Toilet Signs

I know that nostalgia is not what it used to be but I am sure that there was a time when signs were easier to understand than they are today.

Take for example those found on toilet doors in any public building: gone are the days when we were presented with the choice between 'Ladies' and 'Gents'. It seems that 'Guys' and 'Gals' have a more modern feel. I even came across one set of doors that said 'Laddies' and 'Luvvies'.

Now please understand that I am not writing as one of those who wish the English language would remain the same forever. I just have a concern that one day I will be in such a hurry to 'pay a visit' that I will go in the wrong toilet.

As with most anxieties this concern is probably linked to an event in my youth that shaped my future thinking. I recall being in a youth choir during my school years and having to perform at Manchester's Free Trade Hall.

As 'artistes' we were ushered into the changing rooms somewhere below stage and told to wait until we were called. Just before we were due to appear in front of the expectant audience I must have had a touch of stage fright and urgently needed to find a toilet. I travelled around corridor after corridor until I eventually found a door with the word 'Gents' in big bold letters.

In I went and was happy to find that the toilets were empty; for a few moments at least. It wasn't long, however, before I heard voices which I soon realised were female. Sat in that lonely cubicle I had only two choices; I could make my excuses and leave red faced or I could wait it out until the crowd disappeared. Being the brave soul that I am I waited until the sound of ladies voices had faded. It appears that whilst I was 'engaged', so to speak, the caretaker had replaced the 'Gents' sign with a 'Ladies' one without checking if anyone was inside.

This experience has lead to the concern I have for the clarity of such signage. Now, it would seem that my worry is justified for we have started to move away from those containing words to pictorial representations. Most of them have simple block drawings of either a man or a woman which, in a bad light and on a full bladder, can seem a little unclear. Some establishments, in an attempt at being arty or clever, have engravings that seem designed to make you take a pause before entering whilst you take a closer look, thus slowing things down. This I don't need; at my time of life the whole process takes longer than I would like anyway.

Such things are not a problem on the continent where toilet boundaries are more ambiguous. I recall on one holiday to France stopping in a village only to find a communal loo where the females had to walk past the men's urinals to get to a cubicle. Added to this there was a distinct lack of seating facilities, offering no more than a hole in the ground with a chain hanging from the ceiling with which to hold oneself in a suitable position. Needless to say the daughters all refused to pay a visit on this occasion and thus waited cross legged until we happened upon a more up-to-date facility.

In this country, however, a 'privy' should be, by definition, relatively private. So come on Britain; I can cope with hand dryers that pump out cold air (that is why men wear jeans), I can deal with broken locks on cubicle doors (That is why we learn to whistle from an early age), I can even make do with over energetic flush systems on the urinals (that is why we hone our reactions on the gaming machines). I just need to be able to easily decipher what the sign means on the toilet door. If communication is to work it should do 'exactly what it says on the tin' (to borrow a phrase). Or should that be 'exactly what it says on the can'.