Well, not so much a question, as a potentially explosive necessity. The very epitome of a modern Shakespearean dilemma. Oh, how little I knew…
So, first time on a plane in more than twenty years, determined to give my hapless carcass its best chance of survival, I fly half way around the world with the words of my good friend Elizabeth ringing in my ears: get up, move around, stretch and, especially, keep hydrated. I diligently do all those things – particularly the latter. I drink like a camel who’s heard whisper of an impending assignment that might forgo water for a month. As soon as I reach Heathrow, I begin storing water and secretly wish I had a hump.
Throughout the flight, encouraged on by a growing headache, I consume a small village reservoir in Derbyshire.
And I pee on the plane; a lot. I visit the transatlantic Mile High Club, uh, lounge close to a dozen times during the flight. And each time I go in there, I wonder what would possess anyone to do such a thing: I barely want to touch myself in there, let alone anyone else! I’m even tempted to wander into first class and use their facilities: half expecting handmaidens feeding you grapes with one hand and asking ‘How many shakes?’ on completion with the other. So, imagine my surprise to find them exactly the same: cramped, odorous and devoid of any temptation to linger.
I eventually reach my destination and after one last visit – to the almost absurdly spacious airport toilet, where you might not be able to swing a cat around, but could potentially swing something around really quite large – I’m scooped up by Michelle at arrivals and we head back to her family home.
It’s about 7:30pm for them and 2:30am for me. I’m warmly welcomed into my new home for the week with offers of potatoes and other culinary treats. And although my body declines food at such a subconscious hour, I’ve brought tea. Yeah, I can drink their present! So, the adrenalin of the new adventure and new people kicks in and I drink tea. And water. And another tea. And more water.
It’s now midnight, and slightly hallucinating, I head up to my bed with a large glass of water; I fully expect myself to collapse into an all-consuming slumber, not unlike that Sleeping Beauty, uh, fella. And I go out, like a light, almost as soon as my head touches the pillow.
My eyes open; a fairly urgent need to pee. It’s still dark. I refuse to look at the clock and head to the bedroom door knowing the loo is just across the landing. The door knob spins in my hand, no sign of engaging with any mechanism. My bladder nudges my brain: we’re shifting from code ‘Urgent’, to code ‘We really can’t hang about here’ quite swiftly.
When I went to bed, I’d been warned to close my door, otherwise I might expect a visit from one of the dogs, Boo, who often sleeps with Michael – whose room had been given up to me – or the cat; one of those hairless things, which has an expression of being inhabited by the devil, even in broad daylight! Confusingly, the door latch was jammed open, and when I went to close it, the affect of the house’s air-con had the door gently swinging back and forth. After a little fiddling with the door knob, the mechanism pops back into life and I close the door. Click. Shut.
Something really disconnects from the brain when a code ‘We really can’t hang about here’ shifts to panic, and I hear Scotty from Star Trek, deep down in my engine room, yelling “Captain, she cannae take any more! She’s gonnae blow!” I quickly scan the darkened room for anything remotely possible: a vase; a ceramic dish; a pot plant that would later mysteriously wither and die within a fortnight. But there’s nothing! I make one last pitiful attempt at opening the door and imagine Scotty jumping out of me wearing a parachute and muttering something along the lines of “Yer on yer own, laddie…” when I spot my large glass of water.
I drink it down in one go and pee into the now empty glass. I should think the relief was not unlike that felt by the Mission Control ground crew when hearing the voices of Apollo 13 after its tension-filled re-entry. [A doubly ironic metaphor; given that a misunderstanding prompted the crew to store all urine for the (rest of the) flight. Albeit, presumably, not in their bladders?!]
I look down and my relief is seemingly short-lived as my pee climbs inexorably toward the rim of the glass. I leave it as long as I dare and duly clench that muscle, and the pain immediately sears again. I glance around the room and see the pile of four towels that Michelle has given me, neatly stacked in a tower of descending size. I pull out the largest one from the bottom of the pile, straddle it on the floor and the last of me leaks into its welcoming folds.
I look at the clock: 1:40am. I can’t believe it. I clamber back toward my much needed sleep and resolve to deal with the situation in the morning.
And then, as sleep begins to rapidly fold back into my edges, the realisation dawns on me: I’ve just downed an entire tumbler of water. It’s only 1:40am. This is going to happen again!
I reach for the bedside light and approach the fateful door knob. It’s a calmer situation, without the pressing urgency, but I still can’t work out what’s going on – all the while conscious of not wanting to wake the entire house. I’ve seen this in films. I get my credit card out of my wallet. It only works in films. I go back to slowly, and quietly, twisting and turning and have visions of the door knob falling off the other side onto the hard wooden floor. For the first time I allow myself a chuckle at the absurdity; of potentially being rescued at some point, with my glass of piss and a urine soaked towel. That’s a good way to make a first impression. Yeah, the motto here: never invite anyone to stay in your home you’ve only ever known via the Internet!
A couple of minutes pass and something remarkable happens: the door knob begins to tighten, the mechanism engages and the door creeps open. Thank God! Already I feel I could pee again.
Now approaching 2am, I creep across the landing – leaving the towel, rationalising the possibility of ‘accidentally’ dropping it in the toilet, or the shower, in the morning. I open the door, the light blazes into the darkness, and Dylan, Michelle’s eldest son, is standing there in his underpants! There’s a brief, understandable, awkward silence…
“Oh, hello… ” I offer into the deafening quietude, “Sorry. I just need to use the loo. Is that okay?”
And there’s another brief moment that feels like an hour – when I later realise Dylan is probably just trying to translate the incomprehensible word ‘loo’ – and I feel he’s simply staring at this strange English guy, standing in his family bathroom doorway at 2am in just a T-shirt and holding a glass of his own piss which threatens to spill onto the floor.
“Oh, sorry… I mean toilet. Can I quickly use the toilet?”
There’s another slightly awkward moment as we exchange places. I close the door and sit pouring the contents of my bladder slowly into the bowl – without use of a bladder. [I later discover, finding Dylan at 2am in the toilet wouldn’t be unusual: now deep in their lengthy summer recess, both him and Michael are only glimpsed fleetingly throughout the rest of my stay as they’ve largely become nocturnal!]
I return to a fitful, jet-lagged affected sleep. Morning comes, or something approximating morning in my newly adopted time zone, and I glance at the urine soaked towel at my bedside. Hmmm…
I later bring Michelle up to my room. Shut the door. Spin the door knob. She’s wearing a slightly disconcerted expression by now, but I tell her to imagine that pressing feeling of desperation. And then to open the door. She can’t. “Exactly!” So what would you do?
I told her my story. I do believe she may’ve wet herself.