"Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited" - John Cleese

Author John Corby also writes as "Bulldogge" for the British Canadian newspaper.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

10 Reasons I Left Britain #6: Public Conveniences

Long before I left Blighty for good I went to the Excited States from London Heathrow, landing in Washington Dulles. It was my first trip to **America!!!**. The captain announced that it was time to buckle up as we were approaching the Washington area. I was excited. Heathrow is a great big airport with planes coming and going from every point on Earth. **America!!!**, I thought, would be even grander!

Dulles Aerodrome in America
As the British Airways speedbird circled Dulles waiting for its turn to land, I looked down in disappointment. Dulles is one of the dullest aerodromes in America. It seemed so small and quiet compared to Heathrow. But it had been eight hours of cramped discomfort sitting in a steerage class seat in the big seven hundred and forty seven and I was knackered. Call me naive if you like. I saw a sign I had never seen before. It read "Rest Rooms".

Park Your Bum?
It sounded like a good proposition to me. A place for weary travellers to park their bums and get some relief for those swollen feet. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that "rest room" is an American euphemism for what the British call a "public toilet". But, as later experience would reveal, Americans are masters of euphemism. My favourite is the New England "Package Store". New England "packages" come in glass bottles that should not be consumed while driving.

Convenient Direction
Visit any British town and you will find signposts indicating the location of the nearest "public convenience". What a relief these porcelain palaces provide. After a visit to a public house to rent several pints of the local brewer's art, it is so refreshing to find a "convenience" at which one can recycle most of the fluid.

Spend A Penny
The British have their very own euphemism: "to spend a penny" means to relieve oneself of a full bladder. The term derives from an attempt by some local authorities to improve the quality of their public conveniences by requiring stall entrants to insert a penny in a slot to open the door. The penny was an "old penny". Prior to 1971 "old pennies" were large, heavy copper coins. Nowadays, inflation and currency decimalization have dramatically increased the cost of "spending a penny".

But spending a penny without spending a penny resulted in some pretty grungy street dungeons. Step into one if you dare.

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