Can’t find what you’re after? Say hello to the age of disruption
Wipe goodbye to the flush-handle era
Acrid stinking piss. The bowl is full of it. Quelle misère ! as they say here.
Typical bloody rail travellers, eh? They drink six half-litres of lager just before boarding the train, immediately hog the only working toilet within six carriages in either direction for the next two hours, then don’t bother flushing when they leave.
Well, not me! Responsible not-quite-naturalised citizen that I am, I will certainly fulfil my social obligation to vacate the pan once I have finished my business.
One hand held against my patriotic Franglish heart – the other hand is needed elsewhere – I complete my civic duty to ensure bladder health and thereby reduce national waiting lists to see a urologist.
Right, now to… what, whoah, where’s the handle to make it flush?
Ho ho, what am I like? “Handle” indeed! Showing my age. When I was tiny, we pulled a chain. Modern toilets don’t have handles. They have push-buttons. I mean, they don’t call this the “flush-handle” age, do they?
It could even be one of those split push-buttons for dispensing different quantities of water, depending whether you’ve had a dump or a slash. Of course, this is not obligatory: you can switch buttons in the event that you’ve had a particularly heavy piss or just a light shitlet. Your body, your choice.
(By the way, I’ve never been sure which button to push when I come across split flush buttons. Sometimes there’s a small button inside a large button and pressing the former gives a longer flush, which is counter-intuitive. Admittedly I may be mistaken about the preset timings of water delivery for the large and small buttons: on the occasions when it occurs to me that I should test my perception of relative flush duration, I never seem to have a stopwatch on me. Manufacturers ought to label them ‘S’ and ‘P’ – like ’salt’ and ’pepper’ but obviously not actually salt or pepper in this scenario.)
So, should I be looking for two separate buttons? Well, I can’t see one – or two.
Or will it be a pull-up knob? I’ve heard of toilets in which clients are expected to yank a knob, but that’s usually only after calling a mobile phone number to arrange a rendez-vous. Here alone in this tiny water closet speeding across France at 300km/h, should I trying to push or pull something?
Ah, I wonder if the flush is operated by a foot-pedal. I’ve come across that in the past. I can’t see anything on the floor but that’s because the closet is even more cramped than those you’d find on a budget airline: I can’t see much of the floor and am in no mood to get down on all fours for a closer look. If anything, I wish I was taller so that my face would be further away from the scene of the crime.
I shift my weight and use my foot to tip-toe around the floor at the base of the bowl in a blind hunt for something to press down on. At one point I do feel something and duly press down on it but I don’t think it was a pedal, and I don’t fancy investigating what it really was.
Maybe the button’s behind the lid? Nope. Under the lid? Yeah, you may laugh but I have driven a Citroën. Some of their models have the brake handle under the passenger seat and put the steering wheel in the boot.
Actually, that makes me wonder whether the manufacturer of France’s Ouigo TGV rolling stock hired an ex-Citroën motoring psychologist to design its latest WCs. Not only might the handle/button/pedal be labelled anyhow, it might look like anything and be located anywhere.
Just to be sure, I unlock the door and pop my head out to take a quick peek in case they put a flush button outside the room. There are three fellow passengers waiting to use the toilet. One closest to me nods gratefully; I nod back, close the door and lock it again.
I can’t leave the bog stinking of piss now that she’s seen my face! When she returns to her seat she’ll be whispering to her travelling companions and pointing in my direction, and they’ll all turn towards me with wrinkled noses. “Sure, some of it is my piss!” I’ll shout, defensively leaping to my feet. “But not the stinky jeroboam of rancid waz that was already swilling around before I arrived!”
No no, I simply must find that flusher and avoid being deported for Non-Assistance in the Instance of Hygiene Degradation.
I am now frantically tip-tapping with one foot and then the other to find a pedal while simultaneously groping around the walls and other surfaces above waist height for something to press. I must look like Michael Flatley miming he’s in a glass box.
Rushing water can be heard but it turns out I managed to step back accidentally onto what I assumed was a heat blister on the rubber flooring that actually operated the basin tap. I must also have jabbed some sort of hinged flap with my elbow as soap bubbles are now oozing out of a dispenser that was until that moment so well hidden that you could have stuffed the Crown Jewels in there in the sure knowledge that nobody would ever discover them. These bubbles are now flying around the air because my wildly voguing gestures have just set off the hand dryer.
Coughing on inhaled soap bubbles and rubbing more of them into my eyes, I whack the lid of the toilet down angrily so that I can sit for a moment to compose myself – at least until the hand dryer eventually ceases roaring. It’s curious how automatic hand dryers stop after two and a half seconds when you put your wet hands under them, but continue for a good 45 minutes if you set them off accidentally.
It is only when I can see again and the hand dryer motor has died down, leaving only a repetitive knocking sound coming from the other side of the door – what could it be? – that I look up and notice a button marked ‘Push’ in front of me at about knee-level.
I comply and the toilet flushes.
“But it’s right in front of you!” insists Mme D when I return to my seat and try to explain my prolonged absence.
No, it was behind my back. That’s not where it should be. You wouldn’t look for a toilet paper dispenser behind your back when you’re sitting down, would you? Nor would I for a flush handle – or push-button – when I am standing up.
Well, OK, it is “in front” if you are sitting on the toilet at the time. But don’t tell me it’s a woman-thing. Nobody flushes a toilet when they’re still sitting on it, especially not a public toilet. Nobody expects to finish their private time, fasten their clothing and then immediately turn away from the toilet to flush it.
There is a place to put these things: if you can’t be arsed to put them where they should be, you ought to put them where people expect them to be.
Hardly the disruptive spirit of the age, I admit. But I think I’ve worked out who’s been designing all those supermarket self-checkout machines.
Quelle misère !
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He might consider not writing about toilets next week but makes no promises. As Mike Love never said: “Don’t crap on the formula.”
Ux problems from an IP expert!
"Rushing water can be heard but it turns out I managed to step back accidentally onto what I assumed was a heat blister on the rubber flooring that actually operated the basin tap. I must also have jabbed some sort of hinged flap with my elbow as soap bubbles are now oozing out of a dispenser that was until that moment so well hidden that you could have stuffed the Crown Jewels in there in the sure knowledge that nobody would ever discover them. These bubbles are now flying around the air because my wildly voguing gestures have just set off the hand dryer."
Howling with laughter! I'm glad no one is around to see me!
Going further up the page, I'm delighted to find out that I'm not the only one who has no idea how those split-flush buttons are supposed to work. It has been one of those niggles in the back of my mind that somehow I'd missed an important briefing, and no one had bothered to bring me up to date.