Flushed with embarrassment

I feel I need to apologise to people who were (admittedly until now) unaware of my scorn.

I need to apologise to North American users of portaloos. Porta pottys. Shitboxes. Cabinets of doom. Portable toilets. Plastic shitters.

You see, I would read on Reddit and Facebook and other forms of expression the abject horror people would feel when they were faced with using a portaloo. I thought: “Yeah, they can get a bit stinky, particularly at race startlines with all the nervous shitters, but jesus! It’s just for a few minutes!”

I just didn’t understand the general revulsion until the other week when we were cycling round Stanley Park in Vancouver and stopped at a small park playspace. The park authorities were renovating the public washrooms there, and had put in a bank of hired portaloos. Until then, I didn’t know that North American portaloos aren’t like Australian portaloos. They aren’t the same design.

My Australian friends, North American portaloos DON’T HAVE A BOWL.

Seriously. It’s just a wide mouthed toilet seat and lid, atop a large plastic box with a big hole, filled with blue liquid. (And floating used toilet paper, bobbing like jellyfish). At least with the classic Australian long drop bush toilets there’s a good metre or so between your arse and the pile of poo, but here, there’s not even that. Maybe 15 centimetres, max, between you and a small lake of blue liquid.

That this was not a one off was semi-confirmed last week when we were in Seattle (maybe it’s a Pacific Northwest thing, but still, two different countries). We were heading into an exhibit, and they had a bank of portaloos set up outside. I needed to go, and was a bit curious as to whether my horrific discovery was an aberration, but no – a big old hole again.

The portaloos back home have a seat, a bowl and a flap at the bottom of the bowl connected to a foot operated pump that allows you to blue water flush your waste away into the plastic box, leaving the bowl, if not semi-pristine, at least not completely loaded up with the aftermath of the human digestive system. There is also a small sink with running water (attached to a smaller, foot operated pump) and usually some spray soap in a dispenser so you can wash your hands.

It wasn’t until this trip that I realised that Australian portaloos are relatively civilised.

Australian portaloos give you the ability to pretend that if you were to accidentally drop something into the bowl – a mobile phone, or an energy gel packet – that it would be salvageable. I mean we all know that if anyone actually dropped their iPhone X into a portaloo toilet bowl that they’d immediately be calculating how they feel about disposing of A$1000, but you still get that choice! In North America you don’t get that choice: one poorly angled pocket emptying moment and it’s goodbye device.

So please consider this an apology to my North American brethren; your revulsion is completely understandable.

Too long for Twitter, the first in an occasional series.

Target in Australia sell a small range of useful personal items; makeup sponges, cotton buds, packets of spectacle cleaning cloths. They have a nice simple design and in the case of their handbag sized packs of ten tissues, a cute name:  A tissue for your sniffle issues.

These tissue packs they sell singly or in packs of 12. They are ridiculously cheap too; a pack of twelve costs a whole $2.

I buy the 12 pack and keep a pack in my handbag. Sometimes they come in handy as a napkin if I’m eating and not in a restaurant, or if I go to a public loo that is completely lacking in loo paper; that sort of thing.

(Quick sidebar note: a number of Asian countries do not have toilet paper in public loos so these handbag packs are perfect for that. Don’t buy the Target ones; just buy some random brand when you get there. A chemist, roadside stall or 7/11 will sell them.)

The best time to have them however, is on public transport. I am a huge advocate for public transport. The amount of cars it takes off the road is massive and the cost to passengers is relatively low, particularly in relation to the cost of city parking and general wear and tear on your vehicle. The convenience of being able to read on my commute to work is so very welcome.

There is a social compact on public transport. You can sit there and read and pretend you are in your own personal bubble. You can listen to music and ignore everyone else in the bus or carriage without appearing rude. For introverts like me this is glorious.

What I’ve never been able to do is ignore the sniffers. The people who conciously or unconsciously gently sniff their nose instead of giving it one good solid blow. Most of the time it’s because they don’t have a tissue, but sometimes they don’t even realise that they are doing it. You sit there, on tenterhooks, waiting for the next bloody sniff. And it happens all year round, not just in winter.

But if you’ve got these incredibly cheap 10 pack of tissues in your handbag you can offer the sniffer a tissue (or the whole packet!) which fixes their problem and yours. Give it to them with a smile and you look like a pleasant friendly public transport neighbour all the while thinking “If you don’t bloody stop sniffing I’ve going to stab you in the face.”