A Very Important Poo

A Very Important Poo

In saying that this poo was very important, I am not suggesting that I had reached critical capacity and failure to defecate would have resulted in a minor but disgusting explosion, nor that it was a somehow lifechanging poo experience where I met the love of my life in a serendipitously unlocked cubicle. This poo was not even used to save the lives of European diplomats and small African children.

“Why, then”, you might ask, “was this poo important?”. I’ve no idea, but someone seemed to deem it so.

DSC_0020Even though I did not really need to ‘go’, I felt it was my duty. [Note to self: make doodie pun at some point. Classic.]
But first, let me back-track a little and do some explicating.

Attending a conference at the University of Birmingham, and wandering through its lovely redbrick campus – complemented by the award-winning monstrosity that is the Muirhead Tower – I came upon these rather impressive doors:
DSC_0023​  Gathered there above the doors are Beethoven, Virgil, Michaelangelo, Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, Watt, Faraday and Darwin, said to represent the various students in the University. None of them, however, are female, Asian, or have Hitler Youth haircuts.
On the green, to what would be the right of the photograph if any of you cared to buy Your Man on the Can a fancy panoramic camera, is a copper statue of a lady with a cane, wearing a smile and nothing else.
This building is the Aston Webb, where the allegedly important people of the University of Birmingham hang out, and, presumably, if the occasion calls for it, poop.
Such a nice, fancy-looking building, though – how could one not wander inside for a look?
Well, as eagle-eyed but anal readers from the University of Birmingham might be keen to point out if we ever enable the comments section, it would be very easy not to wander inside for a look because those doors are, in fact, locked.
It’s true. I had to make a second trip at about
DSC_0022on the Saturday to photograph the outside of the building, having had to avoid a group of Japanese tourists the previous day. That clock tower, incidentally, is the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world, and is nicknamed “Old Joe”, after Joseph Chamberlain (Ex-British Prime Minister Neville’s grandfather), one of the founders of the university. Living in the tower are a pair of peregrine falcons. Peregrine falcons are the fastest animals in the world. They have been recorded travelling at speeds of up to 242 miles per hour[1]. That is a big fucking deal if you are a pigeon. In fact, even if you’re not a pigeon, being struck by a one kilo falcon travelling at 200mph, is equivalent, approximately, to being hit by a tiny, tiny train.[2] And it has fucking talons.
So the next time you’re passing by Old Joe, cast an eye upwards – all you’ll probably see is a security camera masquerading, at that height, as a falcon, but they are up there.
Anyway, venturing inside, you are greeted by a suitably impressive reception desk, as you can clearly see from these pics I snapped with my Nikon toaster*.
You probably can’t read the small printed sign on the sheet of paper over there in the corner, but it’s an arrow pointing to the toilets. It would have been more entertaining if I’d wandered over for a closer look only to find it said “You have been eaten by a gru”, but VIP toilets are a pretty cool prospect too. The ones up the winding metal staircase looked more exciting, but I didn’t have enough X-chromosomes for admittance, nor was I carrying my All-Pass Knight’s Atari Identification Card.
“It’s okay, Ma’am – I’m a toilet reviewer for Knight’s Atari.”
DSC_0021Anyway, we should probably mosey on in.

As you walk in the door, a ventilation fan starts up, presumably in expectation of you depositing some seriously noxious stuff, and provides a nice soothing hum which masks the sound of the Japanese tourists taking photographs in the foyer outside. After a short time, though, this fan knocks off with a rather loud clack, which is not good for the heart.

