Tag Archives: Public Toilets

A Pain On The Train

18 Jun

I was so tempted not to post yesterday and let you all wonder if I had been mugged on the bus, but I’m not that mean.  Then I saw the Madam & Eve cartoon and had to post anyway, so I killed my own joke.  I had another busy day yesterday, compounded by the effect of drinking a whole glass of martini & lemonade the night before.  I felt like I had a hangover; that’s what late nights do to me – I was out until ten on Wednesday.

I went to the Best of Manchester Poets book launch and had a blast. Standing with a martini in one hand and a poetry book in the other is like a little piece of heaven on earth; all I needed was a Malteser and I could have died at that moment of utter joy. The ice-cube in the drink was listening to some excellent poetry read out by real performance poets. A fabulous night.

Getting there was a bit of a performance – well, not getting there so much as preparing to get there. It took me over an hour of trawling the GMPTE website to discover, first, it would take three buses and a train to get there and, second, that it wouldn’t.

Studying maps of the centre of Manchester, the Hub decided that I shouldn’t walk 700 metres up one street in a sort of unfamiliar city (I’ve been there only for tutorials and exams and summer school and the occasional foray into Primark) and persuaded me to get the train instead, which would bring me out much closer to the venue, the Green Room.

I never need much persuading to take a train, but I wanted to save some money: one of/the only perk of my work placement is that they pay £7 of my £11 megarider, a weekly bus ticket. I thought I might as well use it to go into Manchester but the Hub encouraged me to waste our hard-earned £5 nest egg instead. You think I’m joking about the nest egg?  Last year, I decided in January to save all my spare change and use it towards Christmas Dinner. I gave up in August when I had a total of £3.72 in my jar. I bought us all an ice cream instead.

It wasn’t just deciding on the best mode of transport for my perilous undertaking; there was also the matter of the correct attire for an evening literary engagement:



top – black/white/black & white/short-sleeved/long-sleeved/tucked in/left out?

Tory Boy & Spud Bud, look away now!

That took some sorting and included a raid on my sons’ wardrobes to see if they had anything that might fit me (they didn’t) and a jack-in-the-box bra-fitting impersonation as I tried on black top (needed a black bra), white top (needed a white bra), black top (black bra), white top (white bra), black & white top (hysteria began to set in).

Okay boys, it’s safe again.

There was a frantic rummage through my jewellery boxes for my graduation brooch (a story for another day) and then it was just a matter of choosing shoes. There was no choice, really, because my state-sponsored tap shoes are too uncomfortable to wear without a carpet underfoot. I have taken to going to work in the Hub-and-my trainers (black with velcro straps; the Hub bought them for himself but has yet to feel how comfy they are because I keep them on my shoe rack and snarl if he tries to borrow them) and changing into the toe-cripplers before I start. It’s an idea I got from Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl, before her trout pout and Alex Baldwin was famous. I didn’t want to be tramping on and off trains and around Manchester in pain – the medievally-tortured face is so last season – so I put on my faux-Cat beige boots and promptly took them off again, opting for pain and aesthetics instead.

The look complete – black pants, black shoes, blood-red feet, white blouse (the first item I had tried on and discarded) and white bra (though nearly…), the Hub and I were getting into the car for the station as Spud said, ‘You do know your top is see-through, Mum; don’t you?’ The Hub was having none of my reasonable panic attack and ushered me in to the car with all the finesse of a long-time cop arresting a particularly nasty serial killer who first ties the tongues of fourteen year old tactless sons into slip knots before topping their crazy mothers.

I hobbled onto the Manchester Piccadilly train and hobbled off again seven minutes later, thinking that was £1.30 well spent – for a return ticket as well.  It costs me 20p more for a single journey into the centre of Stockport, which I can walk in twenty minutes (or two weeks, depending on the shoes).  Manchester is quite a bit further on.  However, my penny-pinching soul’s joy was short-lived because I was later charged 50p for a slice of lemon in my martini.  Hmmph. 

The train was packed but I found a seat and squeezed in, then squeezed right out again before the seat had time to sag when I noticed the First Class signs posted all over the windows.  I tried to go through to the next carriage but couldn’t get one of the connecting doors to open and bashed my head on the glass.  It wasn’t until an hour later that I discovered, when the people I thought were staring at me in the bar because I had a poem in the book, that they couldn’t take their eyes off me because there was a backwards ‘Out of Order’ imprint on my forehead. 

