I’M starting off this week at a slight disadvantage, dear reader. I am sitting on a toilet, and I am perplexed.
Everything is proceeding as intended at my end, if you get my drift, and be assured that this isn’t going to end up straining the bounds of good taste.
I am perplexed because something is not quite right, and I’m not sure what.
I’m in a roll in, refuel and race off stop on the A1. Trucks and cars are flashing by only a few yards from my secluded seat, yet there is a strange silence – or almost silence.
What’s wrong with this picture? I’m unsettled, even slightly anxious, because I know something is awry and not being entirely sure of what’s what when your trousers are around your ankles is always likely to make your savoir faire seep away.
Then it hits me. Who let those birds in here?
The gentle chirp of rural birdsong can be faintly heard. Is there a window open? No, there’s no window. Is there a cage of feathered friends in the corner, company for the attendant who cares for this sanitary shrine? No.
I’ll tell you what it was – muzak, and not a minim of Mantovani about it.
I don’t know what genius decided that what customers really wanted while making use of the facilities was a soundtrack which created an outdoor atmosphere of sylvan glades – frankly, if I am ever forced to seek relief without the benefit of a roof over my head and a roll of Andrex close at hand, something has gone badly wrong with my planning, my diet, my insides, or all three.
But isn’t that a crystal clear example of where we’re going wrong?
How many people did it take to come up with concept of birdsong in the bog, sell it to the board, commission the tapes, fit the PA system, set the whole thing running?
Would all that ingenuity and effort not have been put to better use in any one of a thousand ways?
All I ask of a public convenience is that it’s clean, dry, has a working lock and won’t require me to dip into my emergency pack of tissues, carried from the car in the expectation, based on long and occasionally bitter experience, of a shortcoming in this particular area.
Once all that is sorted out, there is no need for added extras, is there?
But it’s a symptom of our endless need to tinker that forces us to add bells and whistles to something that works perfectly well.
I remember not so long ago that certain supermarkets introduced the sounds of mooing cows and clucking hens near their dairy cabinets and egg displays, in a vain attempt to convince punters that the animals involved were happy with their lot.
I suggested at the time that there should also be a soundtrack of an abattoir in action being played down the meat aisle and a loop of chesty coughs at the fag kiosk, but nobody took me up on it, and the hens and cows have since fallen silent.
So should the birds, I think you’ll agree. There’s no place for sound effects that make any occupant anxious that, as they are going about their business, there might be a bird just overhead that is about to do the same.