Skip to “The Loo”, My Darling

I have a major fascination with restrooms, washrooms, lavoratories, loos, washclosets, toilets – you know those places where you go – well, you know.   I know this seems like a really random thing, but having been stricken with a chronic bladder disorder (it has a medical name but I prefer to call it  “cranky bladder”) I have come to have a love/hate relationship with washrooms, which depending on their condition, add heightened stress to an already  stressful situation. I take a miracle pill three times a day that certainly helps and I am really lucky that it worked for me as 25% of the women afflicted with a “cranky bladder” get no relief whatsoever. And so when my husband (Loverboy) and I planned a trip to Ireland, the idea of traveling around and trying to locate a decent washroom was a definite concern.

The whole washroom-issue-while-traveling has probably been heightened by a trip to China I took a few years ago.  Some of the washrooms in China are quite interesting and can provide plenty of challenges for the uninitiated.  I remember my first foray into what is called a squatter.  I had traveled for 21 hours to reach my destination in Nanjing.  Upon my arrival, my hosts whisked me away to a restaurant where we shared a hot pot and some quarts of beer (therein lies the problem, as my mother would say).  By the time we were ready to leave the restaurant, I really had to use the washroom.  I made my way to one and when I got in and closed the door, I realized it was nothing more than an hole in the floor.  Now, never having had to use a hole in the floor (even the most primitive outhouse I have ever used had a seat of sorts) I was helpless to know how to even begin.  Using a squatter requires agility and skill that I certainly didn’t have, and in most instances where I was forced to use one, the results were sketchy, at best.  I needed at least four hands to deal with everything that was involved however, I was only born with two hands so that was an issue.  I won’t go into details as no one needs to have that picture in their heads but let’s just say I celebrated when I found a washroom with a “Canadian” toilet and my “cranky bladder” was very happy. After a couple of weeks in China, it did get a little easier but it was never something I was really comfortable with – kind of like using chopsticks!

So now Loverboy and I were traveling to another foreign country and I could only imagine the horrifying washrooms we would encounter.  We arrived in Ireland in the early morning hours and so couldn’t check into our hotel.  We were able to check our bags with the front desk and then found the public washrooms in the hotel.  Imagine my delight to find a beautifully clean washroom with stalls that had floor to ceiling doors.  So private and comfortable.  My “cranky bladder” felt a little less cranky with this discovery.  Our hotel was the lovely Grand Hotel in Malahide, located outside Dublin, so I figured this was an anomaly and things would go downhill from there – kind of like how the medieval bathrooms in castles worked.

Traveling across Ireland for two weeks provided me plenty of opportunities to go to washrooms, especially as there is a pub on every corner, in every city, town, village, field (well, you get the picture). Whether I was in hotels, pubs, restaurants, museums, on the bus that we traveled on, in outhouses on a farm (honestly, I could have eaten off the floor of this one!), in castles, or in gaols (jails in Irish and I was only visiting, I swear!), each and every washroom I entered was the same – meticulously clean with private stalls that my “cranky bladder” really appreciated.  Now Ireland probably doesn’t think to advertise their wonderfully clean and private washrooms as a reason to visit their country,  but I really think it is something to celebrate and share with the world. There are a lot of people out there with “cranky bladders” or other “cranky parts” that would appreciate the attention Ireland gives to its washrooms.

One of the coolest washrooms I visited (and yes, I even took a picture) was in Galway.  We had eaten lunch at the Kings Head Pub and I used the washroom before I left.  Well, five minutes later, my “cranky bladder” started to complain again.  I figured I would wait until I got on the bus but as Loverboy and I were walking down the main street, we passed a modern looking steel building (really stood out sitting among the cobble stone sidewalks and limestone cottages) with the international symbol for washroom on the doors, two for women and two for men.  My “cranky bladder” decided this was as good a place as any and so I sidled up to the door.  The cost to use the washroom was twenty cents and when I put my money in the slot, the steel door whooshed open (kind of like in a Get Smart episode) and I stepped inside, the door closing automatically behind me.  In front of me stood a modern steel toilet and on the walls were buttons and little cubby holes.  It was pretty freaky.  A voice began announcing all the features and how to use them.  You pushed a button by the toilet and toilet paper came down into one of the cubbies.  To get soap and wash your hands, you had to push other buttons and put your hands into another cubby.  As in most washroom establishments in Ireland, you used a powerful dryer (not wimpy dryers like the ones in Canada) to thoroughly dry your hands in a matter of seconds.  Very few washrooms had paper towels, obviously an environmentally friendly choice,  which probably helped keep the washrooms cleaner.  (I am always puzzled by the number of people who can’t get their paper towels into the garbage can when I visit washrooms in Canada.) The whole experience made my “cranky bladder” happy; the only worry I had was how to open the door to leave, but I finally located the exit button and with a whoosh I was out.  (I will be using this setting in a future piece of writing. This was the best twenty cent investment I ever made!)