I didn’t mind standing in the train corridor and being squashed against the toilet door because it gave me the opportunity to overhear the following conversation:

Woman 1: Put her in with the cockerel.

Woman 2: No, she’ll regenerate like the TARDIS.

I am so sad that I never heard the end of it but it was my own fault because I suddenly noticed the emergency medical kit glass looked cracked.  Don’t ask me why I decided to test it, because I don’t know.  Thank goodness the glass fell quietly inwards instead of tinkling to the floor of the train.  I hope there was no cctv on board.

I changed at Piccadilly for Oxford Road, an uneventful two-minute ride, and popped into the loo when I arrived.  It was at that point that most people would have noticed a forehead covered in ink, but I was distracted by the fairground effect caused by the aluminium that masqueraded as a mirror.  I also had to deal with the conundrum of the toilet roll: imagine a ship’s life belt stapled to the back of a toilet door and you can’t even begin to imagine how big this thing was.  I had to decide how much I would need before I sat down.  I had a nervous stomach because of the event but I wasn’t sure quite how nervous it was: take too much toilet roll and I had the problem of what to do with the leftovers; take too little and I was stuck in a public toilet for the night.  The ideal solution would have been to unravel some and then sit down with it, gently tugging at it until I had enough for my needs.  Pity I’ve only just thought of the ideal solution two days later.  I’ll gloss over what happened next.

The Green Room is just around the down hill corner from the station.  I’ve told you I had a great night.  The award-winning performance poet Dominic Berry hosted the evening.  I’d like to say I’ve heard of him, but I haven’t.  He was excellent, though.  We poets were all given our free copies when we arrived – it’s a proper paperback with an ISBN number and everything!  Available on Amazon, by the way.  An editor was chatting to some of us and she said that almost 600 poems had been submitted and only around sixty had been accepted, lots of them by new poets like me.  It was alleged that quite a few well-established poets had been put out by not being accepted, but all submissions had been read anonymously.   I did notice, however, that each of the editors and the publisher had at least one poem in the book…hmm.  This particular editor must have thought me rude and discriminatory because I gave her funny looks while she was talking to me; but it wasn’t because she was disabled – she had a bit of dirt stuck to her eyelash and it batted against her glasses and freaked me out.  I wanted to pass her a wet wipe but thought she might take offence.  I wonder if it was better that she believes me bigoted than critical of her personal hygiene?  Some days I am terribly British.

Dominic Berry talked about the Manchester poetry scene being a natural successor to the Mersey poetry scene; it was interesting, then, that the first five poets to read were from London and Wales.  I am from Liverpool but I didn’t read – not with this voice.  In church the other day I twice had to say the phrase ‘her hair’; with my accent it sounded like ‘hur hur’.  Twice.  I wouldn’t mind, but it wasn’t even my turn to read the lesson; I had been asked to swap.

I left the Green Room just after nine, having heard some wonderful poetry and sucked the life out of my fifty pence lemon slice so they couldn’t re-use it and charge some other mug for the privilege.  I crawled up the hill with my chánzú feet and straight onto a train bound for Piccadilly.  It wasn’t worth sitting down for such a short ride; I stood at the door holding onto the granny bars with both hands in case the door flew open en route and I fell out and was crushed to death by a train or electrocuted by the live rails, and looked down at the city, contemplating that train is the best way to travel, ever, when the driver announced that there had been a signal outage at Burnage and all services had been severely disrupted and  this train was terminating at Piccadilly.   The petulant student who had bruised me with his skateboard as he struggled past me with his humongous rucksack and massive suitcase was not pleased, and phoned his Mum to tell her so.  It was ridiculous: after all, he had arrived in time to catch this particular train.  What was the point?

I dismounted at Piccadilly and walked on my hands to the next Stockport train, which was Birmingham-bound.  Climbed aboard; was pushed back by the rush of passengers ordered off that now broken train in order to catch the one behind; boarded the one behind and sat amongst the detritus there must have been no time to clear away before it was called into service; and watched people fall over my feet, which were three times larger than my stomach and just as pretty.  I remember looking at the symmetrical moles I suddenly noticed and then realising they were shoe buttons. 

