Of all the things I thought I’d be writing about, this never entered my mind.
But by God, Canada, I’m in love with your lavatories.
See, I even have to call them the name by which the Queen calls them. No humble “bog”, “netty” or “place no-one can go for me” will do for these mighty beasts. It has to be the regal title for these thrones of thrones.
It’s not the porcelain palace itself, mind you, it’s the power of those flushes. In Europe, we have a nice, sedate, gentle flow of water that softly swirls around the bowl and then meanders down to sewerland (which is somewhere around the Wear, I think). But that won’t do for North America. Oh no. Here, we have a tsunami of a flush, a giant whoosh which threatens everything within its path before storming off to invade another waterworld elsewhere.
It takes everything prisoner.
And it gets better. These tyrants of toilets also flush themselves. No handles or buttons here. You stand up and pow! Your little gift to nature is on its way in a most hygenic manner. (Gave me quite a turn in the Eaton Centre, I can tell you. I was ready to call the Ghost Adventures crew out.)
Not that I should be surprised at the over-fastidiousness of the flushing regime. Once in the washroom itself (only the US has restrooms because obviously we all rest there), you’re greeted by a 12-point diagramme of how to wash your hands, starting with “Turn tap on” and ending with “Use the paper towel you’ve just dried your hands on to turn the tap off”.
Now I don’t know about you, but it seems a little odd, in a city where recycling and green living is everywhere, to be encouraging people to overuse a natural resource such as water by letting it run while you dry your hands (although being on the side of Lake Ontario, Toronto has plenty to spare, which is good because those flushes must use up gallons).
However, that seems to be the way here. You’re encouraged to recycle everything and they make it easy to do, with special bins for glass, plastics, food waste and paper as well as your everyday litter. But while you’re categorising your rubbish, a gas-guzzling giant of a 4×4 speeds past you. And then another. And another. They were singing the praises of one such vehicle on TV the other day because it did – wait for it – an incredible TWENTY-FIVE MILES PER GALLON. No amount of recycling is going to replenish that petrol supply.
Similarly, one mother saw no irony in telling her children to hold their breath as they passed a smoker in a bus queue next to us (“Okay, breathe out again. Good job, guys.”) while ignoring the fact that they were on a main road with dozens of exhausts passing her while walking through a major Western city that is inevitably filled with pollutants.
(And don’t even get me started on public transport, the greenest way to get a city moving. A 15-minute journey in a car took me two hours on public transport one day. But I recycled my coffee cup at the end of it so I suppose that’s all right. I mean, can you really call two and two-quarter lines a subway system? Isn’t it more of a subway wannabe? But I must admit I like the trams, even though we got trapped on our first one. We rang the bell, it stopped, nothing happened, we looked at each other, tram started moving again. Next stop, Ged stepped down on the the exit step to ring the bell again and hey presto! The doors opened. Turns out that won’t happen unless you step on the step. Why? Why? Do Torontonians have a sweepstake on how many tourists they can bewilder each season? If so, I want in. Watching this must give you hours of fun.)
However, for all my wry ranting, I am impressed by how easy recycling is here and also by how willing everyone is to do it, probably because it is so easy. One big difference we noticed on returning to the UK after our time in Madrid is the lack of litter bins on the streets (I recall, in Newcastle Central Station, being told they had been taken away because of the IRA, an argument which has as much sense as being told you couldn’t take shopping bags into a Spanish supermarket because of ETA – and I was actually told that) and how dirty the streets are as a consequence. Here, the streets are clean and the landfill sites are, it was reported the other week, not filling as quickly. If only the UK government would take note.
In fact, I’d be flushed with happiness if they did.