Ireland really was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.  In any direction I looked, a picture was waiting to be taken.  The scenery was breathtaking; the washrooms were phenomenal!   I know I will return to Ireland one day and it will be with the knowledge that I can skip to “the loo” without having to worry about my “cranky bladder”.  After all, there are so many other things to worry about when you visit Ireland like:

  • Where is the nearest pub?
  • What time does the traditional music start at the pub?
  • What time does the pub close?

A decent washroom needs to be the least of our worries!




Toilet Troubles!

Getting back to reality after a vacation takes a little bit of getting use to.  Going from the sand and sun to forecasted snowstorms in April can be hard to take, and a little depressing if you ask me. However, there have been so many interesting things that have happened in my life, post-vacation, that I really felt it important to overshare!

We are having some major toilet issues going on at our house.  I know talking about toilet troubles is probably not good form but bear with me – there are some lessons to be learned! We arrived home to water in our basement.  Now this is not an unusual event as we have an older home with a foundation that was poured over a few days – back in the olden days when our house was built, they had to use muscle power and a small mixer and it took several days to pour the cement for the foundation. This means there is a seam that sometimes allows the water in.  Nothing that we can’t deal with as we have a sump pump and an electric pump for those “accidents” that happen from time to time.

Anyway, I awoke on our return from vacation to hear water running in the basement and when I went to check it out, found out the overflow valve was spewing water.  I knew this was not a good thing so called Donnie (aka Loverboy) to come take a look.  He hummed and hawed and used his “plumber knowledge” to diagnose a blockage in the line inside the house.  (This had actually happened before when I was in an isolation room at the hospital having radiation treatments.  The downstairs toilet overflowed and Loverboy called me to ask what he should do.  Being unable to leave the area where I was without setting off multiple alarms and alerting the HazMat team, I told him to hang up the phone and call the plumber.)  So I took his diagnoses with a grain of salt and told him to call the plumber. He then decided to pump out the water that had collected in a few places. Normally, we pump the water into a big old cast iron double sink and this usually works like a charm, however this time both sinks filled up and threatened to overflow!  Not a good omen.

Meanwhile, I noticed that the toilet upstairs was not flushing very well.  We purchased a new toilet about ten years ago and it was designed with a “nifty” side button that you pushed to make the flush work.  It worked well for the last ten years but suddenly, the side button was not so “nifty” anymore as it would no longer flush the toilet.  This meant that we now were dealing with three issues having to do with bathroom features that we would rather not think about on a daily basis.

Of course, I had to head back to work which meant that Loverboy was left to tend to all these issues.  Dealing with household backups and breakdowns is one of his most favorite things to do!  And so, he began calling plumbers and contractors, trying to find someone who would help us with our problems. Meanwhile, I headed back to work for some of my own excitement that came by way of several emails from Natalia.

Now if you have never heard me mention Natalia before, it is because she is a new pen pal who found me via email.  I am not sure how she got my email address but I have received at least one email from her each day since my return to work. She is lovely gal from the Russian Federation who is looking for a man, and she has her standards.   Each day she discusses the characteristics she is looking for in a man and they include a “goodness man”, a “serious man”, a “smashing man”, a “reliable man”, a “respectable man”, a “good natured man”,  a “dependable man”, a “superb man” and finally, a “fair man”.  I am sure that I am all those things -well except for the “man” part so not sure why she is writing to me, but it does make for entertaining reading and I am really growing my vocabulary with her help. If I had any intention of writing back to her I would tell her that I am looking for a “plumber man” because it would be really good to have one of those right now!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Donnie finally found a plumber but he refused to come to the house and instead recommended we call the pressure wash guy with the camera who can see into your lines.  Of course, when a plumber recommends this you know what is next – “Will that be cash or credit card?” Ca-ching! Someone is about to become very rich and it is not me!  The blockage is outside the house, very close to the street but still on our property.  This means that we now require a contractor to come and dig up our lawn and walkway so that they can replace the errant sewer line.  Goodbye landscaping, hello mud! Ca-ching!!

As for the sink in the basement, the plumber did come over and decided it needed to be replaced because repairing it would cost about “as much as it costs to feed a family of seven for a year”.  Gotta love an old house! We now have a lovely plastic basin that will hopefully drain well and last for five or six years – about the lifetime of most things made today!

The toilet is another story.  We are still unable to flush it (well we can lift the lid, stick our hand into the scary disgusting water and lift the lever manually – yuck!).  I did go to the store where we bought it and they did attempt, half-heartedly, I might add, to try and contact the manufacturer but, guess what, they don’t make those “nifty” side buttons anymore!  What looked glamorous ten years ago, was no longer in vogue, so along with the lovely new plastic sink in the basement and a brand spanking new sewer line, we are going to have a beautiful new toilet to show off to friends and family.  Can’t wait until my next party!

So there you have it! Here are few lessons that I hope you take out of my story .  First of all buy a toilet that flushes like a real toilet.  Secondly, if you suspect you have a blockage in your sewer pipes, plan on winning the lotto and thirdly, if you find an old house for sale,  drive by, very quickly!  Thank goodness I took my vacation before all of this happened! In fact, I think I need another vacation now – preferably somewhere with working toilets and lots of vodka. Can anyone say “Russian Federation”?