When I was a teenager, we used to take our annual holidays in Italy and my mum insisted my father drive non-stop through France rather than risk another horrifying encounter with a French pissoir. I don't know if you have ever tried to hold your bladder in for four hours in a car travelling at speeds in excess of 120 miles an hour, but it may explain why my mother had the thigh muscles of an Olympic athlete. Those of you who have never been to France may think my mother was a bit picky, but then you've probably never had to squat over a smelly hole in the ground whilst clinging for dear life to two rusty, iron chains in a damp cellar, illuminated by a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling that had last been changed during the German occupation forty years earlier, while a cadaverous male attendant reeking of garlic politely enquires if you would like another sheet of newspaper.
Toilets may have improved a bit since then (though not in France), but taking a pee is still fraught with more unseen dangers for us girls than exploring the uncharted rain forests of the Amazon.
The first thing my mother taught me was to grab a handful of toilet paper and wipe the seat. Then, she'd carefully lay strips of toilet paper to cover the seat. Lesson two was learning to assume 'The position'. This required carefully balancing over the toilet in a squatting position without actually letting any of your flesh make contact with the toilet seat. The flaw in this strategy was that by the time I was ready to pee, my thigh muscles had given up the struggle, I'd overbalance, land heavily on the seat and the trickle of wetness down the inside of my leg meant we'd have to go home to change my knickers.
That was a long time ago. Even now, in my forties, 'The Position' is excruciatingly difficult to maintain for more than thirty seconds, especially when one's bladder is bursting.
If that wasn't bad enough, when you have to visit a public toilet, you usually find a line of anxious women have got there before you, which makes you think you must have taken a wrong turning and stumbled across a half-price sale of M&S underwear. So, you wait, trying not to look as if you're squeezing your legs together and smile politely at all the other women, who are also trying not to cross their legs and smiling through clenched teeth.
As you get closer to your goal, you start checking for feet under cubicle doors. Naturally every one is occupied. Finally, a door opens and you dash in, nearly knocking down the woman leaving the cubicle. You get in to find the door won't latch. It doesn't matter; you have long arms and tell yourself: 'I'll just keep one hand against it.' At this point you would hang your handbag on the coat hook if there was one