Where Have All The Gentlemen Gone?

The only memorable impression I have of Stockport, is a result of the toilets at the train station; perhaps not the most glamourous of beginnings, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Last week I was travelling to Buxton to perform at the Fringe Festival, or more accurately, to cancel shows at the Fringe Festival due to a distinct lack of audience, and had to change trains in Stockport where I was caught short. I normally try to avoid the toilets at train stations as I’m not a fan of hepatitis and generally don’t need to buy heroin, but on this day both my bladder and circumstance were conspiring against me so I had to make the dash.

A station with open and operational toilets seems to be a rarity in these dangerous times. It seems the risk of fundamentalist insurgents hiding high-explosives in a large unflushable shit and depositing them in a train station loo is great enough to warrant keeping the toilets in a permanent state of bladder taunting closure. In Stockport however, sanity has prevailed, the station operators no doubt realising that the presence of terrorism in the world and the basic human requirement to urinate on a semi-regular basis are not mutually exclusive.

I found a station attendant, politely asked him for directions to the toilet and was directed to platform three where I braced myself for, at the very least, a rancid smorgasbord for the senses. Thanks to some spot-on directions, I found the toilets without issue and scoffed audibly when I noticed that the sign on the door read “gentlemen”. Considering some of the whopping specimens of humanity banging around Stockport station I thought that this was perhaps the most ironic sign in the world. It must be a joke, because if you took it at face value, it was at best a misrepresentation, and at worst, a lie.

When was the last time a “gentleman” had stopped in for a piss at Stockport toilets? When was the last time a Gentleman called for his driver to halt the carriage on the way to the opera, apologised to his beloved sitting across from him, stepped into the street, trotted up the station steps, leapt over the ticket barrier, strode to platform three, found the conveniences, avoided being blown-up by a shit-covered bomb, unbuttoned coat & breeches and managed to relieve himself? Never; that’s when.

Have the station staff no pride in the accuracy of their signage? It starts with mis-labelling the bathroom clientele as “gentlemen” but you know that the madness will continue until all the notices are lies and the electric rail is labelled as “Child’s toy, please touch”.

Perhaps they are in the process of changing the signs to something more accurate – based on the station’s male patrons, I’d say “fuck-knuckle” would have been pretty apt – but that it’s a highly skilled job requiring diplomacy, intellect, grace, aplomb and a deft hand with a soft touch. Perhaps there are only one or two people in the country qualified to replace “gentlemen” with their modern day equivalent and they’re up to their eyeballs, trying to update every train station toilet sign in the UK.

Personally, I hope that “gentlemen” is intentional, left there in the hope of inspiring the men of Stockport to perhaps become Gentlemen, as least for a few brief minutes while they empty their bladders and/or bowels. What a wonderfully optimistic strategy for a noble goal that would be, improving the calibre of the men in the world with inspirational signage. Optimistic, because it’s unlikely to succeed and noble because if there’s one thing this world could do with, it’s more gentlemen.

We’ve got man’s men, ladies’ men, hard men, tough men, metrosexuals, homosexuals, transexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals. We’ve got go-getters, trend-setters, junkies, tramps and thieves, but where oh where have the gentlemen gone? Where are the men that will open doors and shake hands, offer seats and handkerchiefs? Men who are quick to act, but slow to fight, keen to enquire and willing to assist? If the signs are to be believed, then they’re in the toilets at Stockport station.

Perhaps that’s where they’re hunkering down. Maybe they saw a world too callous and cruel to embrace their placid, giving nature and decided to wait for the current climate of selfishness and suspicion to blow over, before striding out to make their way in a world that was ready to accept a polite man that refuses to fight.

I push on the door and enter into a surprisingly quite, clean, almost pleasant room. Expecting a typical piss-drenched tile-nightmare, I quicly glance back out the door to ensure that I haven’t stumbled through some Narnia-esque portal, but my eyes confirm what my brain won’t believe, I am in fact standing in a public toilet and I’m not dry retching. Neither am I surrounded by a cadre of gentlemen cowering from a unforgiving world. Despite only requiring the facilities for the briefest of moments, the experience is so shockingly pleasant that I’m tempted to put down my bag and soak up the atmosphere on the bench provided. Reluctantly I leave the toilets to catch my connecting train from the station’s mysteriously named “platform 0” (which I can only assume is Stockport’s homage to both Harry Potter and Being John Malkovich).

On my way to the train I pass a teenage boy-man-idiot, smoking on the platform and swearing into his mobile phone. He’s ignoring his girlfriend who is calling out to him for help as she tries to drag their twin kids in a double pram up the steps to the platform. Seeing a young woman in obvious distress, an old man at the bottom of the stairs drops his bags and lifts up the bottom edge of the pram, helping the woman carry it to the top of the stairs. While the woman thanks the old man for his help, her partner, Smokey McFucktrain, throws his cigarette onto the tracks and yells “Fuck off away from my kids you old paedo!” before returning to berating whoever is on the other end of his phone. The old man ignores the insult, offers the young woman a little bow and returned to his bags at the bottom of the stairs.

I quickly hustle past the pram scene and made my way down the stairs towards platform 0. As I pass the old man in the underpass, I nod hello to him, whereupon he stops me and asks if I know where the toilets are. I smile. “Head to the end of platform 3, they’re well sign-posted, you won’t miss them.”

As I climb aboard my platform zero train from Stockport to Buxton I think about the toilets again. There might not be many gentlemen left in the world and considering the scene I’d just witnessed you can understand why. Who wants to go out of their way to be nice when it’s only going to earn you a bollocking from a fuck-tard on a train platform? But, despite this, gentlemen exist, chipping away at the callousness of the world. They might not have our gratitude, they might not have our support, but at least they have a public toilet bearing their name on a train platform in Stockport.

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