The first thing that strikes me as very “Non-VIP” are the three urinals. How does that work? If I’m Very Important – which I am, of course, but only to my family, my thousands of friends, and the millions of adoring Knight’s Atari fans – the last thing I want is for some smelly prole to come in to take a whizz while I’m there. Even if the Pope and Natalie Portman were stood at the urinals on either side of me, that would not be cool. Although one might literally be rubbing shoulders with “influential people”, the bathroom is not the place for networking, nor asking someone if you can sign their boobs, nor asking forgiveness for your sins (unless you’re on the toilet squeezing out a particularly difficult specimen). People who talk in public bathrooms without good reason (eg. “Your fly is open” or “There’s no toilet paper in that stall” or “Give me the cocaine or I’ll gut you like a fish!”) are the scum of the earth. (cf. the Duke Brothers in “Trading Places”, Randall in “Monsters Inc.”, Dean Sampson in “She’s All That”, Romilda Vane in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, Shawna Riverson in “The Babysitters’ Club: Claudia and  the Middle School Mystery”, Lila Fowler in “Sweet Valley Twins: Alpha Bitch”, and everyone in “Ally McBeal”.)
Strike one.
The toilet is clean, I’ll give it that, and appears to be well-stocked with toilet paper. There’s no entertaining graffiti, but I suppose that’s to be expected in classy facilities such as these. The seat is at an appropriate height – which is more than can be said for some toilets which Your Man on the Can has reviewed – and the gradient of the rim of the seat achieves a nice balance between “sloped enough so that any wayward splashes trickle down into the toilet” and “so sloped that any attempts to construct a toilet paper shield go literally down the shitter”. The flush is one of those ridiculous awkward “push-button” ones, built right into the wall, which hundreds, if not thousands, of very important hands have pushed after wiping their very important arses. Your Man on the Can’s flush mechanism of choice is one which can be pressed by the foot. (I am convinced, incidentally, that this exercise is why I can bend my right leg far enough to touch my nose with my foot, while I have difficulty raising my left foot even up onto my right thigh).
While sitting and thinking, and studying my surroundings, I espy this:
DSC_0015Hopefully that is not too illegible? It reads, at any rate; “Armitage Venesta”. You will all, at some point, if you are in any way observant, have noticed that the toilet you were using was made by “Armitage Shanks”. I have NEVER before seen a product proclaiming itself to be “Armitage Venesta”, despite the two (as I found after further research) being quite closely partnered. Well, I thought it was interesting anyway…
All of the newer sinks in the University of Birmingham seem to come equipped with one of these little metal “plugs” which stop the water from draining properly, meaning you’ve to either go fiddling with the plug, or have to rush to wash your hands before the small sink fills up. Presumably, the idea is that people who want to fill the sink up with water can do so, if, say, they want to shave, wash their socks, or steep their nutsack, but at what cost??
I’m not really sure what to make of the note reminding people to turn off the tap. There’s another below above the hand-dryer, which seems oddly placed. Perhaps this one is aimed at people who traditionally use hand-dryers to blow their hands dry after they’ve somehow managed to piss on themselves?
DSC_0017These notes remind me of the part in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ book “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, where the town’s population all start slowly losing their memories and are forced to rely on sticking notes on everything as reminders:

When his father told him about his alarm at having forgotten even the most impressive happenings of his childhood, Aureliano explained his methodolology to him […] with an inked brush he marked everything with its name: table, chair, clock, door, wall, bed, pan. He went to the corral and marked the animals and plants: cow, goat, pig, hen, cassava, caladium, banana. Little by little, studying the infinite possibilities of a loss of memory, he realized that the day might come when things would be recognized by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use. Then he was more explicit. The sign that he hung on the neck of the cow was an exemplary proof of the way in which the inhabitants of Macondo were prepared to fight against loss of memory: “This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk.” Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.

That sounds like a worthwhile project for some April Fools’ Day venture. “This is the toilet. You sit on it.” Hmm. Those instructions will have to be a little more comprehensive than I’d first imagined. Suggestions welcome.

Also called to mind is Douglas Adams’ quote from Wonko the Sane:
“It seemed to me,’ said Wonko the Sane, ‘that any civilization that had so far lost its head as to need to include a set of detailed instructions for use in a package of toothpicks, was no longer a civilization in which I could live and stay sane.”


This little somewhat-nihilistic sign is my favourite one of all. That is the light switch.

Author’s Note: Including photographs to complement toilet reviews is a new approach as suggested by some of our readers. Please advise whether you think this is a useful addition. I apologise for the poor quality of the camera work.
[1] I won’t normally feel obliged to cite my assertions, but this is from a pretty cool article – it explains how the falconer skydives out of a plane and the bird dives with him after a lure. The youtube video doesn’t quite capture how amazing the whole thing sounds, but it’s worth a watch anyway.
[2] The physics here are too complicated to explain in this brief article. Also, I don’t understand them. Here is a nice somewhat related xkcd piece on stopping a train using BB guns. Remember to subscribe to our mailing list before you click that link – otherwise you might find yourself justifiably distracted by xkcd.
*Actually a Sony smartphone and a wobbly hand. My Nikon is great – I just don’t carry it around with me, because I hate people who take photographs. Unless they’re nudes, of course, but those account for only a small subset of photographs taken by people wandering around town with their cameras.

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