The etiquette and pitfalls of airport and aeroplane toilets

I’ll get straight to the point, the only people who should poo on an aeroplane are children under 10, the elderly and the infirm, and I maintain it should be a criminal offence (or at least grounds for an ASBO), for a normal, healthy human being to do one.

I also believe that no healthy human being wants to use an aeroplane toilet ever, at all, for anything, and you have to be pretty ill or sick in the head to actually take a crap in one, for doing so has to be the most selfish, most anti-social action anyone can ever knowingly undertake.

I feel self conscious just getting up to use the aeroplane loo because I know it’s clear to everyone where I am going.  If you’re not a member of staff and you’re walking down towards the back of the plane you’re going to the toilet.  Fact.  So don’t try and pretend you’re just stretching your legs, no-one buys that ‘well being’ nonsense any more.

And to make things worse, as if to bring even more attention to myself, I epically fail, time and time again, to walk in a straight line as I crash from aisle seat to aisle seat, zigzagging my way like a drunk towards the rear of the economy cabin.

I want to shout “It’s OK, I’m only going for a wee!“. I like to get in there, do my thing, and get back out, always remembering to wash my hands of course, and I set myself an internal target to do it all in under 150 seconds, that way people can be sure I only went in for a wee.  Any shorter and they think you didn’t practice full hygiene, any longer and they think you’ve done the unmentionable and actually done the dirty deed.

The worst thing is when a queue forms.  You feel self conscious for standing by someone’s seat, your crotch ominously close to their face as they try to ignore you and watch their tiny TV, and you try your damnedest not to sway and thrust your genitals even closer than they already are, due to that damned turbulence again.   And as the queue moves forward, you start to work out which toilet will become yours and, most importantly of all, who you will have to follow in there.

Now this might appear a little sexist but if I ever have to follow someone into the loo, I prefer it to be a female. Generally speaking, if the worst does happen, they are, on average, more fragrant than your average male.  Sorry lads but its true and if you’re honest you know it as well. The worst thing, the Dante’s Inferno scenario of airport toilet attendance, is when you arrive at the cluster of WCs only to find them all occupied, and then from nowhere a queue forms behind you.

Now you are trapped.  You are now committed to enter the first toilet that becomes available. On occasion the nightmare scenario actually happens and out walks a very large, hairy, meat eating, beer drinking bloke, all 110kg of him, looking rather shame faced as he opens the door gingerly and begins his walk of shame back to his seat.  You’re not even in there yet and the smell hits the back of your throat.  You look at the person in the queue behind you and try to express, nay, plead, a sentiment in your eyes that says ‘Please be aware I didn’t create that smell, please pass word down the line that it is not I that did this’.

But it’s too late, you are obliged to enter and close the door behind you, and as you slide the lock on the door, the light comes on and illuminates the disgracefully soiled pan.  The dirty b.astard. You feel like leaving and calling him back but he was big, very big.  And as you lift the seat (for you only want a wee) the seat feels warm to the touch. You recoil in horror as you realise from whence that warmth comes, and you feel sick and light-headed with anxiety.  You want to wee, wash and get out in under the critical 150 seconds, but if you do that. the next person in will think YOU are the filthy beast that created this cesspit.  But if you take too long and exceed the 150 second limit, the red lights will flash and the “He is taking a crap!!” klaxon will start to sound.  And when you leave they will DEFINITELY think it’s you!!

Of course the only sensible course of action is to do your stuff, wash thoroughly and get the hell out. And upon exiting the toilet you really want to shout at the top of your voice:

“It’s not me!, I didn’t make that smell! I didn’t make that mess! It was that burly bloke in seat 33F!”

But you can’t, and inevitably your eyes make contact with the poor sod who has to now follow you in, and you guiltily make your own walk of shame back down the aisle, looking angrily across at Caveman Kev in seat 33F as you bounce by.

Of course to avoid all this, the chivalrous thing to do is to go BEFORE you board the plane. That’s what I try to do. It’s much more civilised and far more sociable for everyone. But this isn’t without its pitfalls either, as you may not be alone in having this thought, especially so if you wait until you reach your departure gate, because rest assured the loo nearest the point of departure will be busy with like minded passengers also wishing to have one final ‘evacuation’ before boarding.  Before boarding YOUR plane, for these people aren’t strangers any more, they are your fellow passengers.  So my advice is always try to go in the main lounge WC where you have a much lower risk of meeting your plane buddies.

