Monday 23 November 2015

Task 12: Visit a non-Western toilet in India

If you're recoiling in horror at the title of this post, then do please rest assured that I'm going to do my very best to write about it with a sense of decorum. However if you're starting to feel a little flushed and want to closet yourself away from reading about this task, I won't go loo-py - please don't pan my efforts though.

On with the story quickly before the puns get out of hand.....

How did this particular task get the green light? Let me take you back to a Sunday morning early in March when I received a phone call from Lucy. She sounded very animated.  'Mum!' she said, 'I just had to let you know that I've thought of the perfect Facing Fears task for you! You've got a holiday coming up in India haven't you? So I've decided you must go and visit a non-Western toilet whilst you're there'.  Honestly, that's offspring for you - we spend decades feeding, nursing, supporting and financing them and what do they do? Exploit our every little foible and weakness. Lucy knows very well that I'm phobic about visiting public conveniences (it's almost on a par with my fear of public speaking). But what can you do when your daughter throws down such a manky gauntlet?  Onto the Sixtyat60 list it went. 

It has to be said that Task 12 has elicited a mixed response. Some people have had the same euw response as me (thank you fellow phobics). Some have tactfully ignored it (my Radio Sussex interviewer Joe Talbot for one). Others appear to be thoroughly entertained and/or fascinated by it - Carol W went the extra mile and texted me a photo of a very fine looking low-level receptacle that she came across on holiday in Venice, which she thought might suit my needs (sadly it didn't meet Lucy's exacting standards). And a few people have taken a practical approach - my friend Judi for one. Judi travels to many developing countries in her work as a CEO of an international charity and gave me a great tip. 'When you arrive in Mumbai, use the toilet facilities in the airport' she said. 'It'll be a hole in the floor, but the surroundings will be nice and clean and you'll get the task over and done with. Oh and best not to wear flip flops' she added casually. 

Two weeks ago we arrived at Mumbai Airport with Judi's instructions echoing in my ears. I checked that I was wearing heavy duty footwear, took a very deep breath, braced myself and entered the nearest ladies convenience. Oh my goodness, I couldn't believe my eyes.....there in front of me was a set of luxury cubicles containing pristine high-spec shiny Western style loos. Turns out that Mumbai Airport opened a brand new terminal with all mod cons earlier this year.  I felt bizarrely disappointed.

'Never mind,' said Andrew who was waiting patiently outside the Ladies washroom armed with smelling salts and a purification pack (only kidding - actually it was a flask of brandy). 'We can always try Goa airport.' Good point Andrew! Two days later I repeated the whole process when we arrived at Goa Airport. Sinews stiffened, shoulders back, once more unto the Ladies public convenience......only to find another immaculate state of the art washroom facility. Foiled again. 

On reaching Goa, we became obsessed with sourcing a non-Western toilet. On the third day of our stay, we were strolling along the beach past various kooky-looking beach shacks and bars, when all at once a curious structure caught my eye. It was perched at a jaunty angle on the sand and seemed to be swaying slightly in the breeze. Definitely a species of non-Western loo!!

The scene was set. Now all I had to do was pay a visit to this curious structure. Andrew and I agreed that we would return the following day with cameras at the ready. That night I had recurring dreams of opening the loo door, seeing scenes of indescribable squalor and filth, slipping over.......let's not go any further. I didn't sleep well.

The next day dawned and we returned to the beach shack. Andrew positioned himself paparazzi-like in a discreet place overlooking the toilet. After checking my footwear (yup, robust pair of sandals in place), I approached the loo and walked gingerly up the steps. The structure wobbled a little. I reached the top, opened the door and stepped inside.......


And guess what I saw inside?  A very basic but immaculate fully functioning flushing toilet positioned on a floor so clean that I could have eaten chicken biriyani off it. Admittedly the walls were cobbled together from random bits and pieces of plasterboard - but they were clean walls!  Here's a small pic if you feel the need to inspect the scene of my finest hour in Goa. 

During the rest of our stay in Goa we didn't locate any non-Western loos other than clones of the beach design. So did I complete the task successfully? I think so because I didn't know when I walked into any of those washrooms what I'd find - and therefore I confronted my fears on three separate occasions. However Lucy is less convinced. 'You didn't see it through Mum' was her verdict.  Oooh she's a hard taskmistress my daughter. Hot off the press we've agreed on a compromise - I'm allowed to tick the box on this task, on the basis that I visit a portaloo when I do my 'glamping at a festival' task next May. And do you know what? I have a sneaking suspicion that a Western toilet may yet prove to be my nemesis. I'll keep you posted.....

I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Alzheimer's Research UK. For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at  

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