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).



  1. One thing I’ve always liked about being a guy is that (as we called it as children) Number One is simple. If the bowl is dirty, we can even leave it a little cleaner than before. Outdoors, slip behind a tree and water the rosebushes.

    In a story, a bathroom break can be a convenient way to set up some kind of encounter. Or as Jane mentions, a comedic moment. If it moves the plot (or a sub-plot) forward, why not use it? Everyone has to, usually several times a day. In my post-apocalyptic book, there’s several moments where a bathroom break provides a look into a character’s thoughts or reveals some other detail.

    • I agree it can be a useful device, Larry, but it just doesn’t seem to get a mention in the genteel end of the genre, which is where I dabble! And I do love the euphemistic way the loo is referred to as a ‘half bath’ in the States.

  2. Nicky I know what you mean about not mentioning loos at all and I guess the reader would wonder how long they’d need to wait looking at a blank page whilst let you character ‘go’ – or you could fill the pages with trivia or a song!
    Loos are really odd places and can fill you with dread or anticipation when viewed from the outside. Take this for example. When I lived in Singapore (for the second time) I had to go periodically to renew my business visa. The building was modern and huge inside and the wait often meandering into hours. Of course, nature called. The signs said Ladies loos upstairs so up the escalator I went (first time) and I found my way into the ladies. Oh dear what a dilemma I had. Wearing business suit, tights, heels and carrying a briefcase I opened several cubical doors in the hope of finding what I call a ‘Western loo’, but the only ones available were – either holes in the ground surrounded by flies and wetness and ‘stuff’ or a Western Style loo without a seat – not that I EVER sit on strange seats! This one was better and I went inside and shut the door only to be confronted by a huge diagram on the back of the door explaining how not to fall into the loo. I had to make sure that when I perched on the out rim of the toilet bowl, feet apart, that I balanced myself in such a way as not to topple into it. Diagrams explained how to do this in a Muslim ladies outfit, but not in tights, heels and a suit skirt and panties with a briefcase which I dared not put on the floor! After a lot of laughing I decided not to go native and to use my initiative!! I did nnot fall in either!

      • Such a personal activity and one where the need for privacy and a certain atmosphere is required……so sharing it with another of the opposite sex or in unhygienic surroundings is all a bit much, especially for we Brits – well me!!

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