Queuing for a trap in a Gents toilet is more than slightly awkward. I know women often have horrendous problems with queues at public conveniences because they have no choice but to use the cubicle, whereas us men, we have a choice.  99% of us use the urinals for a quick wee and we’re out, simple as that. Simple that is, until you need a poo.

Whereas a woman in a loo queue can look her fellow queuers in the eye and suggest she is only going in for a wee, us blokes queuing for a trap are there for one thing and one thing only – to do a poo.  And it is awkward, and it is embarrassing – the bloke in front of you needs a poo, the bloke behind you needs a poo and the bloke leaving the trap has just done a poo.  It’s awful.

I was once in such a situation, caught in the line of shame, at the airport prior to flying and I had made the fatal mistake of leaving it until I reached the departure gate toilets where it was very busy.  And to make things worse, the design of the Gents was such that the queue that formed for the traps, blocked access to the urinals from the entrance (see attached schematic), so as us ‘offloaders’ queued, a man entered and only wanted a wee.  He chirpily tried to make his way to the urinals only to find his way blocked, and as I was the nearest person to him, he turned to me and cheerily said:

“Sorry mate, are you wanting to use that?” (pointing to the empty urinal), to which I replied, and this phrase is etched in my memory:

“No it’s OK, I’m waiting to do a poo”.

You could have a heard a pin drop.  FFS why oh why oh why did I say that?

All I had to say was “No, go ahead“.  Three. Simple. Words.


But no, not content with standing in the line of shame, I had to then tell this stranger, this happy-go-lucky, ever so chipper fellow who only wanted a quick wee, I had to tell him that I, a total stranger, was “waiting to do a poo“.

Had I been 4 yrs old I might have got away with it, but I was 47.

I stared at my shoes.  Other people in line stared at their shoes.  I contemplated leaving. Leaving the queue, leaving the airport, driving to the seaside, leaving my clothes on the beach and drowning myself in shame.

No it’s OK, I’m waiting to do a poo“.  You idiot.

And of course, inevitably, that man did board my plane.  He sat in seat 33F.


Believing …

When I was a kid I genuinely thought I could influence the outcome of sporting events.  I used to watch a lot of test match cricket, and if England were doing badly, for example needed to take a wicket, I would convince myself I needed to leave the room for 5 minutes and it would happen. Sometimes it did happen, and if I had been having a wee when I was out of the room, I believed it was my wee that forced the outcome.

By the time of Headingley, 1981, when England did the unthinkable and came back from the brink to beat Australia I was drinking tea by the bucketful.  I did it for my country, pissing like a racehorse throughout the day, and I have to say I felt rather peeved when Botham and Willis grabbed all the headlines the next morning.

Same thing used to happen with football.  If it was a penalty against my team, I would shout loudly to anyone that would listen, “He is bound to score! 100% guaranteed!”, whereas if it was my team taking it, I would proclaim “He’s bound to miss! He never scores penalties!”.  This reverse psychology occasionally worked in effecting the right outcome.  Onlookers thought I was a fool.  “You were wrong!” they would shout.  But I knew they were just idiots.  Little did they know that I was applying reverse psychology to the penalty kickers to influence the outcome my way.  Of course sometimes I failed, and the result went against my team and I felt sick, but at least I looked knowledgeable by making the right call.  

The worst thing was if it was a big sporting event of national importance where I was no longer in control.  If it was perhaps a big Euro Finals game, maybe a semi-final match for England, where people generally not associated with football would become interested as the whole country readied itself for the match, and many people not normally associated with football would often say “Oh England should win comfortably tonight against Germany”, and I would look on angrily, muttering under my breath that this cockiness and arrogance was misplaced and was going to get us knocked out.  I would reply with a barrage of reasons why we would lose in the hope of cancelling out their ill-educated and misplaced optimism.  If England won, I had done it, if they lost, it was those cocky amateurs that spoiled the party for the entire nation.  

