranteurs happily wave a desperate gran to the baño – they see it as good for business (M&S, take note). But Argentinian toilets seldom have locks and you have to knock before entering and the encumbent calls out ‘ocupado’. Being British, once inside I employ the leg stretched out sideways, one foot against the door method – not a recipe for a relaxing sit down while waiting for the knock on the door. When I was there I went on a long-distance bus trip with my granddaughter, then aged 7 – of course, I needed to know if there’d be loo on board – yes, there was, phew. I noticed that the locals didn’t use it but, while admiring Argentinian fortitude, needs must and me and my granddaughter swayed down the aisle. But pulling down a granddaughter’s knickers when she’s clinging to you like a limpet and positioning her over a lurching toilet bowl while rolling down a long straight road into the horizon like Thelma and Louise is tricky. And no, I didn’t go myself – this would have been folly akin to mad dogs, Englishmen and midday sun – the contortions necessary would’ve brought on the need for an emergency hip replacement. They stop every three hours – sitting down helps.
It has to be said that parallels can be drawn between this grandparent’s need to wee and that of small grandchildren so my knowledge of local loos has come in handy. But things can get urgent for a small grandson and nature can call when it’s not good to stop. My daughter says that as a one-off, it’s useful to have a Costa Coffee paper cup or other receptacle lying about the car (nb this only works with boys). And how did we cope before wet wipes? Of course sometimes a busy parent goes off with the lone packet in their bag but I’ve found face cleansing wipes (age-defying for mature skin) work well. Meanwhile, over in South America, my son and his partner don’t use wet wipes (expensive and bad for the environment) preferring, oh joy, a large plastic bottle of white liquid cleansing lotion and a packet of cotton wool. Just you try tearing off a lump of cotton wool, applying lotion to it or a besmirched bum while grappling with the feet of a struggling grandson wailing ‘no-oo no-oo noo-oo’. You get the picture – enough said.
I digress. I went to the doc’s and she put me on the pills. But lacking a ‘needing a wee a bit more often’ category, the travel insurance people put down ‘incontinence’ as one of my medical conditions. Great. And I’ve given up the mid-morning cup of coffee before setting off so that helps. You’d think sat navs (not that I’ve got one) would include loo locations – everyone needs to wee (etc) – and it’d be particularly useful with kids and/or a gran on board. Google came up with ‘tomtom and garmin gps show POI’ – very illuminating. But, wow. somebody’s spotted a gap in the app market – you can download Sitorsquat and you’re ready to go. But first I’d have to get one of those new-fangled phones with a screen you stroke like a pet hamster…