Unsanitary realities of life

A few years ago I was at a rugby match in Toulouse.

As Francophile as Belloc (‘Every civilised man has two native countries: his own and France,’ he said, one night when he and G K Chesterton were on the rip), I wanted to look like a local, so I grew a Gallic moustache, hung a garland of onions round my neck and wore a pair of what I thought to be rather stylish shorts.

At half-time, like the other 40,000 in attendance, I had to visit the bathroom, and it was there that I had a most revealing and refreshing experience.

As we stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the men’s urinal, rejoicing in the sensual delights of what Thomas More described in Utopia as one of life’s great pleasures, I began to feel little droplets tinkling pitter-patter, like the tap-dancing feet of Astaire, on my bare legs.

I should emphasise that, as unsanitary as this may seem to be, it was not an unpleasant nor disturbing experience. The droplets, no doubt influenced by the vast amounts of beer and wine consumed, were softened and diluted, like a Renaissance fountain in an Italian piazza on a hot and humid day, like the caress of a gentle rain on naked and hungover skin on a soft Irish morning in spring, like all the freshness of an early world.

The sunlight gleamed through the windows and created whimsical little rainbows in the iatrogenic mist, and despite a few shoves from behind and many playful cries of ‘Allez, allez’, and ‘Vite, vite’, a congenial ambience of masculine bonhomie and good fellowship thrived.

But I have been brooding, and what once seemed an innocent delight has since opened a Pandora’s Box of doubt and excessive personal daintiness and delicacy. There is a bigger, less romantic picture here; obviously this kind of thing is happening all the time.

It is happening to each one of us every time we visit a communal bathroom, but we don’t notice it because we are wearing trousers, and it is our unfortunate trousers which bear the brunt of other people’s enthusiasm and exuberance and inaccuracy.

The experience has modified my behaviour.

I had always had an insouciant, even light-hearted attitude to other people’s body fluids, and have been quite comfortable with my body, remaining outgoing, uninhabited and chatty even in those most intimate moments when the sphincters are relaxed and the detrusor is contracting.

But now I require large amounts of space and privacy before voiding and I am reserved and taciturn and irascible and unsociable.

Just like when I’m in surgery, in fact.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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