To think Stuart Pearce blasted high and wide because I hadn’t had time to shout “He will miss!”. He was crying and it was all my fault.  I barely slept a wink that night through guilt.  40+ years of hurt and still counting …

I know it feels silly and stupid but I still do it.  When Alastair Cook carried his bat through to 160 not out on Saturday, I was watching the match on my iPad.  I have a large wired HD TV in the lounge, but Sunday morning I felt I should continue to watch the final day on my 10″ iPad via dodgy WiFi.  I convinced myself that this was just silly superstition, and I settled down in front of the TV, only to see England fall apart, 5 wickets for 60 runs or something, who cares.  We lost, and I scolded myself, ‘If only I had watched on my iPad’ it might have been different.

Now let’s pause for a moment at this point and reflect on this.  I am fairly sure every single one of us would agree that such behaviour is misguided, illogical, juvenile and rather silly.  We’re all agreed, right?  We’ve probably all done it and then reprimanded ourselves afterwards. No?  Just me? 

I think today the establishment have a name for this condition.  I don’t know what it is, but it’s almost certainly a mental flaw, something related to paranoia perhaps.  To actually believe you can influence the outcome of an event 3,000 miles away in Ahmedabad from your settee in Buckinghamshire, simply by thought alone makes you look a bit silly. Fact.

I know it’s ridiculous, and as I get older it becomes even more pathetic.  It’s kind of endearing when an 8 yr old girl closes her eyes, crosses her fingers and makes a wish, but when a middle aged adult does it, it suggests mental health problems.  

And that’s because it makes no logical sense.  If my neighbour does the opposite to me, do we cancel each other out?  If Germany have 50,000 people doing it but England only have 49,999 people doing it, does Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce miss? Of course not.

Call it superstition, call it belief, but whatever it is, it’s certainly illogical.  I mean who do I think I am?  To have such talent I must, by deduction, be at the centre of the universe. I must actually be, or very closely connected to, God. There can be no other explanation unless you can put your faith into something we don’t yet understand. “We don’t know how it works, it just does” some might say, but that kind of suggests there is a God-like person, a superior something that we can’t comprehend so it all comes back to the God argument anyway.

I think I might have mentioned before that I have a problem with religion.  Try as I may I struggle to believe in a monotheistic God.  I’ve tried but I just can’t.  And yet, I look at nature, the wonder and absolute beauty of the universe, the sheer complexity of it all, how everything just works, everything comes together to make the world operate, and I think it can’t be entirely accidental, there has to be something preceding it all, something must be in control.  Yet believing in a monotheistic God doesn’t make any logical sense to me. 

I do admire, and genuinely respect religious people.  It must be nice to have that feeling of being overseen, of being protected.  I worry about death, I think many of us do, but religious people seem to be able to at least find peace with it, reconcile it somehow, and that must be great.  I just don’t know how they do it.  

I think my biggest failing is that when confronted by religion I try to reduce everything down to logic and science instead of just applying faith.  Take prayer.  I’m not sure of the strict OED definition but prayer seems to be about communication with your God, one to one, private communication, but I can’t see past the physics.  I don’t understand how He hears prayers? How does He handle 2 billion people all praying at once?  Do your palms have to be together, fingers pointing upwards? Or can you cross your fingers?  Must your hands be touching?  Must you ‘speak’ your prayer or can you ‘think’ it? And if you can think it, what about all my other not-so-nice thoughts, does He hear those too? Uh-oh.

And how do you sign off from a prayer?  I normally use the word ‘Cheers’ on email but that sounds a bit rude, a bit casual for Him.  And are prayers assessed? Is there a criteria one has to pass or are they all answered?  Actually, I know they’re not all answered because I have prayed and yet Barnsley still lost to Ipswich at Wembley, although I have to admit when Craig Hignett’s goal went in I did for a brief moment think that maybe, just maybe, someone was up there listening.

And what if people involved in a war pray for a successful outcome for their side?  What about people on the other side of the war praying for the opposite outcome?  Are we back to the Germany v England scenario where biggest vote counts?  

I see athletes on the starting line making the sign of the cross.  So how does that work?  What if all 8 people on the 100m start line all pray, who wins then?  And anyway I’ve seen footballers make the sign of the cross as they stepped onto the pitch and they were shit. 

