April 19, 2007

I’m sitting in the office and, as per my usual body rhythm, nature is calling me to partake in some sitting-down toilet-based action. I make my regular mid-morning trip to the toilet. It’s a convenient, healthy, time-efficient way of taking a pre-lunch break.

The toilet nearest to my office has not been decorated in over 20 years. I flick the light switch; the solitary light above buzzes and blinks into action. The bleak fluorescent light bounces off the stark gray wallpaper, gray linoleum floor, and gray ceiling. The wallpaper has cracked at points, exposing old wallpaper designed to look like tiles. Presumably the old wallpaper was put up in the mid 60’s when these buildings were taken over by the fast-expanding University. Sheets of toilet roll lie on the floor, and hard green paper towels overflow the bin by the door.

I look down. Here I have a toilet seat covered in multiple yellow blotches and a couple of short, thick black hairs.* I grab a handful of toilet paper and scrub thoroughly; I’d rather not sit down on someone else’s piss.

Sitting, I stare in front of me. Across the toilet on the gray wallpaper, somebody’s drawn a penis. As is typical, they’ve drawn it all wrong — if it were real, it’d be too long and thin to be useful to anybody, much like Barbie. It’s funny how our perceptions change in relation to scale.

Some things are common ground across many parts of the human race, certainly across the Western world: toilets are difficult to keep clean, and the walls of gent’s toilets will be adorned with phallus-like imagery. This amuses me. This is a toilet at the heart of a world-leading University, in a department doing very strong research, way above-par teaching. We are attracting lots of money, business relations, students, and staff. Yet there it is, evidence that even academically inclined people are still human: the drawing of a penis.

* Toilet seat etiquette is always a tricky subject (though I suspect that the only solution is for everybody to return both the toilet seat and lid to the down position, thus forcing all to use the toilet as they want, and return it to a neutral state afterward).