“I’ve been putting it off, hopping up and down, tensing first one buttock then the other, waiting until the pain is insupportable . . . but although it’s a dirty job, someone has to let go and ask the question: why is it that so many men piss in the streets nowadays? Time was when the average British male would no more publicly urinate than he would fornicate or defecate – but now the streets round my way run yellow. Indeed, there’s an alley opposite my house that I can see from where I’m typing this column, and if I chance to glance in that direction I’ll often clock some perfectly ordinary-looking chap duck into it, unzip, then splutter.
“I’ve got so fed up with it that on one occasion, when I saw two men taking a dual leak, I went across and asked one of them where he lived. ‘Why d’you wanna know?’ he said. ‘Simple,’ I replied. ‘So I can come round and piss outside your house.’
“Of course, I’m not so ignorant as to imagine that the taboo against al fresco relief was always in place, but I should imagine that apart from wartime it endured for much of the 20th century. Certainly, I can never remember seeing British men do this when I was a child – it was a dirty foreign habit, indulged in by the likes of the French, whose pissoirs were in any case barely decent. Even in the late 1990s a trip to Paris always began with a distinct urinous tang as you stepped forth from the Gare du Nord, whereas now the smell hits you at St Pancras.”
Read the rest of last week’s Madness of Crowds here at the New Statesman.