So is there really that much difference in me thinking that having a wee causes a wicket at the cricket, versus me praying for that wicket to happen?

Haircut … One Hundred and Eighty!

I’m getting ready for a haircut.  I’m not very good at getting my hair cut. I can’t ever decide when the time is right, so any eventual trim is usually preceded by 7-10 days of me pacing back and forth, looking in the mirror, trying to convince myself I don’t need to have it done just yet … or do I?

I worked out the other day – a haircut every 2 months for the last 30 years, that’s 6 x 30 = 180 haircuts (my mum did it until I left home – see photo from “music” blog below).  It should be getting easier over time, but it’s just as hard as it’s ever been.

Haircut 100 … + 80, see what I did there?
My fluctuating thought processes:
Odd Days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday):
“Don’t get your hair cut.  Grow it for a change.  Be different.  You only live once.  Every middle aged man has the same haircut, why don’t you just be individual?  You’re going bald and you know it, don’t encourage it by cutting away what little you have left for Chrissakes.  Branson looks good with long hair”


Even days (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday):
“Look at you, you look ridiculous, you’re in your 40s, get your hair cut FFS.  Don’t you have any self respect? Think how nice it would be with short hair, you’d be sorted for the holidays.  Just get it done, it’s 30 minutes and then it’s all over, in and out”

I flit between the two states, stuck in this cycle until I realise I look nothing like Richard Branson and more like Hair Bear.  And my head is starting to itch.

>> At the Barbers <<

The barber(ess) and I sometimes make small talk – sport if its a bloke, holidays/weather/kids if its a woman.  I prefer women cutting my hair in the same way I prefer women doctors.  Women do all the talking and you just have to answer questions.  There’s a hierarchy.  Women are just nicer.  With two blokes it’s slightly awkward, slightly edgy.  Neither of you want to talk really but you feel obliged.  And if it is sport and he supports a shit team you start to dislike them and that’s not helpful.  Or worst of all, they don’t like sport – then what do you talk about?

Regardless of who is cutting my hair we usually start with this little charade:
“What would you like today?”
“Oh just a trim back and sides please, keep a bit of length on top” (going bald, ffs)
“How do you want the back? Straight or tapered?”

Straight or tapered?  I want to scream “Short!”.  I don’t understand that question.  I never have but it’s too late to ask now.  I’ve been coming here for nigh on 15 years.  And I’ve never seen the back of my hair.  How do other people know how to answer that question?  Did I miss a lesson at school?

I usually just guess and hope they don’t laugh.  I genuinely choose one at random …

“Tapered please”
“Pffffft! are you serious?  Hey Kev, this bloke says he wants ‘tapered’, come, take a look!”

I have never had that response but I always expect it.  One of these days.

And then we’re off.  I watch the clumps of grey hair fall onto my rubber/plastic cloak.  I always feel self conscious having my hands under there, especially if it’s a female.  I don’t want them to think I’m playing with myself, but if you have your hands folded in your lap, under a cape, it looks a bit dodgy doesn’t it?

If it’s a woman cutting my hair …

“Going anywhere nice for your holidays this year?”
“Not sure.  Maybe Spain”
“Oooh I love Spain I go every year with my kids and my partner.  We go to Magaluf”
(Partner? Wow, I wonder if she’s …)
“Yeah, Steve, he’s my partner, he loves the sun”
“Where do you go in Spain then?”
“Not sure, maybe fly to Alicante and find a villa”
“Oh that’s lovely, do you have children?”
“Yeah, 3, one of each” 😉

“3, one of each” is my favourite ever joke in response to “how many kids do you have?”.  It’s the sole reason I had 3 children.  I think I nicked it from Eric Morecambe, it’s timeless.

