It is an established fact that drinking lots of water (as recommended to everyone by the Nanny State) is bad for writers. The reasons are simple. Drinking lots of water increases the number of trips to the toilet. For writers this can be fatal, as it can destroy a line of thought, a roll of productive writing, or result in violent ejection from the ‘creative zone’.
Struggling writers such as myself do not have this problem. In fact, ‘problems’ such as these act more of an asset to finding displacement activities during extended periods of writer’s block when nothing is being produced. Therefore, I make a point of drinking lots of water throughout the day and wait for that heavenly moment when one finds it necessary to detach from the keyboard and head for the nearest convenience.
This does, however, introduce additional problems when one decides to work ‘in the field’ (i.e. a café), and it is therefore crucial to find locales which have good toiletry services. The branch of Starbucks in London’s St. Martin’s Lane is one such locale. It has a particularly good toilet – large, bright, clean, a pleasant scent. And if one has offspring, facilities are also provided to change its nappy.
It was here that I was happily reading my magazine the other day, sitting out my usual period of writer’s block, when ‘that moment’ arrived. Unfortunately, it happened in the peak period between three and four in the afternoon when the café and toilet are at their busiest. I left my comfortable armchair by the window, making sure to keep it ‘booked’ with my cardigan and current issue of The Oldie, and headed to the back of the café only to find that the toilet was engaged. I decided to wait for the current occupier to exit, but became rather uncomfortable when people started staring at me, including one old man who gave me positively sinister looks almost reaching the heights of Pink’s evil death stare. So I returned to my seat and decided to wait a few minutes.
In the meantime, a couple and their recently sprung infant had arrived on the nearby sofa along with a mass of infant survival equipment, and I became concerned that the peace would be unduly disturbed. Regular Electric Readers will recall that I am particularly unlucky regarding the mother-and-baby situation, but I was glad to see that everything seemed under control on this occasion and enough time had now passed for me to try the toilet again.
It was still engaged, but this time a woman was queuing to enter. It is an established fact that women take three times as long as men in the toilet, and half an hour later I was starting to feel the strain as I wriggled uncomfortably in my armchair. Using stealth tactics to monitor the surrounding area, I confirmed that no-one was planning to use the toilet, and was just about to get up when I heard a loud ‘thunk’.
I’m not sure what had happened, but when I looked round I saw two large mugs of café latte lying on their side with the café latte itself dispersed evenly over the table and floor. Meanwhile, the infant’s legs were flaying wildly in the air with Mum trying desperately to control them. Dad leapt to his feet and rushed headlong to the toilet. My plan was foiled. He returned moments later with a large roll of toilet paper and I felt it wiser to wait until he’d cleaned up the mess, flushed everything away, and replaced what was left of the toilet roll – just in case there wasn’t a spare!
With normality restored, I was just about to get up when there was another crisis at Infant Control. Mum gave Dad a strange look, then looked at the infant before disappearing with it into the toilet. By now I was absolutely busting and it was a good fifteen minutes before Mum and the infant returned. I raced to the toilet, locked the door, and was just about to do my bit when Pink rang on the mobile to ask if I’d remembered to buy some washing powder.
While I was trying to explain that it was a really bad time to be calling me, the handle on the door started shaking violently as though someone was trying to get in. I told Pink I’d call her back, opened the door, and was shocked to discover Mr. Strange standing there, smiling at me. Suddenly, all my feelings of having to relieve myself disappeared and I made a quick exit from the toilet back to my armchair.
By now, peak time at the café was over and I assessed the amount of time Mr. Strange needed in the toilet, allowing him a good twenty minutes. I didn’t notice him leave the café as I was reading The Oldie, but I returned cautiously to the toilet and looked around. There was no sign of Mr. Strange, no-one queuing, and – best of all – the toilet door was unlocked.
The door was unlocked, yes. Except the toilet wasn’t free. It was occupied. By Mr. Strange. And as I opened the door I got a full view of him sitting there, his trousers round his ankles, reading a magazine. And, as usual, he looked at me and smiled.