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Where TV echoes my own sentiments

I was watching a re-run of A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie on Paramount Comedy a few minutes ago. Two of their characters were bemoaning the poor state of a roller towel in the public lavatories and pointing out that the promises of the maintenance people to replace the towel were just hot air.

"And you can't dry your hands on hot air", quipped Stephen Fry.

This simple gag is all that it took to get me to sit down and put finger to keyboard on the subject of hand washing facilities in public toilets. Before you get the notion that I am quick to complain on any subject that occurs to me, let me state, quite honestly, that this matter has been on my mind for a very long time.

Although I could probably write a longer article on the subject of why taps are made almost impossible to use (a recent washroom had me frantically waving my hand in front of an infra-red sensor to try and make the 5 second burst of lukewarm water start up again), I will leave that matter for a later date. The writer Donald Norman, in his book The Design of Everyday Things, tells the story of the badly designed tap far better than I can.

So, let's look at the things I dislike about the public toilet:

My real gripe is against the hot air hand drier. Everything else pales into insignificance in comparison with the hot air drier. Why? because they are so up themselves... they have a propaganda campaign written on them, filling your head with modern lies about their efficacy and benefits:

Ok, so they don't make that last claim. However, all the others are on there somewhere. And the instructions that are printed are even more wishful thinking:

  1. Push the button to start (or hold your hands under the drier - whichever type is installed).
  2. Shake your hands under the hot air to remove any drops of water.
  3. Rubs your hands under the hot air until they are dry.

It sounds marvellous - no picking up of towels, no fuss and beautifully dry hands - hard to resist. However, the real instructions are as follows:

  1. When your turn comes in the long queue of people trying to use the two hand driers for the entire washroom, press the, now filthy, button on the front of the hand drier to start it.
  2. Alternatively, if it is an automatic drier, place your hands near the sensor.
  3. The drier will start. If you are lucky the air will be warm. Most likely, it will be body temperature.
  4. Rub your hands under the air for one second.
  5. Repeat the steps to start the drier. If this is an automatic drier, it will automatically start and then cut out within half a second, so try to get a friend to operate the sensor.
  6. If you did not go to the toilet with a friend, wave your hands around near the sensor, in the hope that it will realise that you're still there.
  7. Rub your hands vigorously under the stream of air. If you are lucky, the fan will be effective enough to entertain you with a view of the water droplets moving over your skin. Don't expect them to evaporate.
  8. After a minute's vain attempts to get dry, walk away from the drier, wiping your hands on your trousers.

So maybe I've gone on long enough now. Needless to say, I prefer a straight forward towel, paper being better for assurance of one careful owner. It's clear to me that automatic hand driers are badly designed, environmentally unfriendly devices, made by people who have no intention of ever using them. My advice, wear towelling trousers!

17 August 2001
Ashley Frieze