“Aww that’s so cute, how old are they?” [No reaction to my joke, whatsoever.  I feel slightly cross]

… and so the conversation continues until …

(holds up mirror)
“How’s that?”
(Oh God I look more like Chris Moyles by the day) “Yeah, that’s fine”

My reflection

And if it’s a man cutting my hair …
snip …. snip …. tick, tock
snip … tick, tock …
“See the game last night?”
“Yeah, Man Utd nicked it again, never a penalty, and it must have been in the 97th minute?”
“Man United are my team actually, you an Arsenal fan then?”
“No I’m not.  Sorry I should have guessed that by the accent.  You from Guildford?”
“No, Epsom.  Sounded like you were an Arsenal fan” {edgy}
“Not really, I just said I didn’t like Man Utd” Ffs
{very edgy}
snip … snip … snip
“Do you play?”
(Oh here we go) “No.  Used to”
“What position?”
“Winger, bit like Martin Bullock … I mean Giggsy”
snip … {snigger} … snip
“I play Saturday mornings for the first team, nearly turned pro once”
“Oh ….  really”
{I stifle a yawn}
“Yeah, I was with Watford.  Gaffer told me I was on the verge of the first team but then I broke my leg”
“And so you took up hairdressing?” Ffs ….
… and so the stilted, slightly tense, slightly edgy conversation continues until …

(holds up mirror)

“How’s that?”

(Oh Christ I look like Willie Carson, Ffs) “Yeah, that’s fine”


Music (was my first love …)

“Music was my first love,
and it will be my last,
music of the future,
and music of the past.
To live without my music,
would be impossible to do,
in this world of trouble,
my music pulls me through”

Those are the opening lines to John Miles epic song, simply titled “Music”  I was about 12 when I fell in love with that song.  I had it on a cassette tape which I played on a portable cassette recorder which looked a bit like the one on the right.  I taped it off the radio, probably Radio 1, yes that’s right kids, we used to listen to Radio 1 too, when it was full of perverts as it turns out.  Anyway, that cassette thing was a right ballache to handle.  Finding the start of a song if it was in the middle of the tape was an art in itself, you then had to rewind if you wanted to hear it again, but rewind I did, over and over and over and over.

This was one of my earliest memories of my obsessive personality. I remember I had the cassette recorder on the floor by the settee.  I watched, mesmerised as the left tape reel got fatter and the right tape reel got thinner as the song progressed.  After a while I could rewind first attempt to within 2 seconds of the start of that song.  I was that good at tape rewinding that if it had been an Olympic event I would have been in the 1978 Montreal Olympics representing the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire in the Junior, nay, maybe even Adult, Tape Rewinding competition, gold medal nailed on.  Sadly it wasn’t a recognised event and still isn’t to this day and another of my talents lays undiscovered, tumbleweed blowing over it’s rocky, unkempt grave in the land of make believe and what might have been.

Anyway, I digress.  This blog isn’t about my tape rewinding abilities, it’s about music.  That song by John Miles was one of my first obsessions, and there were many more to follow, and indeed some before.  But, and this is the important point, there are two kinds of music.

Aged just 9  – Sugar Baby Love by The Rubettes hit the charts.  I wanted to be in The Rubettes.  I didn’t care much for the Bay City Rollers, you could shove them up your arse as far as I was concerned, and in fact many people did, allegedly, but for me it was The Rubettes and I wanted to be the lead singer, Alan Williams – check out this video, he’s the guy in front, and the photo on the left is me (Flamboro Caravan Park circa 1973/74), I was already cultivating the hair, not a bad likeness, you would have to agree.

Wanting to be in The Rubettes was me wanting an image.  Yes I liked their music but I liked the look, I was a genuine fan of the band.  When I hear Sugar Baby Love now, I don’t just hear a 3 minute bubble gum pop song, I’m back in my bedroom in Roehampton Rise.  I vividly remember dancing to that song.  I remember where I was standing, I remember where my bed was at the time, bed was on the right, I was facing the door which was slightly ajar, window was to my left, wardrobe behind me.  I don’t recall the song, I recall the experience.

But there’s a world of difference in Sugar Baby Love by The Rubettes and Music by John Miles.  I would argue we all have a Rubettes in us.  Everyone of you will remember a similar feeling whether it be The Osmonds, Bay City Rollers, Bowie or Justin Bieber, we all have our childhood infatuations.  It’s the whole package we fall for – the sound, the look, the image, the impression, peer pressure, music in this context is almost incidental.  I love Sugar Baby Love because it brings back great memories, not because it’s a great song.  It is a 3 minute pop song.

