I went to B&Q today to buy a sprayer to give to the nice man who’s doing a new garden path for my mother next week. He agreed to spray the horsetail weeds on her drive while he’s there.
Before I could look for the sprayer, I needed a quick pee. So I asked the first B&Q be-labelled person I could see if there was a ‘loo’. I said it in a Hugh-Grant-sort-of-a-way, not quite making eye contact, softly and a bit shiftily.
A TOILET?? he yelled, making everyone queueing at the tills turn round and I swear he was well within earshot of the Decorating and Electrical aisles too. YEA, IT’S DOWN THE BOTTOM ON THE LEFT! So there we are. The whole of Farnborough knew I needed to go and no-one else in a similar position needed to ask.
I admit I’d chosen ‘loo’ over ‘toilet’ advisedly, even though I had a hunch that ‘toilet’ might be the B&Q man’s nomenclature of choice. I’m reading Kate Fox’s brilliant Watching the English and ‘toilet’ is one of the ‘seven deadly sins’ in her section ‘linguistic class codes’.
When I got to the TOILET I saw one of the doors had a sign on it. I barely registered it, but assumed it was out of order. On closer inspection, I found this to be true but the notice read, on B&Q-branded, laminated notice paper: ‘Apologies. I am out of order.‘ So now we have talking toilets? Or was it a cry for help from someone in meltdown who’d locked themselves inside?
It was odd enough to stop me from heading straight back out to look for the sprayer. Was it supposed to be a bit ‘quaint’ maybe? Or less direct? I tried to imagine the meeting where signage had been discussed. “Should we be a bit more creative than just saying ‘Out of order’? Could we perhaps soften the bad news?” “Hmm, is it more customer-friendly to personalise it? I think customers may be less likely to complain if they feel they’ve been personally addressed, don’t you?” “Huh, maybe. Let’s do it, Mike.”
Then I saw the line underneath: ‘An engineer is on their way to fix me‘. Me? I? Sorry, but this is mad isn’t it? I mean I know we (and this is also peculiarly English) like to anthropomorphise animals (OK, I call my cat ‘darling’ sometimes), and we give human names to all sorts of things – from old cars to vicious hurricanes and even rescued blackbirds “The tiny chick, who has been named Eric, was found in a blocked drain covered in leaves…”
But a TOILET? I had a fleeting but horrible image of the seat lifting up and clicking down as it explained its predicament and asked for understanding. Maybe it even swivelled and snapped off a square or two of loo paper to wipe away a tear – or something worse.
Anyway does one really require an engineer to fix a loo? Apologies to my husband, a retired civil engineer who flies into a ready rage whenever ‘engineer’ is used to refer to one he assumes to be a mere lowly technician.
And when the ENGINEER arrives to fix the TOILET, how will they greet each other? “Hi there Terry (Terry Toilet), I’m here to help.” “Naw, mate, Terry’s next one along, I’m Trevor, and more to the point, what the hell kept yer…. Eddie was it?”