The decision to travel around Australia for 12 months in a van without an ensuite was a naive one. We could have packed a porta-potty or a bucket with a seat but space is an issue, so every day I play public toilet roulette.
In the game show ‘Let’s Make a Deal’, contestants had to choose from one of three curtains to win a prize. That nervous tension they felt as they hoped they’d chosen correctly, is how I feel every time I open the door to a public loo. Will I be the winner of a comfortable commode where I can sit and ponder, or will I be left gagging, wondering how anyone could have so little self-pride?
Having seen more splatter patterns than a crime scene investigator, I’ve learnt to peer gingerly from the door to determine whether it’s safe before proceeding. It’s not hard to flush, but to do it properly, as a cleaner once explained, you need to hold down the button long enough for the rinse cycle to complete.
Doing my bit to keep Australia beautiful, I use the scrubbing brush, I pick up the corner of toilet paper that breaks off and I generally take responsibility for my own shit. From what Carl tells me, the men’s latrine is worse. There are toilet towers being built with each player contributing their own block in a communal game of reverse Jenga. Tallest tower wins.
I’ve been to restrooms in cafes, pubs and malls that were so splendid I’ve sat back and enjoyed a flick through Facebook. These toilets are escape pods for introverts like me, who’ll take any alone time they can get. Overstaying my welcome, I’ve had the lights time out, leaving me to clean up affairs in the dark. Waving your arms up and down in a cubicle does not reactivate the movement sensor. Nor does making a baseball mitt of one-ply prevent a finger from breaking through. Like reverse Jenga, ‘Shit or Shadow?’ is a not a fun game to lose.
With their clean ablution blocks, van parks are winners. For the duration of my visit, I’m guaranteed a seat. Unless it’s in the morning, then it’s all on, or – more accurately – all out. Whether it’s Beryl continually unravelling toilet paper to make a dunny nest to hold mother’s eggs or Doris, who snaps, crackles and pops more than a bowl of breakfast cereal – everything is painfully audible. A fan of the toilet flush strategy, the noise-cancelling effect of swilling water safeguards my dignity, but it sure puts my pelvic floor to work waiting for the cistern to refill.
Despite their perils, I’m eternally grateful for public toilets, as my alternative has been to go bush. Outdoors you develop skills you didn’t know you needed, including how to keep the sheep in the back paddock while opening the front gate in full morning squat. When there’s no loos for twos, many fail to use a shovel, even though they should. Carl hates the toilet paper strewn across the countryside but I’m grateful that those white flags warn of landmines.
When future Carl and I buy a fully self-contained van with a privy, I will be grateful every time I flush. And when that time comes, I hope Carl feels my gratitude as he’s waiting in line at the dump point along with Barry and Wally and the rest of his cassette comrades – our unsung heroes.
Van life with no loo, my arse!