Music, by John Miles on the other hand, was musically special to me.  When John sings the first line of that rousing chorus “music was my first love” the hair on the back of my neck stands on end, and when the strings kick in, I want to cry, it’s so beautiful.  I never knew what John Miles looked like, I never saw him on Top of the Pops, I never saw him on TV, nor ever read about him in magazines, talked about him to friends even.  This wasn’t an image thing like The Rubettes were, this was really serious.  I found the song one night listening to Radio Luxemburg.  The Rubettes was all about image, this was about something else.  Listening to a good song hurts in the same way as love hurts.

Fast forward 20 years and the Cranberries released Linger.  1993, I was driving a silver coloured Vauxhall Astra on the V3 in Milton Keynes, heading south, it was a sunny day, it had just been raining and the roads were still shiny, Linger came on the radio.  I had to pull over and stop the car.  I was on my way to work but I took a detour into town and bought the CD single.  That night I stayed up the whole night and must have played Linger over a 100 times.  It hurt I loved it so much.  Everytime I played it I wanted to cry.  I felt like I had lead in my stomach.  I felt sad but I couldn’t stop playing it.  It was so beautiful, but it hurt, like unrequited love.

A couple of years later, Tracy Thorn from Everything But The Girl, collaborated with Massive Attack on Protection.  Unfckingbelievable.  Nearly 8 minutes long (original version) and still woefully short.  I can get lost in that song in the same way I imagine a Buddhist gets lost in meditation.  It takes me places I couldn’t ever go otherwise.  “I stand in front of you, take the force of the blow, Protection”.  I think I know what Tracy was trying to say, but I also have a hundred other ideas what it could mean, to me.  I like to listen to this song alone because I like to dance to it.  I don’t dance well.  It’s ugly, but it feels just right.  I do a kind of wobble from foot to foot and occasionally flail my arms. I become part of the music, part of the experience.  Six minutes into that song, the lyrics stop and we just hear this rhythmic, transcendental, melodic passage that repeats to fade – guitar, bass, piano.  And everytime the bass pulses, I pulse too.

Lloyd Cole wrote ‘A Long Way Down’ in 1990.  It’s still one of my favourite songs of all time and I often play it to unsuspecting friends, often late into the night after a lot of drink has been consumed. I pick my victims carefully, I assess if they are ready yet for The Lloyd Experience and like Savile in a dressing room I go for it.  Incidentally, if my wife is still awake this is the point she leaves, sharpish.   I play the song with remote control in hand and pause at key points.  “Listen to those lyrics!” I scream.  “Walking with the devil’s fine, just don’t call, looking for sympathy” see what Lloyd did there?  Rolling Stones Sympathy for the Devil, geddit????”  “It’s about drugs don’t you see?”   And on and on I go.    Ironically, the line “And when it’s 4am and baby you can’t sleep, ‘cos your bloods still pumping at cocaine speed” is lost on me, substitute the word ‘cocaine’ for ‘booze’ and I’m rumbled.  Quite often my friends just look at me pityingly and tell me it’s OK, everything is fine but they’re tired and really need to go to bed.

What I have learned is that these songs – Music, Protection, Long Way Down – they aren’t meant to be shared.  Music isn’t like that.  Whatever it is in Protection that makes me want to dance, whatever it is in Linger that makes me want to cry, whatever it is in Long Way Down that makes me want to write a novel, I don’t think I will ever be able to extract that ‘thing’, bottle it, point at it and label it.  Nor will I ever be able to share it.

We are all unique and music fits us uniquely in the same way that books do.  Catcher In The Rye rocked my world when I was 23.  Perfume by Patrick Susskind was the most original book I had ever read.  World According to Garp made me cry.  Stan Barstow’s trilogy made me want to return home to Yorkshire.  And for years I became frustrated if people didn’t also ‘get’ my books.

I now know it doesn’t work this way, and we should all be thankful for that, as the world would be a much duller place if we could all take a prescribed pill and be happy.  Life, and it’s rich tapestry of experiences and emotions, present themselves when they’re ready.  You almost always have to work at them, we certainly can’t ever force them.  And that’s why I must stop trying to persuade people to listen to my music and read my books.  It’s arrogant, self centred and pointless and can only ever end in tears, usually mine.

We have to find these things out for ourselves.

But before I go, just have a listen to this little beauty.  Just listen to them lyrics.  Call me, we must go for a drink sometime.