Notes from the ‘bathroom’

Shitcargo – it’s my kind of brown, etc…

“How lucky you English are to find the toilet so amusing. For us, it is a mundane and functional item; for you, the basis of an entire culture…”

This quote from TV sitcom Blackadder, spoken by Ade Edmonson in the most stereotypical German accent ever, though crude as the impersonation that uttered it, is also, on the other hand, pretty damned accurate. If you think back to the first things you found funny – poo-based jokes you heard in the playground; a flatulent auntie; shite being shat – most are stained in a particular hue, or involve some form of internal release.

To my own personal shame – particularly as a writer – my first dalliance with the Oxford English Dictionary was to look up the word fart. Partly just for a laugh. Mainly because I wanted to see the word literally staining those sanctified pages.

It’s a fascination that, even now, hasn’t entirely left me.

The fact is, in Britain we’re obsessed with the toilet and all its connective functions. And toilet humour was practically invented here. How weird it seems, then, that as candid and vociferous we can be about bowel movements and all that crap, we remain staunchly private about our own personal sanitary shenanigans.

This was never more punctuated than a recent trip to America – in itself the exalted kingdom of the toiletry euphemism. While the British obsess over new and more disgusting monikers to ascribe to the US’s “bathroom” – bog; crapper; shithouse; plopshop (actually, I just made that last one up, and I’m sitting here tittering. See?) – our American cousins, verbally at least, remain somewhat tight-lipped against our comparative potty mouths.

The first time I realised what WC actually meant was courtesy of an American tourist, who, when I was working in a pub in London, bade me: “Sir, can I use your water closet?” Not entirely sure what he wanted to use it for, I nevertheless showed him our fridge full of Perrier.

Anyway, I’m in Chicago busting for a number two (actually, in the midweek chart I was number one, but a late surge saw me relegated downwards – literally taking the piss out of me. See?), and, flying across midtown traffic – which, observed from the point of view of my stranded loved one, apparently resembled Charlie Chaplin negotiating a nest of sleeping crocodiles – I crap-hopped into the tourist information office toilet for a serious sit-down.

And it’s there, ensconced in the frog-like position, everything comes to light.

Not only do US bathrooms seem to have a “how ya doin’?” policy on their toilet doors – the gap twixt hinge and door is enough to visually conduct a conversation (or shoot the shit?). But this particular booth had a sign on it imploring: ‘Please lock the door’.

Now, I’m not sure about you, but I really had no intention of NOT locking that fucking door. I was de-trousered. I was clearing house. I was pooing for England. Last thing I was in the mood for was some company, least of all one who thought my accent was, like, really cute (after all, nothing defaces the ideal image more than an image of da faeces I deal being dealt. As the saying goes… Er, or probably not).

Anyway, as an Englishman and a gentlemen-goer, this is one instruction that was going to be obeyed.

I mean, who was that sign actually aimed at? Are there people walking in there going: “Lock the door? Ah, fuck that! Let’s get this show started and farted! Hnnnggggg…”

At which point, a frail old octogenarian opens that door and screams herself into a coronary at the sight of a nonchalant shitter examining his paperwork.

Or worse still, a horny couple scrambling in there for a quickie, with the lady imploring: “Don’t lock the door, Johnny. Carelessly secured lavatories really turn me on…”

The eight-year-old whippersnapper who walks in on that scenario will be streets ahead when biology class begins. “Please, Miss, I know where the G-spot is – it’s right next to the U-bend…”

Anyway, what this sign seemed to be suggesting (apart from the absolute bleeding obvious: lock door; unlock bowel) was that not only are America and Britain separated by a common language – and, in this case, common sense – but also a certain proceduralism and formality that seeks to negate the need for thinking for oneself.

On the surface, especially in an historical context, you would think it was the British that were the ones for proper order and procedure…


America is a place for telling you things you don’t need to know, and – for that reason – it literally has a sign for everything. You can arrive, find a sign for where you’re looking to get to, and smash into another sign that says: ‘Danger! Sign ahead!’ (after banging your shins on a smaller sign that says: ‘Watch your step!’)

It’s possibly the only place in the world where one can arrive and, once you eventually pass through the airport, you feel like you’re actually still in it. The only difference, of course, being airport signs can denote something relevant.

But in a nation whose national anthem is lyrically composed of question marks, it’s probably only to be expected. Isn’t it? “Oh say can you see…?” Go through that entire ‘Star Spangled Banter’, and you will find every verse is literally a point of speculation.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not having a bash at the American anthem or even America in general – I’m just convinced there’s a certain procedure – and questioning – in the US that forms the essential difference that we all refer to as the “separation by a common language”.

And it’s all accentuated in the dichotomy of crudity previously highlighted. While the British are shamelessly open about their jocular smuttiness, we retain a staunch privacy about the actual act of what’s going on. In America, the opposite: euphemistic language, but blowing off all over the place and having toilet doors virtually hanging off their hinges.

‘Please lock the door’ whilst having a shit is tantamount to a sign saying ‘Please put your cock in your pants before leaving the house’. There is just no need whatsoever. It’s a done deal. But with the US being at the forefront of modern living and culture, it’s probably something we have to adapt to.

Literally a sign of the times?

Stephen Brolan



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