So – my credentials, such as they are. I don’t like people using black as a negative descriptor – blacken your name, blackhearted, blackguard. I’m with Benjamin Zephaniah (left) on that one. (Check out his 1995 poem white comedy. The last line has an extra twist these days.)
Nor do I enjoy hearing an English parent say of a child having a tantrum that he or she is “throwing a Paddy”, or that something ridiculous is “a bit Irish”.
But, before we carried away. No, I do not want to ban Christmas trees, nativity plays or the nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep. (Nor, as far as I’ve ever encountered, does anyone else – despite what the newspapers may sometimes says.) I do not want to indulge in some kind of cultural cringe, self-censorship, chilling of open discussion or campaign to ensure that people “can’t even be yourself in your own country.”
Political correctness is about fairness, tolerance, not causing unnecessary offence, decency – in a word politeness.
But hey – even the most h0lier-than-thou get tripped up occasionally. Which is why I make a heartfelt to the designers of toilet facilities in public buildings. It’s based on the following events of the past weekend:
I’m at a party in a community centre. It’s a good party – lots of laughing, dancing, drinking, eating, silliness (sorry, I already said dancing). And naturally, at some point, I nip off to the toilet.
In I stride, past the row of cubicles, towards the old-fashioned long low metal trough in front of me, to the left of the sinks. Just as I reach it, I see from the corner of my eye, some newer individual porcelain urinals that had been hidden by the toilet cubicles. At the same time, I notice a small sign in front of me, stuck on above the metal trough. It says MUSLIM WASHING FACILITIES.
Whoah! I come to a screeching halt. The screech is audible to me, if no-one else. Immediate handbrake turn.
As I stand – in the right place – relieving myself, I’m relieved that nobody else was there to witness my near miss. I also think to myself:
- What if the sign had fallen off?
- What if there had been blokes already using the correct urinals blocking my view of them?
- Worse, far worse… What if there had been blokes already washing themselves in the metal trough, blocking my view of the sign with their backs, but leaving just a bg enough gap for me to slip in and… and… and cause a diplomatic incident?
Well, wouldn’t you be cross if you were rinsing your feet and some intoxicated stranger pissed in the sink? (Wudu rules are quite particular about that, funnily enough.)
Which is why I suggest that when you’re designing the layout of toilets in public buildings and you want to include Islamic washing facilities – go ahead. Fine by me, if there’s a demand. But please – make more of an effort to separate the weeing from the washing. For all our sakes.
It’s not just me. More intelligent, less intoxicated people have almost made the same mistake. I’m talking about women, of course.
Because a similar metal washing trough was also available in the Ladies toilet.
And the women using the toilet room were puzzled by the trough. It’s not that they can’t read. There was no sign in the Ladies. Presumably because the community centre management didn’t expect women to be hoicking up their dresses and… Well, you get the idea. Women are more patient. They have to be. They tend to wait until a cubicle is free.
So no harm done.
Ah… Except that… Later in the evening my daughter emerges from the Ladies in high dudgeon. She is indignant that there is a boy in the Ladies going to the toilet in the sink.
To be fair to the centre management, if a boy bursting for the loo ignores the sign indicating that he’s entering the women’s toilets, he’s hardly going to pay attention to a notice talking about Muslim washing facilities either.
As for me, I now feel a bit less ignorant and a bit more embarrassed…
- which is why I reiterate my plea about separating the washing area from the rest of the toilet room,
- and why I haven’t mentioned the name of the community centre.