The seven-minute journey took fifteen but the glorious Hub was waiting for me as I staggered out of the station on the back of a stranger I had requisitioned to carry me, and within minutes I was in my bathroom, feet in sink and warm water schmoozing contented ooos from me.  I was desperate for my bed so I thought I might as well brush my teeth while I was there, but I didn’t think it through: where to spit?

Well, it must have taken you as long to read this as my entire night out.  I bet you wish I’d taken the bus after all.








Here Come The Birds

29 Jan

Summertime and the living is easy

The Hub and I went on a mercy mission yesterday.  The poor birds in our local park are starving.  The reservoir still has patches of ice in the corners (how odd that water has corners) and was still almost completely frozen over last week.  We took the dog for his walk there on Tuesday and noticed an old lady feeding the birds.  The geese – about fifty of them – climbed out of the water and surrounded her, then followed her back to her car when she was done; they also scavenged for food on the ground.  I have never seen anything like it.  Geese in our park are usually quite stand-offish.  They consent to be fed upon occasion but they often get bored and leave it to the ducks.  The ducks didn’t get a bite on Tuesday.  

The Hub took one look at the stalking geese and dumped me and the dog to go buy a loaf; and we went back yesterday with more.  It’s not fun to be hungry, I imagine.  I am fortunate enough never to have missed a meal that wasn’t scheduled by a diet.

My diets don’t last long – about mid-morning, usually.  I like food; I really do.   Hot roast dinners with all the trimmings; cheese & onion crisps followed by Maltesers and a mug of Earl Grey; steak, egg & chips; lasagne; hot, buttered toast; cheese & pickle on crackers with a glass of cold milk…that’s today’s menu sorted.

Thinking about food distracts me from today’s problem: paying bills.  I like paying bills because it means I can breathe for another month; but I don’t like going into Stockport to do it.  I have never been a great shopper (except for food shopping: I like food shopping).  I read these surveys about 98% of women spending a third of their lives in Sainsburys and Top Shop and I wonder, who are these people?  If my children are home, my bills paid and my cupboards full, I am happy.  I don’t get the compulsion to spend whole Saturdays in packed precincts, queuing for forty minutes to buy three vests and a sale corset that is two sizes too small and will be worn only once because you nearly choked on the fat that was pushed upwards, giving your neck nowhere to go and the sound of exploding satin left your husband temporarily deaf and he still screams when he passes the lingerie section of Debenhams.

Paying bills isn’t really the problem: that was a distraction from the real issue: public toilets.  I can’t be out for more than an hour in winter without the cold attacking the nether regions (see that clever use of the definite article so you don’t think it’s my nether regions I’m talking about?  I would never discuss such a delicate subject with my public; the children don’t like it).  Actually, it’s not even the public toilets that’s the problem; they are usually cleaned every hour or I report them to the manager if I am not completely satisfied.  It is those horrible, awful, disgusting air dryers.  I hate them, no matter how cool Madonna made them look in Desperately Seeking Susan.  You put wet hands under the dryer and it’s not so bad if it’s automatic but what if it has one of those huge silver buttons to press?  You don’t want to touch that grubby thing with your nice clean hands so you raise an elbow but if you’re short like me it slides off at first contact, throwing you off balance; you find yourself on the filthy floor (it’s been fifty-nine minutes since the last inspection) and you have to start the whole hand washing cycle again. 

If you are lucky enough to have a modern air dryer, the damn thing won’t start no matter how much you shake your hands under it, so you move away and say apologetically to the woman behind you who picked you up off the floor, ‘It’s not working; sorry,’ and she smiles like you’re an idiot because she can’t hear you over the rush of air coming from the dryer.  Defeated, you shuffle wearily out, shaking your hands as you go and looking for all the world like you escaped from a Bob Fosse audition; but it’s cold out there, remember, and you don’t want to put wet hands in your mittens so you wipe them on your trouser leg, by which you mean your bum but you say ‘trouser leg’ because you don’t want anyone to think you uncouth.  And that’s how you’re going to spend this afternoon: walking around Stockport with wet hand prints on your backside, showing the world how couth you really are.



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