There’s a difference between a toilet cleaner and a toilet attendant. A toilet cleaner is someone whose job it is to clean toilets. (I’ve done my fair share, believe me. As a teen I used to clean the local sports centre before school every morning. Let me tell you that between the ladies and the gents, the ladies’ changing rooms was by far and away the more disgusting of the two. I got paid danger money, mind, so I was quite philosophical about unblocking drains of split ends, used plasters and tampons.)
A toilet attendant, however, is different. Their job is to lurk by the entrance to the convenience and guide you through, as if the ‘Toilet This Way’ sign was not obvious enough, and then point you to a cubical or urinal they believe is most suitable for your requirements. They’ll then mill around close by, putting you off going for a wee. Or worse, a poo. Cue stage fright.
That’s only the beginning, of course. After you’ve done your business, they’re there, hovering around the sinks, making it impossible to clean your hands without some kind of interaction with them. “Some soap, sir?”, they’ll smile, as they proffer a bottle of liquid goo. “Yes, why not?” you think to yourself. “I’ve completely forgotten how to wash my own frigging hands and my mum’s not here to show me so thanks, thanks for reminding me”.
I make a point of declining his kind offer and move to another sink, whereupon I’ll use its designated soap dispenser with the intention of spilling half of it across the sink accidentally-on-purpose, just to teach him a lesson. Invariably my chosen vessel will be empty and so I’m left with a dilemma: continue to wash my hands without the soap, demonstrating an unacceptable level of personal hygiene, or take his soap to prove that I always wash my hands with some form of antibacterial agent after going for a quick wee. The threat of publicly displaying bad toilet form supercedes my pride and I accept his soap, which he dispenses expertly in my perfectly clean palm.
Now that I have cleaned my hands of nothing more than sweaty embarrassment the toilet attendant steps between me and the electric hand drier mounted on the wall opposite. “Don’t use that, use these” the attendant suggests with a knowing smile as he offers a wad of napkins. “You know those machines never dry your hands completely. You’ll only walk out the toilet wiping your wrists on your jeans, so try my nice clean napkins. You won’t be disappointed.” By now the attendant has become fully integrated into my toilet routine and I find it hard not to look at the napkins. “I don’t want your stupid napkins”, I shout with my eyes. “Just get out my way and let me use the hand drier in peace. I know those things never work, though those new Dyson jobs do come quite close. But yours isn’t a Dyson. Hmmm, doesn’t matter. Step aside and let me use it, please.”
Depending upon my mood I’ll either mutter something under my breath and push past the attendant, crushing his well-worn, accomodating smile as he realises I’m nothing but another bolshie client who doesn’t appreciate the effort he has gone to to make my toilet experience more comfortable, or I’ll accept the napkins and begrudgingly dry my hands with them. By doing this the toilet attendant has won. He is now in the perfect position to guide me towards the exit, half standing in my way to hint that he would like some recompense for his efforts.
But as I wade my way through bits of soggy loo paper, dodge leaking urinals or twist my back on a broken toilet seat, don’t ever stand there and give me those puppy-dog eyes as I refuse to tip you for helping me with something that I am perfectly capable of, nay, more comfortable doing myself. I’m not five, I’m a grown-up. Let me wee in peace.
I think the only time I have ever given a toilet attendant money was when I visited a five-star hotel in the West End. I not only received soap and napkins, but also cologne, something for the weekend, a massage, my shoes cleaned and my trousers pressed all at the same time. Going to the loo was a pleasurable experience, akin to a comfortable evening in an oak-panelled gentleman’s club. All that was missing was the glass of port, a copy of the FT and a red leather armchair by an open fire. That kind of toilet experience I don’t mind paying for.