Thursday, July 16, 2009

Travels with my RADAR key: Number 1

There are 7000 public toilets in the UK accessible with a RADAR key. This is my visit to one of them.

Lord’s Cricket Ground
The two men occupying the seats directly behind my colleague and I will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with British sitcoms of the 1970’s. They are caricatures cast in the same mould as the Major in Fawlty Towers and Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served? You know the sort, blazer, regimental badge, old school tie, speak like they’ve got a live quail in their mouth. Another distinguishing feature is they often have no volume control. They just bellow. The two colonial codgers behind us are waffling on loudly about business and money. Especially money. Big money. But this is Lord’s, spiritual home of cricket, and natural habitat of the moneyed toff. If anything they add to the whole Lord’s experience. The sound of leather on willow wouldn’t be the same with the accompanying drone of a merchant banker or two. I have to admit I’m not much of a cricket fan. For me it’s a little like watching tropical fish in a tank; I don’t really know what the point of it is, but it’s quite a relaxing way to pass the time. I’m just about to ask my colleague if he fancies an ice lolly, when his phone rings. He answers and less than 20 seconds into the call, one of the toffs leans between the two of us and says, “Can you go outside if you’re going to be on the phone.” My friend squeezes past me to leave the stand, and I just happen to remark quietly that there’s very little difference between his conversation on the mobile and their 100 decibel blathering. If anything they’re making more noise. I turn my attention back to the game. But unknown to me I’ve planted a seed in my colleague’s head. I’ve lit his fuse. It takes roughly 11 seconds before he explodes back onto the stands, all wild eyed and gingery menace. Clattering over the plastic seats he gets right up in the faces of the toffs, “We’ve just had to listen to you pair wanging on for half an hour!” Oh God here we go. It’s all kicking off. The peasants are revolting. The old boys stiffen, their moustaches visibly bristling. They’re not intimidated in the slightest. Their sort have been dealing with our sort for centuries. “There are no mobile phones to be used in the stands. Read the sign,” one of them says. My colleague, who unbelievably has had his phone pressed against his ear all throughout the hostilities, realises the battle is lost and speaks into the handset, “Call you back.” The two victors shake their heads and glare at my friend as he takes his seat next to mine. After a minute or two I break the silence, “Lolly?” and he replies with the smallest of nods, like a chastened child on the naughty step. “I’ll get you one of them Magnums,” I say, hoping to lift his spirits. Before I buy the ice cream I go to the disabled toilet and let myself in with my RADAR key. A few minutes later, as I emerge from the toilet I step right out into the path of the two toffs. They look at me incredulously, then they look at the disabled sign on the toilet door, then they look back at me disapprovingly, for a really long time. They already think my colleague is an unlawful oaf and now they’ve got me pegged as an oik. I could tell them I have a special key, but why should I have to explain myself? I may well be an oik, but I’m an oik who is permitted to use disabled toilets.