Where TV echoes my own sentiments
I was watching a re-run of A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie on Paramount Comedy a few minutes ago.
Two of their characters were bemoaning the poor state of a roller towel in the public lavatories and
pointing out that the promises of the maintenance people to replace the towel were just hot air.
"And you can't dry your hands on hot air", quipped Stephen Fry.
This simple gag is all that it took to get me to sit down and put finger to keyboard on the subject
of hand washing facilities in public toilets. Before you get the notion that I am quick to complain on
any subject that occurs to me, let me state, quite honestly, that this matter has been on my mind
for a very long time.
Although I could probably write a longer article on the subject of why taps are made almost impossible
to use (a recent washroom had me frantically waving my hand in front of an infra-red sensor to try and
make the 5 second burst of lukewarm water start up again), I will leave that matter for a later date. The
writer Donald Norman, in his book The Design of Everyday Things, tells the story of the badly designed tap
far better than I can.
So, let's look at the things I dislike about the public toilet:
- The wafer - that piece of well worn, well used soap, which was once a bar and is now a nest of
other people's dirt. Impossible to pick up, because it has become welded to the basin, this is best at
getting under your fingernails as you attempt to pick it up to use it. It threatens to disintegrate any minute, but you have to use it sparingly since it is the only cleanser available across all ten sinks.
- The futile pump - after fathoming out how to get the soap out of the metal arm that sits over the sink,
you discover that pushing down on the hidden pump has no effect. It's out of juice. You frantically try pumping it
anyway, as though it may start working or suddenly find a spare drop of the liquid soap. It's not going to work.
With tail between your legs, you move to the other sinks and find them to be similarly empty.
- Pink stink - a special kind of hand soap that keeps germs away due to its overpowering
smell. Guaranteed to make you wonder whether the smell of your own dirt would have been preferable.
- The inertia-reel roller towel - designed to stop anyone taking too much towel in one go. This is
a roller towel that can only be rolled very slowly.
- The slackless roller tower - the attendants have a competition to see who can rig up the roller
towel with the least slack. This makes it impossible to grasp a wet hand through the towel, as you might
normally dry your hands, and leaves you to wipe your palms across its taut face and then give up.
- Disintegrating paper - this is the soft absorbent-looking paper which dissolves on contact with water.
You have to pull a few extra ones out of the dispenser because they have melted together on first contact
with a damp digit.
- The hot air hand drier - Satan's joke against people with wet hands.
My real gripe is against the hot air hand drier. Everything else pales into insignificance in comparison
with the hot air drier. Why? because they are so up themselves... they have a propaganda campaign written
on them, filling your head with modern lies about their efficacy and benefits:
- World drier corporation hand driers are better for the environment.
- They eliminate waste paper and reduce the cutting down of trees.
- They improve your health and sanitary conditions by cutting down on contamination from paper towel waste.
- They leave your hands drier and healthier.
- They cure your piles, impotence and work-related stress, while providing an interest free loan for
any amount between two and fifteen thousand pounds...
Ok, so they don't make that last claim. However, all the others are on there somewhere. And the instructions
that are printed are even more wishful thinking:
- Push the button to start (or hold your hands under the drier - whichever type is installed).
- Shake your hands under the hot air to remove any drops of water.
- Rubs your hands under the hot air until they are dry.
It sounds marvellous - no picking up of towels, no fuss and beautifully dry hands - hard to resist. However,
the real instructions are as follows:
- When your turn comes in the long queue of people trying to use the two hand driers for the entire
washroom, press the, now filthy, button on the front of the hand drier to start it.
- Alternatively, if it is an automatic drier, place your hands near the sensor.
- The drier will start. If you are lucky the air will be warm. Most likely, it will be body temperature.
- Rub your hands under the air for one second.
- Repeat the steps to start the drier. If this is an automatic drier, it will automatically start and then
cut out within half a second, so try to get a friend to operate the sensor.
- If you did not go to the toilet with a friend, wave your hands around near the sensor, in the hope that it
will realise that you're still there.
- Rub your hands vigorously under the stream of air. If you are lucky, the fan will be effective enough to
entertain you with a view of the water droplets moving over your skin. Don't expect them to evaporate.
- After a minute's vain attempts to get dry, walk away from the drier, wiping your hands on your trousers.
So maybe I've gone on long enough now. Needless to say, I prefer a straight forward towel, paper being better
for assurance of one careful owner. It's clear to me that automatic hand driers are badly designed, environmentally
unfriendly devices, made by people who have no intention of ever using them. My advice, wear towelling trousers!
17 August 2001