Since then I’ve always kept a keen eye on loos during foreign travels: Southern Italian bar and café owners clearly pride themselves not only on the quality of their coffee, but also the cleanliness of their toilets, however humble the establishment; in Dubrovnik I encountered a modern version of the hole in the ground, but this was stainless-steel, state of the art, and very regularly cleaned.
The 1st class rosette though must go to the Austrian Tyrol, where the toilets are universally spotless, even in the tiniest mountain hut. I found the following quote in my trusty Hammerton’s Peoples of All Nations (1920, so you’ll excuse the patronising language) – “In their habits the Austrian farmers and cultivators – the great majority of the people – are very particular about cleanliness, both in their dress and their surroundings. Some of the inns which cater specially for country-folk are as dainty and well-managed as any in the land. The rooms are light and airy, the tables are covered with tempting cloths, and have flowers on them, the food is excellent, and the beer beyond praise. To an English visitor who showed his surprise at finding an hotel of this character run for peasants, the manager replied: “The peasants would not come here if it were not perfectly clean and well arranged.”
I can vouch for the continuation of these standards a century on. My favourite of all must be the Gipfelrestaurant at the top of the Hohe Salve in Soll, where you can both ‘spend a penny’ and enjoy what has to be one of the finest views it’s possible to witness from a toilet seat anywhere in the whole wide world!
Despite this blog post, I am hopefully not more than averagely obsessive about toilets. I sometimes genuinely shudder to think what visitors to our sceptre’d isle, especially Austrians, must think of the mucky facilities on offer at most British attractions. The filthiest toilet I’ve ever seen was in a trendy coffee house in Chiswick a year or two back. Its elegant customers sat reading their broadsheets and munching patisserie – little did they know what horrors awaited them in the water closet. I only just resisted the impulse to let the manager know what I thought of his euphemism!
Seriously though, at a time when many people are out of work, what’s the problem with paying someone a decent wage to keep your café’s toilet clean? There’s a restaurant on Hastings sea-front serving good, reasonably-priced food in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, and we’ve enjoyed going there on a number of past occasions, but the toilet is dirty and unkempt. It kind of begs the question, If they can’t keep the toilet clean, what’s the kitchen like?
So, among my many Walter Mitty fantasy jobs (Blue Badge Guide, obituary writer, Studs Terkel’s personal assistant, paid travel blogger!) I can add Secret Toilet Policewoman.
Beware – I may drop by to inspect the littlest room in your establishment very soon!