A word of warning before we start: this column is about toilet habits.
I say warning because some people are ill at ease discussing what we do on the loo but I’ve always been very comfortable with it, possibly because I grew up in a house where my mother - who spends, at a conservative estimate, around 83 per cent of her time on the toilet (the other 17 per cent on the phone) - always left the bathroom door ajar and, after emptying her bowels, shouted things like, ‘jeepers creepers, that broccoli didn’t agree with me’.
So, to get to the point, I was chatting to a group of work colleagues in the canteen the other day when I happened to mention that I had a set routine when using a toilet that isn’t my own.
If I am caught short in a public place, say a cafe for example, and have to use the lavatory, once inside the cubicle I first wipe the toilet seat with considerable vigour (even if it looks fairly clean to start with) and then, using carefully folded sheets of toilet paper, meticulously and with great precision cover the seat.
Only when it is fully lined and there is absolutely no chance of any part of my bottom touching the seat, will I sit and start concentrating on the business at hand.
As I told this to my colleagues, I noticed them staring at me in increasingly quizzical and slightly fearful fashion, as if I’d confessed to murdering four people and stowing their body parts in plastic bags in the coat cupboard.
Upon finishing the tale there was silence.
‘Is that not what everyone else does?’ I ventured.
‘No,’ they cried in unison and then stood up as one and spat in my face.
Ok, so the last bit isn’t quite true, but they were certainly a little taken aback at something I had previously considered not just perfectly normal but sensible.
I mean, say you’re en route to some far-flung destination and stop at a service station on the M6 to use the loo. How many people sit on those toilets each day? Let’s hazard a guess at 10,000. So working on the assumption that each cubicle is cleaned every two hours during a 10-hour period (I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, as you may be able to tell), potentially 2,000 other derrieres have perched on the same seat - many of whom, lest we forget, will be big, hairy long-distance lorry drivers called Alan who probably don’t shower as often as they might.
Now call me picky but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with my bottom coming into contact, so to speak, with 1,999 other bottoms, so it seems to me only natural to line the seat with some paper, or at the very least give it an energetic rub first.
On returning from work, I told Mrs Canavan of my toilet procedure. “You do what?” she said, muting the TV while Pointless was on - an indication that this was serious.
“We’ve been together 11 years and you’ve had this secret all along?” she added, slightly dramatically, as if discovering I’d been having a passionate and lusty affair with a 21-year-old brunette (which, as it happens, I am; Mrs Canavan doesn’t read this column so it’s safe to confess).
‘I don’t do it on my own toilet, just other people’s,’ I said, in a bid to clarify matters, but she just looked at me the same way she did the first occasion I removed my trousers in front of her - with pity - and muttered ‘weirdo’.
Hurt, I retired to the kitchen and nipped on the internet to see if I really was abnormal.
There was mixed news. On the plus side there are apparently millions of toilet-lining folk like me, so I’m far from alone.
But the bad news - and this stunned me to the core - it turns out putting paper on the seat before you sit doesn’t lessen the risk of spreading bacteria and other nasty little diseases, it actually increases it.
Toilet seats, I read with the horror and devastation of a man who has just realised his lifelong lavatory routine has been a total waste of time, are specifically designed to prevent bacteria dwelling on their surface for more than a few minutes. “You won’t catch anything from a toilet seat,” according to a chap called Dr William Schaffner, described as ‘one of the world’s foremost toilet bacteria experts’, which must be a terrific thing to have on your passport under ‘occupation’.
Then the real kick to the stomach - every time you flush your toilet (and apparently this is why the recommended advice is always flush with the lid down), germs are propelled six feet into the air and surrounding environment - including onto the very toilet paper idiots like me then use to sit on.
It means that for the last 41 years I have been wiping the bacteria of others directly onto my own bottom, whereas all those people I’d previously thought of as ill-mannered and dirty - ie, the ones who don’t bother lining - have lovely, luxurious germ-free rumps.
Rarely have I been so devastated.
Trust me, never drop a Pyrex jug
Have you ever dropped a Pyrex jug? If so, you have my sympathy.
I had owned the afore-mentioned jug for six years, since someone – admittedly not one of my more generous friends – bought it my wife and I as a housewarming gift.
We use it for the usual kind of thing - to break eggs into, to serve gravy, to catch the leaking water that has been dripping through the attic skylight and onto the landing carpet, that kind of stuff.
But then on Sunday as I went to put it back in the cupboard after it had been washed, I didn’t quite place it on the shelf correctly and watched in horror as it began tumbling towards the kitchen floor at great speed.
I scrambled to catch it, got one hand to it, but, like a Liverpool goalkeeper coming to claim a cross, it slipped from my grasp and shattered on the floor.
Now when a normal glass smashes, there’s a couple of big bits and then a few smaller pieces. Quite simple to clean up.
But a Pyrex jug, blimey, they disintegrate into a spectacular multitude of tiny fragments and lie on your kitchen floor looking not unlike the Milky Way on a particularly clear night. I think I’m erring on the conservative side when I say it must have smashed into approximately 100,000 pieces (perhaps even 200,000 - I didn’t have time to count).
It took a full 35 minutes to get rid of all the bits. Indeed I was on my knees with a dustpan and brush for the whole of the Antiques Road Show (so every cloud). I then got the Dyson out and hoovered for good measure.
However, for days I kept finding shards, discovering one in painful fashion when I ran barefoot into the kitchen and ended up with blood oozing from my big toe.
I’ve since purchased a new Pyrex jug. I don’t intend to drop it.