Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bikers, Bars and Bog Roll

Here are the ten oldest bars in America - thanks, Frank. The oldest was established in 1772. We have many older, of course, but, precisely because they have a shorter history, Americans are more impressed by antiquity. Rightly so, antiquity is impressive and the spectacle of a hundred year old building in the midst of a townscape barely a decade old is a kind of relief, a cold drink on a hot day. It would be a spectacle even more consoling if the Americans could suppress their habit of over-restoring, but there you go.
And, speaking of old bars, I went into one in Wonder Valley near 29 Palms, California. It was, I was told proudly, 50 years old. A woman, a retired firefighter with staring eyes and long grey hair, told me the story of the bar and of Wonder Valley, a barely survivable place in the High Desert. The bar was full of Hell's Angels. I went to the toilet (Why do the Americans hate the word?), not really needing to but because the staring eyes were making me dizzy. An Angel burst out of the door and growled something at me. I assumed I had been given some kind of ultimatum, something about leaving the bar otherwise shackles and dragging behind a Harley would ensue. As I got into the toilet, I suddenly realised what he had actually said - 'No paper towels!' In fact, even this startling little kindess was a kind of euphemism, there was no toilet paper either. Bikers with spikes on their jackets can be so genteel, not to mention surprisingly inhibited. Or perhaps he was just too tough to say 'bathroom tissue'.


  1. Not places to turn up on a Vespa scooter, then.

  2. Probably a bit strong to say that American's hate the word toilet, but I agree there is an unease about it over there, perhaps due to their insularity and conservatism about words with French origins, dealing with matters 'down there', an area of expertise that the French pride themselves on generally, along with their famously liberal attitude to bodily functions and sexual exploration. I've never been able to banish the memory, formed at age 22, of having the floor between my legs mopped in a Paris pissoir by, horror of horrors, a young woman.
    Although I only attended a minor public school in Leamington Spa, I do remember being upbraided for using the word, and having the alternative 'loo' or 'lavatory' pressed upon me - this around the time, I suppose, when Nancy Mitford was formalizing the process in her U & Non-U lists.
    Not sure why 'Lavatory' seems to linger on the doors in airplanes, most of which are made in the USA?

  3. The High Victorian (1850's) pub next door to my office has Lavatory etched into the (original) glass.

    Have to say, the word Toilet induces a Pavlovian cringe in me. Loo, khazi, bog, crapper, any of those will do but not the T-word.

  4. i believe a real man simply says, with a happy sigh, "gotta see a man about a mule" and then lurches in the direction of the place where the man with the mule may be found.

  5. Inhibited bikers? That's kind of the point of being a biker, to inhibit unwanted social interaction. Or the point of belonging to any other cliquish social fraternity/sorority. Its all about signalling, the problem of establishing a zone of control for allowing in desirables and keeping out undesirables.

    I don't think too many bikers wake up in the morning wondering how best to encourage visiting foreigners to engage them in conversation.

  6. I'm with Elberry on this one. I can't believe that Hells Angels would use toilet paper. I see them using using roadkill, the back of their hands, or some Englishman, miles from his home, who happens to stumble into their bar one day.

  7. Bikers with spikes on their jackets can be so genteel,

    OK, Bryan, we're all delighted you had a great trip and we like the place too, but isn't this Stonehenge-is-boring schtick of yours getting a little out of hand?

  8. Fine, gentlemen, I have no idea why, this sunny Wednesday morning, you couldn’t have found something more elevating to talk about than lavatory paper (or indeed, whether you even know how to use it), but I would point out that raising a lavatory seat before use is considerably more mannerly and thoughtful than not doing so...


  9. Dear Selena, if only life were so simple. Since the now almost ubiquitous installation of lids on lavatory pans it's often impossible to lift the seat itself beyond the vertical and expect it to stay in the "up" position. Try it for yourself. What so often happens is that the seat (but not the blasted lid which caused the problem) crashes down again mid-flow, so to speak, with consequences I will not describe. The only other remedies for this are to adopt the seated position or to indulge in one-handed contortionism.

  10. I can't believe that Hells Angels would use toilet paper.

    They don't. The guy was just telling Bryan that there wasn't any tissue in the john. There wasn't any tissue because it's a biker bar, and bikers don't use tissue.

    It's part of the signalling I was talking about. How better to keep effete outsiders off your turf than eliminating all of the civilized necessities from the environment? If our genteel spike-studded friend were more articulate he would have told Bryan "this ain't one of your plush European day spas, Nancy!"

  11. Oh well, it could be that bikers don't use paper tissue because they find it simply too abrasive, having discovered the hard way that paper tissue's minute fibres will eventually leave unseemly scratches on visors, helmets, chrome finishes and, er, elsewhere. Always use a proper, non-abrasive cleaning material and nothing too alkaline either (like washing-up liquid).

    I'd like to think, though, that the "staring eyes" in that bar were full of admiration, even devotion, as our sage used his iddhi to unfurl his long snowy beard, pass it through his body and wave the end out of his nose while enjoying a beer with the best of them. No need for tissues in his case, and of course that beard is fully reusable, unlike paper.

  12. I have a toilet memory -- it's actually a Water Closet memory -- of the first time we visited the British Museum. My husband (then boy toy) stole some toilet paper from there because he was so amused that it was stamped with "Property of the British Museum." English wit at work in the B.M. (Dontcha think "toilet" and "w.c." are the same kind of euphemism?)

    As for the t-word....When I was a young girl in the deep South, I did a lot of reading on my own and thus a lot of figuring things out on my own -- correctly or not. I still remember my first forays into Austen, because I had thought the 19th century was a prudish period but here were genteel ladies needing a servant's help with their "toilette" and rakish young men were "making love" to women in the Pump Room at Bath. Naturally, I thought they were talking about bodily functions in both cases....

  13. Selina, raising the toilet seat ain't the problem, not raising the toilet seat cover is the real bummer, if you'll pardon the expression. For the creme de la creme of netty's (the default Geordie description, you American contributors,) this is it, the Refuge Requin multi purpose, unisex, occasional dormitory overspill / bog. Some of the most illustrious names in mountaineering have contemplated tommorows fate whilst sat upon its throne, Kurt Diemburger, Christope Profit, Catherine Destivelle, she's tops at pre warming for you., Reinhold Meisner (the greatest living human being) and of course, Malty and Dave.
    Although described as a WC it is in fact chemical, you will notice the helicopter landing platform if one runs out of toilet paper (the standard Club Alpin Francais issue is one piece to wipe, one to polish) then simply press a buzzer and the gendarmes MR helicopter zooms up from Chamonix, so refined, the frogs. The occasional dormitory overspill story .. one August, heavily oversubscribed, no room inside, 3 Poles and a Swede spent the night in it, occasionally moving over as it was put to its intended use.
    There is another classic netty at the emergency refuge below the Bosses ridge, filthy hole, the bog is a hole in the floor with a "grasping handle"
    We took shelter under the refuge during a violent storm one night (no way would we stay in it,) next morning, first light, we had bivvyed on top of six foot high pile of frozen turds.

  14. Hey Malty, I'm eating my breakfast here! Do you mind?