Lockers and leavers differ over loo-ssez faire attitude
Claudia Winkleman says she operates an open-door loo policy - news that horrifies Helen Kirwan-Taylor
I wonder where you're reading this - at the breakfast table, perhaps, or on your commute, or even, whisper it, on the loo, that little private sanctuary for so many of us.
Except for Claudia Winkleman, that is, who operates an open-door policy in her house, revealing last week that she doesn't have a single lock on the internal lavatory doors because, as she puts it, "why would you?"
Her loo-ssez-faire attitude extends beyond her own four walls, too, she explained, as she leaves cubicle doors unlocked when out with friends. "I'd never close a door. I'd never lock a cubicle," the Strictly Come Dancing presenter told Sali Hughes in an interview posted on the beauty journalist's website. "I'm chatting, there's stuff to say," she added.
Though her attitude to public lavatory use may put her in the minority, the notion of locking the door on one's own loo seems to have created an even split, with most falling firmly into one of two camps: lockers or leavers.
Here I had better out myself as a locker of the highest degree; a sufferer of loo shame which may seem at odds with views of my fellow Americans' let-it-all-hang-out mien. I've cancelled trips, even, on finding out that they would necessitate sharing a bathroom with "up to four" others.
Where this aversion began, I don't know, but my own household certainly hasn't helped: living in a place full of men, doors might be closed (on a good day) - but only as an afterthought, and as for remembering to flush, that's another matter entirely. There are endless lavatory jokes made at the breakfast table, too, but I know that, even for my 22- and 24-year-old, operating a Winkleman-style door policy would be a step too far.
Historically speaking, privacy in the powder room is almost posh. Families used to share one pot, with only the very wealthy having the means to go behind locked doors. Back in Roman times, loos were constructed on long benches where people chatted as they did their business (this is still the case in some parts of China).
It's only since the 18th century, really, that locks began appearing on doors -something for which I remain eternally grateful. Yet now we live in a time where every intimate thought is shared on social media, so perhaps it makes sense that our bathroom habits should be out in the open as well.
Add to the mix that most of us are now surgically attached to our smartphones, which provide a whole new kind of lavatory entertainment, and everything we thought we knew about the loo has surely become dust.
This modern attitude can do nothing for romance. My husband would be utterly horrified if he ever stumbled in on me doing my business, and I feel the same way. I have lived in Italy and France, where women take a great deal of trouble to maintain a certain mystique. A Frenchwoman would never allow a man to see her doing her ablutions, ever. Not even a tinkle. She would never conduct family conversations from within the loo, nor discuss her hot flushes in public, nor go out wearing tracksuit bottoms. I think we call this being elegant - and that attitude should extend to the lavatory, too.
That means shutting and locking the door because, let's face it, we all look vulnerable and a bit stupid on the loo.
In fact, to calm my interview nerves, I was taught to imagine my prospective boss in such a situation: it would make him more human, the logic went, less fearsome. Most of us have never seen our colleagues or loved ones in such a state and probably want to keep it that way. Even my dog tries to find a discreet place to relieve himself, and really minds if I watch (clearly, I've taught him well).
The one area where lockers and leavers must surely unite is the abject horror we feel should we inadvertently walk in on someone who has failed to correctly lock the door while on a train or plane. So why invite that same potential for disaster into your home?
I once spent two weeks at Austria's Mayr Clinic, which bills itself as a luxury detox retreat, but is in effect a water closet camp. Important people, used to ferociously guarding their privacy - from CEOs to politicians and actors - were suddenly discussing the finer points of what they were passing, all in a bid to cleanse mind, body and spirit. Though chatting about one's digestion and habits still strikes this lavatory prude as nightmarish, others there seemed enraptured, sharing intimate details with almost brutal enthusiasm.
Discussing lavatory activity of any kind other than what style of taps you're thinking of getting should, as far as I'm concerned, be barred, but my crusade is becoming evermore challenging. We're all meant to embrace the experience now. Ever since Gut, the bestselling book by Guilia Enders, was published in 2014, what was once a private affair has increasingly been seen as a matter for public discourse. Who cares about a lock, they seem to think, when there are bigger things going on in the smallest room to discuss?
I will persist, though, in bolting the door tightly wherever I can. Claudia Winkleman may baulk at the prospect of having to pause a conversation for a minute or two, but surely it is worth the wait?