Today, I unwittingly stumbled across the most middle-class response to a lack of toilet roll in a public convenience in Hitchin's Caffè Nero, that somehow managed to be both grim and aspirational in equal measure.
The gents’ there are awkward enough as it is, consisting of just a single cubicle with a small vestibule area that's akin to a airlock with just a sink and barely anywhere to stand. Once you’ve discovered it's engaged, you feel trapped, unable to walk straight out into the coffee shop so soon after walking in, yet also feeling too uncomfortable to stay. You’re too close to the theatre of conflict, so to speak, with no way out; it’s an exercise in social embarrassment.
I walked in with trepidation today, sensing before I was anywhere near that someone was already in there, about to leave me in limbo (I was right). I stood, waiting for too long in that loo lobby, from where I could hear an ominous rustling on the other side of the door, that sounded like someone reading a newspaper. Just as I was about to give in, a guy - who looked like Art Garfunkel - came out.
“There’s no toilet roll in there, should you need it,” he said, waiting too long afterwards, as if he expected a response.
“I’ll be all right,” I replied, awkwardly, forced into a corner.
On closing the cubicle door, I noticed someone had stuffed a load of screwed-up paper down the toilet, as if purposely trying to block it. I was inwardly moaning at their childishness when I realised what had happened: this wasn’t an act of sabotage; this was the previous occupant’s improvised attempt to save face, not having noticed the lack of loo roll until it was too late. Unsavoury though it was, I couldn’t help but spot what they’d been forced to use: I'll never see a Waitrose receipt in the same light.