The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - November 14, 2013

A Finbarr Lucas toilet seat

A Finbarr Lucas toilet seat

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Myself and Mrs Canavan moved into a house in July 2011 and agreed the bathroom needed upgrading as a matter of urgency.

Two and a half years later, and perhaps reflecting my lack of enthusiasm for any form of DIY (I recently had to go on Youtube to discover how to bleed the radiator), I finally made it to a bathroom shop.

We had barely set foot in the store when we were pounced upon by an elderly chap who looked as though he had worked there since before Chamberlain promised peace in our time.

“Can I help?”, he boomed, ear trumpet at the ready in case of a reply.

As it happened he could, as I didn’t have the faintest clue what I was looking for. Actually that’s not quite true. I knew exactly what I was after, namely a bath, a sink and a toilet. However, what I didn’t bargain for was the bewildering array of different baths, sinks and toilets there was to choose from.

Not since going to Glastonbury in 2004 had I seen so many toilets in one area, though it must be said the ones in the store were far less soiled and there weren’t people queueing around the block to use them.

“Which toilet are you after?” asked the elderly chap, who was wearing a badge with the word Stanley printed on it in large letters. He had a large red stain on his white work shirt that looked as if it was the result of either a tomato ketchup spillage or a serious stab wound to the chest. If it was the latter and he had insisted on finishing his shift, he certainly has to be in the running for Employee Of The Month.

Which toilet do I want? “Erm, a white one please,” I replied, adding as an afterthought, “with a flush.”

He looked at me as if he were weighing up whether to hit me now or wait a while.

“Well, it’s not that simple,” he sighed, dentures gleaming in the shop’s artificial lights. “We’ve close-coupled toilets, wall-hung toilets or back-to-wall toilets.”

I made a sort of neutral grunting sound.

“Now I can see you’re struggling a little,” said Stanley. “So what I’d recommend is our demi close coupled WC and express cloakroom basin. It’s our top seller, £98 but we can get that to below £80.”

“It’s got deep curves,” he added, looking Mrs Canavan up and down in a slightly disconcerting manner, “so it introduces a sense of femininity to your bathroom design.

“The cistern is WRAS approved and it has a top class waste spigot.”

I nodded enthusiastically, feeling sure I looked exactly like a guy who knew a good toilet when he saw one.

“It’s perfect in tight places and has a soft close Thermoplast seat. Basically, you won’t get better for the price.”

That was just the toilet. There was the rest of the bathroom to order.

I hadn’t considered taps, for example, would be such a major issue. I was wrong. Turns out there are waterfall taps, freestanding bath taps, taps on a budget, bathroom mixer taps, traditional basin taps, wall mounted taps, taps that glow in the dark, taps that do an impression of Rod Stewart, taps that look after your new-born child while you’re out shopping.

Mrs Canavan, spotting this was all becoming too much for me, suggested I go for a short walk.

When I returned she had ordered a complete new bathroom suite, paying, I noticed, with my credit card.

‘Do you need the pin number?’ I asked. “I already know it,” she replied.

The bathroom is being delivered next week. I intend to be out when it comes – one more conversation about wall-hung toilets may prove too much.

A new chapter (maybe)

I am thinking about writing a book of the best overheard lines of a conversation.

Like most of my book ideas it will probably never happen. To date, I have written the first page of around 350 novels, all of which start very promisingly (my favourite begins with the line: “Geraldine didn’t know what to think when she saw the note on the coffee table – then she remembered Derek from accounts and that night in Milton Keynes”.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to read on?)

Unfortunately I’ve always got bored of writing after a page or so and found something better to do, like watching Come Dine With Me.

But back to overheard conversations, which, at the risk of sounding like a serial eavesdropper, is one of my main pleasures in life.

I love nothing better than to catch random snippets of conversation and in the last week I’ve a heard a few belters.

Walking through St Annes, I passed a middle aged woman just as she was remarking ‘but you know Joan I understand, creme brulee has never agreed with me either’.

Shortly after that, a young girl walked past saying slightly sharply to her companion, ‘that might be so but a curtain can’t fall down by itself’.

The best, though, happened in supermarket veg aisle near the purple-sprouting broccoli, when a man remarked into his phone ‘I heard it on the radio – tickle its foot and it’ll turn a 360 degree circle’.

I had to resist an urge to wait until he’d finished his conversation and ask what on earth he was referring to.

So this is the idea for my million-selling debut book – Best Overheard Remarks, by S Canavan. Expect to see it in Waterstones.