Notes on some awesome examples
"The wall stretched for seemingly a mile, and the sight of over a hundred men elbow to elbow, each with his member in his hand, was so thrilling to me…I shivered with the sheer joy."
— John Thomas Cholmondeley-Minge, in a letter to Winston Churchill describing Vapi station in Gujarat.
As a former resident of the UK, I too often frequented far too many old pubs, so I am more than familiar with this concept. The construction varied enormously in style and features, ranging from a simple concrete gutter at the base of a brick wall through to elegant builds with massive porcelain walls and flushing mechanisms.
The longest I have ever seen was at the Nagda Junction railway station in Madhya Pradesh. It's a busy bustling place and the trains stop for a while. There are many food carts, tea stalls and small bars, and there is a rush to grab refreshment while racing for a connection. Behind the row of vendors is a simple construction of corrugated iron tacked to fenceposts, with a simple hand-dug trench at the base. Built before the advent of corridor trains, its purpose was to accommodate a train's worth of men's micturition needs quickly and efficiently. It must have been two hundred feet long and it reeked. The ground was packed dirt and gravel and I gather that on a busy overflow day, men would simply let free if there were no room at the bar. I cannot adequately describe it; Rudyard Kipling alone could do it justice.
The day I was there on Her Majesty's business (I was heading to Lucknow from Mumbai) it was at the intersection of two holy seasons; people were coming in from different temples, umpteen hotels and trains. Every man, it seemed, needed to piss at once. Two hundred feet of tiddling men (easily eighty) with two hundred waiting less than patiently. It is easily the slickest and nastiest scrum I have ever seen, accompanied by the miasma of easily a hundred years.
I had to think long and hard about the most elegant. Close by the Norwich Cathedral in Tombland stood the Goat and Compasses pub. The rugby team (I was their winger) assembled there for training. Their facility was certainly grand; a wonderful outdoor urinal easily enough for fifteen men, the tiled floor and walls sluiced every hour. Shining slabs of ivory porcelain joined with polished brass flashing, marked at three-foot intervals with inch-wide "target marks", each individual and delightful in its own right. I distinctly remember many of them, each perfect in execution: a bluebottle fly, a tiny starfish, a delicate spider's web (and separately, a delightful spider), a bishop's mitre and the crowning glory of a fishwife's face scolding the user for his use of too much ale.
Even the lighting was wonderful. Originally (according to pub legend) there were originally five wonderful brass oil lanterns charged every hour by the cellarman, who would also rinse the whole thing each hour with water scented with local lavender. In the days I frequented the place elaborate gilded electric lamps hung from the wrought-iron supports of the roof, Chinese in character, each a subtly different dragon grimacing at the pissoir.
Now sadly the bar has closed. The building is occupied by an estate agent and the much-loved urinal is sadly no more, the whole space occupied by a glass-roofed yuppy meeting area. I take great delight in knowing that where they discuss their vile business, I once did mine by the gallon.
When I was in the Service I once had the delight (in the dining room of White's gentlemen's club) to meet a certain top-level civil servant who had travelled widely in the Far East. He described the bar of Siam's Royal Brothel, built in the eighteenth century, and paid most particular attention to the lavatory. Clearly a great enthusiast and researcher, he told me of its history and grandeur.
I still remember his face as he told of the grand stuccoed hallway with walls of polished stone set with gold target marks, each distinctly delightful works of erotic art. Italian sculptor Tommaso Righi did the stucco and designed the marks. The lighting was of the finest Meissen candelabra, he told me, a gift from the then Count de Sade. Marble floors and Middle Eastern tapestry completed the decorations, and assistance was provided by a eunuch servant who helped the gentlemen with their washing needs, providing scented hot water and towels.
Auspice says re trough urinal: "on Her Majesty's business" will forever be synonymous in my head with going for a piss now.
Of course it's for LieQuest 2022.