In the 80’s I worked in the National Health Service. I was a Clerical Officer. My sister Bernadette got me an interview as she was already (and remains) a hospital cashier. I worked in a converted Victorian house in South Manchester. The majority of the permanent staff was female: they had 2 toilets and the chaps (of which there were 4 in all) had one smaller toilet. The male toilet was also required by male visitors attending meetings and the doctors who popped in to pilfer stationery and borrow sphygmomanometers (which I kept in a special drawer and enjoyed mentioning in all their polysyllabic glory).
The male toilet was also used if there was a run on the 2 female conveniences and a female colleague was ‘caught short’. Because of this eventuality a female member of staff had installed a small poster. The poster had been customised and bore an image of a cute baby elephant which was standing on its hind legs to wee into a toilet. The baby elephant looked back at the viewer with a cheeky look. The poster’s text read thus:
‘If you sprinkle when you tinkle
Be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.’
One only noticed the poster on exit. I did always wonder if a visiting ‘tinkler’ would actually tarry to the ‘wipe the seatie’.
The organisation was managed by a nice chap called Ray. If South Manchester Health Authority could be thought of as a foreign empire, then someone had seen fit to banish Ray to an outpost where he could do little harm. Ray’s preoccupations in the absence of any meaningful decision-making became more and more domestic – which felt apt in what had been, and still felt like, a house. I accidentally fused the building by inserting a fork into the toaster in the basement kitchen. Ray appeared in the dimly lit kitchen holding his cigarette lighter in front of him. He had the look of an old family retainer who was disappointed by the actions of a guest who had failed to understand the workings of the house.
I realised that Ray really didn’t have enough to do when he conducted an investigation into the ownership of an unflushable stool in the male toilet. Each male member of staff was summoned to his office. In my case, this involved Ray calling the switchboard in the old parlour to ask the receptionist to send up the ‘one who can’t work the toaster’ who works in the old dining room. She shouted through from the old parlour with her hand over the receiver.
I noticed a paperclip on the carpet as I entered Ray’s office. I bent to retrieve it.
‘Leave that there,’ he said. ‘That’s been there for a week now. That ‘cleaner’ Alma has been too busy talking to spot that. Anyway, that’s not why you’re here.’
I awaited something momentous. The possibilities were:
- a dressing-down for the toaster incident.
- a rebuke for not keeping a straight face when Ray lost a filling for a week and whistled when he spoke
- admonishment for isolating the most innuendo-strewn patient record card I could find and keeping it in a special drawer for my own amusement on slow days (a Mr Newdick who really lived on Knob Hall Gardens, God rest him)
'Now, young man,’ my boss began with great import.
‘This is serious. Was that you? That thing in the gents’?’