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Reform Magazine | February 17, 2019

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Do stay for tea and coffee: Church toilets

Do stay for tea and coffee: Church toilets

Paul Kerensa on awkward moments in church toilets

The number of toilets in your church gets truly tested when you’ve got a bit of a do. One or two WCs might be enough for sporadic use before or after a service (or during, for those who can’t wait, perhaps set off by hymn choices like ‘Make Me a Channel of Your Peace’ or ‘Springs of Living Water’). But an evening event with an interval will scrutinise the convenience of the conveniences.

I don’t mean to sound critical. I fully understand why. Many of our beloved church buildings weren’t planned with many toiletgoers in mind. They were built for a higher cause than the hustle and bustle of quiz nights, cinema nights, or, at a church I heard of recently, boxing nights (the vicar’s an amateur boxer; his congregants are lining up to bop him one.) I’m just reflecting on one particular pitfall I encountered. Beware of the toilet queue: people talk.

I’ve been touring plenty of churches with my standup show. If there’s a rush for the loos in the interval, it’s largely my fault – I should have done a shorter first half, rather than take a leaf out of Ken Dodd’s book. The occasion that sticks in the mind wasn’t a centuries-old building with one toilet in the annex (although I did visit one of those; we had to stagger the interval to accommodate 300 people using that one loo). No, this was a modern-build church with a couple of cubicles available.

After the first half of the show, I pointed the audience towards refreshments, then strolled offstage and straight to the facilities (that bottle of water they sometimes put on stage? You’re not meant to drink all of it in the first five minutes.) I was first in, and behind a closed cubicle door, when other gents entered the gents. After a few folks had clearly formed a queue, I heard one voice enquire: ‘Enjoying the show so far?’

Oh no. I was about to hear my own act reviewed, from inside a toilet cubicle with nowhere to go. ‘Yeah. S’alright,’ came the reply. Oh come on, mate – once more with feeling.

‘I like him,’ said the first voice – my favourite of the two. ‘I’ve seen him a few times.’ Poor fella.

‘I prefer Michael McIntyre,’ said his friend. Alright, I’m sorry he wasn’t available. Anyway, I don’t know if Michael’s got a testimony story appropriate to this Alpha launch.

They continued their chat – the first voice defending my act, though increasingly being worn down by Criticy McCritic, who listed all the acts he preferred to me. I mean fair enough, I prefer all those comedians too. But did he not know I was right there listening? Oh that’s right, he didn’t.

Others entered and left, then a third voice joined their conversation, simply asking if they wanted the urinals; the first two remarked that no, they were waiting for the cubicles. Oh no – that’s where I was. No wonder they weren’t leaving.

Without realising it, I’d started hiding. I didn’t fancy emerging when they were right there. There was a cubicle next to mine, thankfully. Yes, I thought – I’ll stay right here and let them all use that one. It meant hearing a few moans at how long I was taking, a few knocks on the door, a few speculative comments that the toilet was probably broken. No – the comedian was broken instead.

The duo kept conversing about the many standups they wished were affordable by this village church, at a time when most of the names they mentioned were lined up for the O2 or Manchester Arena. The comedy reviewing double act were clearly at the back of this queue, because they chatted for about ten minutes, getting increasingly frustrated at the toilet facilities. They were of course slowed down by me cutting the number of available loos in half.

The organiser announced the second half was about to commence, presumably slightly concerned as to where I’d gone. Now the gents had quietened, it was time to leave. I emerged from my hiding place to what was left of the queue. Those left hadn’t heard the duo’s critique, but had thought my toilet cubicle was out of order. I gave an awkward smile and they smiled back, probably thinking the stress of the first half was what caused me to occupy a cubicle for so long.

The second half went fine – perhaps better than the first half. Maybe it’s because I was trying that bit harder to win over a certain someone in the audience, whose face I never saw, but whose voice will stay with me. Forever.

Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster

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This article was published in the February 2019 edition of Reform

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