An inconvenient convenience.
Before you read further it’s time for a crash course in Australasian street lang. Specifically: ‘dunny’.
(noun) (considered slightly vulgar)
South Pacific (Australia, New Zealand) slang for toilet.
OK so far? Great. Let’s plough on, but first, time now for another digression:
1. In the early days the City Fathers caused public conveniences (toilets) to be made available for the convenience of passing people. They were monstrous affairs of brick and concrete with primitive ‘whistle-through’ ventilation and huge iron bolts fitted to the doors to ensure privacy. They were eyesores, they stank in summer and chilled our butts off in winter; but by God they worked.
2. In recent times and with pretensions to grandeur the modern City Fathers decided in their wisdom to upgrade said dunnies to modern standards. Nothing but the best for our modern butts …
AND THE BEST they came up with was a masterpiece of design, functionality, and construction called (if memory serves) an “Exeloo”. (Think tin box with doors and no visible means of opening them. Think “TARDIS” with no windows and not blue, but different. Think designer-dunny. Think ostentatiously modern.)
The Don Street car park in Invercargill boasts an Exeloo. Recently upgraded, too. To get in you just touch an illuminated ‘touch pad’ that somehow senses when you’ve touched it (capacitance, I think) and via the medium of complex electronics and servo mechanisms and codes and arcane esoteric stuff opens the door. So far, so good …
Once within you are required to touch a similar pad so that the door swishes quietly to a non-threatening closed position, ensuring privacy for you to perform your natural performings.
The door having closed, a disembodied voice booms all around you (American accent, a bit out of place in New Zealand but it adds to the mystery of the thing) and assures you that (a) the door is now larked, and (b) you have a stay time of ten minutes after which the door will be unlarked.
Not a problem for me.
All I wanted was a semi-urgent tinkle, a quick hand-wash, then get the hell out of there to go meet The Spouse for coffee.
Tinkle came naturally and was all the more enjoyable for being one of the few pleasures in life not taxed. Yet.
I enjoyed it to the fullest. Wash was no sweat either, a generous goosh of ice-water, cold but adequate.
The drying cycles however triggered themselves but sporadically and I had to chase the sensor (?) all over by moving my hands about until the damned thing blew forth. Eventually my hands were functionally dry so I touched the ‘open-the-door’ button.
To not digress—I’d often wondered what would happen if you were perhaps constipated and ten minutes not quite up to the task? Would the door truly throw itself open, would you really find yourself the centre of attention should any unfortunates be passing at the time?
And having touched the magic button, properly, in accordance with previous practise … nothing happened.
Like anyone else wanting to depart these claustrophobic bins and guzzle a hot coffee in congenial company (and running now against a falling clock) I touched it again. And again, several more times. Nothing.
I typed my name in morse code on its unyielding surface to no effect. I even gently thumped it after poking and jabbing and stroking.
Swearing at it didn’t help either so I had to admit the fact: Ye gods, I’m trapped.
As trapped as any rat in any upturned bucket.
I had no option now but to think through my options, one of which was to hope that someone would come along and push the outside button. Human nature is like that—despite the old-fashioned dunnies having a red indicator on the lock to tell the world “Engaged”, cheerful optimistic illiterate types will always grab the handle and give it a hearty hoick anyway.
So I leaned against the wall and stared at that door with eager anticipation.
After a few million more minutes a disinterested American voice boomed all over me to the effect that “The scanner detects no life forms, if you are still here please move around or the door will unlark” … Bingo!
All I had to do was stay still enough long enough and the door would release and let me out.
After another final warning the pattern of lights on the control panel changed, the symbol telling the world that door was now unlocked became king. Brilliant!
All I had to do now was press the “Open sesame” button and I was out of here … tally-ho!
PLAN C: send a text to The Spouse requesting her presence outside this convenience at her earliest convenience—could she please play typewriters on the external control panel and so release me?
Her reply came swiftly: “Galahag’s rescue attempt will have to wait until she’s finished in the dunny at H&J’s department store” (it seems we are much attuned) so she’d be over “in about tennish minutes or so”.
I replied to the effect that I wasn’t going anywhere; and fished out my Kindle (electronics at their best, a whole library in one pocket). I stood facing that blasted door in the naval ‘at ease’ posture (thank heavens for all those wasted hours on parade grounds—at last a genuine use for the skills (?) acquired) and guessing that the scanner sensor was astern of me (wouldn’t notice me ‘turning’ the pages) began reading.
Eventually, exactly as before all the same dire warnings were given, and as before the console patterns changed—but this time I didn’t try anything, I just stood relaxed and kept reading. Twitch twitch.
The cellphone suddenly went off with the usual loud PING but I’d thought of that too and already had it in my top pocket where I could use it one handed without the all-seeing eye seeing me; sent her a quick reply, and then—
—outside there came footsteps and a shadow appeared under the door … which suddenly swished silently open.
The guy outside took it all in his stride, it’s not every day you open an ostensibly empty infallible modern machine to find a gibbering manic old poop reading a Kindle just inside the door.
He accepted my warning about the door in the spirit it was given and was too much of a gentleman to laugh (not out loud, anyway).
So: why am I telling you all this?
Because I feel the need to remind everyone that the infallible isn’t—it can be relied upon to infallibly be not infallible:
None of the passengers aboard the first ever commercial cross-Atlantic flight knew that they were making history, not until after take off and the “You may unfasten seat belts” sign came on; followed by an announcement—
“Welcome aboard PanUsa flight 306 to New York. This is the world’s first fully automated transAtlantic flight, there are no human beings at all flying this aircraft. The service robots will be around shortly to dispense drinks; so in the meantime relax and enjoy this historic flight secure in the knowledge that nothing at all can possibly go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go wrong …”