Just for the record, I always use the men’s toilet in the Urgent Care Centre. Most of my colleagues prefer the staff toilets along from the nurses' rec room, because they’re cleaner, and because there’s less chance of running into patients. The UCC toilets are closer, though, and besides, I’m in such a routine of going there now it’d be bad luck to change.
It’s a tiny, brutally functional kind of place, more like a converted cupboard than a purpose-built facility. There’s just enough room for one sit-down cubicle at the end, and then two urinals and two sinks on opposite walls. Coming in and out is often something that requires a bit of manoeuvring, apologising, polite choreography. And you have to be careful backing up, as you don’t want to nudge anyone in the middle of anything. The door lets out onto the main waiting area for the UCC, too, and sometimes when it’s crowded (which is all the time these days), it can feel like opening a door and inadvertently walking out on stage. Sometimes you half-expect a round of applause.
But as I say, it’s convenient.
There’s a sign up near the drier, a mission statement, and the extension to ring if something doesn’t seem right.
I’ve called it twice.
Once, to clean up the bloody handprints on the wall (where he supported himself at the urinal), the floor (where he dripped), the unholy mess in and around the basin (where he exsanguinated), and around the door where he must have paddled in a last desperate attempt to get out. In fact, ‘getting out’ was harder than getting in, especially without touching anything, although luckily I had some spare gloves in my pocket.
The second time, a man was coming out of the end cubicle just as I came in the main door. He looked innocent enough – Stan Laurel in a Heineken t-shirt and jogging bottoms – which he hoiked up with a satisfied twang before nodding to me pleasantly and, by-passing the wash basins, headed out. He was followed by a tail-stink of such calamitous proportions I felt obliged to investigate. I went up to the cubicle door, pushed it open, and peered inside. A scene of unmitigated horror. He couldn’t have made more of a mess if he’d taken in a weather balloon pumped up with shit, closed the door, and popped it. The pan was the only clean surface in there.
I called the extension.
I felt sorry for the cleaners. I just had to call a number. They were obliged to take some kind of action, go in with rubber gloves, sprays and mops, when anything short of an airstrike would have seemed inhumane.
It’s a tough job. I couldn’t do it.
But I quite like the UCC toilets. They’re part of the rhythm of the place. You notice things, little things, the graffiti, the meta-graffiti, the changes from drier to towels and back again. Mess to clean, clean to mess. Cubicle seasons. I’ll miss them when I go.
I went in once and there was a young guy banging on the cubicle door.
‘There’s someone in there,’ he said, relieved to see someone in uniform. ‘I think he might be in trouble.’
And then I heard it. A deep, rumbling snore.
I recognised the sound, and the idiosyncratic bouquet that accompanied it, wafting under the cubicle door.
‘Is that you, Henry?’
Henry is a street-drinking, frequent flying, sometimes-punching, pain-in-the-butt.
I rap on the door.
‘You can’t sleep in the cubicle, mate. Other people want to use it. Sleep outside in the waiting area like everyone else.’
Some precarious crashing noises, then the cubicle lock slots back and the door opens. And there he is, the famous salt-and-pepper beard caked in awfulness. He says something dreadful, the verbal equivalent of melting plastic, then blinks twice, leans forward, and lets gravity get to work on his legs.
‘There you go,’ I tell the man. ‘All yours.’
He takes a look inside, stands there indecisively.
‘Thanks,’ he says.
But one of the most thrilling episodes was when I went in the toilets and found two engineers in there, one up a ladder, one on his knees with a wrench. They’d taken the suspended ceiling down and the panels behind the urinals, and suddenly you could see the mysterious workings of the place, the pipes and ducts and so on, and the great, dark space above.
‘Oh my god! It’s actually really high in here!’ I tell them.
‘Can I use the erm.. you know?’
I stand at the urinal, looking up, like I’m pissing in the Sistine Chapel.
‘Wow!’ I say. ‘It’s a shame you have to put the ceiling back on.’
The one on the ladder looks down on me.‘Why?’ he says. ‘How much room do you need?’