No blog posts for a week or so as I’ve been swanning around the South of France looking at bridges, as you do – the Millau Viaduct, to be precise, a fabulously elegant piece of engineering and well worth a visit. The food and drink have also been worth while but during our forays around the southern Auvergne another vital aspect of life cropped up – as it’s wont to do in France.
Les Toilettes. Loos. Lavatories, Public Conveniences, whatever you like to call them. ( I am practically unable to say the word ‘toilet’ because I know the ghost of my granny will haunt me if I do. Not because we were posh, far from it, but because Granny had been in service in a big house at the end of the 19th century. Not exactly Downton Abbey but enough for her to know, very firmly and brooking no defiance, that the place where you relieve yourself is called a lavatory. So who am I to argue with the ghost of a fierce old lady?)
Anyway, this really is leading up to a relevant Mystery comment, but bear with me. France is known for its lavatories and not in a good way. Certainly I’ve patronised palatial conveniences there, all shiny taps and sparkling clean porcelain, but sadly, mostly, you get the reverse. One way or another I seem to have spent a large part of my life obsessed with loos, starting with the days when, as a very small girl, I would emerge from the Ladies in a tea room, and announce loudly and clearly that it scored 8 out of 10 – and sometimes much worse. I was an odd child, as you can tell and a lot of my childhood was spent in the company of elderly ladies, a species well-known to have an abiding interest in where the next loo is likely to be. As a young mum I always needed to know where to dash with a small, urgent child, and now as a grandmother I find the same knowledge is a requirement, but even when I tell you that I’ve survived sharing a loo with a donkey in the Valley of the Kings when we lived in Egypt, I’m still appalled by the fact that the French are building brand new Hole in the Ground lavatories! I mean, have the designers ever struggled to use one when hung about with toddlers, babies, bags, etc? Not to mention the elderly, infirm, obese – in fact anyone who needs something more user-friendly!
Phew, now I come to the mystery bit of this post, slightly tortuously I admit. I write – and love to read – cosy mysteries, but when you come to think of it, nobody in this genre is ever troubled by an urge to do a wee, not even when tied up for hours in a barn, or held at gunpoint by a madman. Poirot never turns to Captain Hastings and says, ‘I need to refresh the little grey cells and to point Percy at the porcelain’, and Miss Marple never stops in mid-explanation to nip out for a quick trip to the little old lady’s room. I’m just as guilty: in my forthcoming mystery, A Crowded Coffin, my poor protagonist, Harriet, is trapped somewhere unpleasant for hours and not once does she start fussing and fidgeting, though she does throw up at one stage. Maybe I should repair this omission in the book I write next?
(As for the donkey, well – suffice it to say that my need was greater than his and he was standing beside an obelisk, the only private spot available, so I callously shoved him out of the way and got on with it).