I go to the toilet after the main and there’s this framed certificate on the wall above the urinals saying Loo Awards and then the year in some fancy cursive script. In the top right-hand corner there’s a Gold Medal too, in an off-Gold cartoon-ish circle. I piss, zip, wash my hands and think: there’s an idea, I could do that, and back at the table I tell Leah and Alex.
Alex says, “You’ll need a toilet first, no?”
“Yeah,” Leah joins in. “No more pissing in the layby. Don’t you think you need to do that before thinking about an award?”
I imagine a black-tie dinner, a ceremony, me standing in front of a lectern, one of those fancy glass ones, to accept my award, smiles, applause, cheering, gushing epithets, the first greasy spoon café to win a Loo Award, customers queuing out the Portacabin.
“It can’t be too hard.”
The next day I go to work and try to figure out how to add a toilet. I serve bacon and egg sandwiches, beans on toast and milky tea to truck drivers, passers-by, travellers, families. In between I sketch a toilet design and read an article about it in a trade magazine. After a while, I ask Frank what he thinks. He says, “We haven’t got enough room as it is. Can’t we just get a Portaloo?”
“Why didn’t I think of that?”
By the end of the week I have one ordered. The following week it arrives. I clean it out, add a hand towel and some quilted toilet roll. It’s only a Portaloo, but why not? I put hand moisturiser next to the soap, potpourri to mask the scent. Frank says, “People just want to shit and piss, Kevin, why bother?” I ignore him, take photos and hand out feedback forms. I figure I need both to get the Loo Awards’ attention. Frank says, “Thank you for dining with us. How was your poo-ing experience?”
After a week or so I read the feedback: nice touch with the potpourri; you need a heated seat, it’s freezing out there; what’s that white stuff for next to the soap, it went all weird in my hands; why do I need to smell flowers when shitting?!; great loo roll, much better than that greaseproof paper stuff we used to get at school.
I exchange the potpourri for air freshener, put a label above the moisturiser and the soap, advertise a heated seat coming soon. The feedback is mixed: great news about the seat!; what happened to the potpourri?; like the air freshener!; thanks for the soap/moisturiser labeling thingummy; that loo roll’s way too thick, like wiping my arse with a duvet.
I show Frank. He says, “Can’t please everyone.”
I agree. “I might just alternate potpourri and air freshener, give them a choice of loo roll, see how that goes, say it was due to customer feedback, etc.”
“And the heated seat?”
At the end of the month I compile the feedback and send it with the photos to the Loo Awards people. I figure they’ll have to create a new category, a new genre, to deal with it: Best Portaloo. I imagine they’ll be surprised, confounded, amazed by what I’ve done.
I get no reply.
Frank says, “Did you ask them for feedback?”
That night I email the awards asking for feedback. I tell them about what I’m doing and why. Again I get no reply. Frank says: “They probably get emails all the time.”
“They can’t reply to all of them.”
“Or take a while to get through them all.”
The next week I forget about it and add a hand dryer, one of those new super powerful ones. No one can help me with the heated toilet seat so I figure it’s the next best thing. I’m a pioneer.
Two days later I get an email from Loo Awards people. It says: Thank you for your interest in the Loo Awards. Unfortunately, after careful consideration, we’ve decided not to nominate you for an award at this time. Thanks again, and best of luck with your future lavatorial endeavours. Yours, The Loo Award Panel.
I say to Frank: “Couldn’t they at least give me some constructive feedback?”
“Reads like a template.”
“An automatic response.”
“Well, at least we’ve got a few more punters.”
The next morning I clean the Portaloo. When I finish I ask Frank to hold the fort. He asks why.
I get in the car, go back to the restaurant I went to with Alex and Leah, order a drink and a starter only – I need to save money for the Portaloo – and then head through to the toilet again. This time I take a notebook and pen. Three years in a row: gold medal. They have to be doing something right. When I get back to the café, Frank asks how it went. I say, “I don’t understand. We’ve got everything they’ve got, and more: hand dryer, choice of loo roll, the potpourri, everything. We’re doing everything right.”
Frank dries his hands on a hand-towel and puts a plate of scrambled eggs on toast in front of a customer. “Maybe it’s not what you have, it’s who you know. Maybe you should try a different award.”
“Or maybe it’s that they’ve got toilets and urinals.”
“And ladies and gents.”
“You’d think they’d have a uni-sex category.”
“Or a Portaloo one.”
I go out to the Portaloo and take a look. It looks and smells great. Everything fits. I decide to try again. The hand dryer’s new. Maybe that’ll make a difference.
Two weeks later I get a reply: Thank you for your interest in the Loo Awards. We appreciated the chance to consider your loo and have reviewed it carefully. Unfortunately, it is not what we are looking for at the present time. Thanks again and good luck.
I show Frank. He says, “Don’t worry about it. If the customers like it.”
“What do they know?”
That night I take the potpourri and air freshener out. I replace the loo roll with some greaseproof paper stuff and remove the moisturizer. I disconnect the hand dryer and fiddle with the lock so the door doesn’t close properly. I take a shit and leave a stain in the bowl. Then I take photos and wait for feedback. I figure it’s a Portaloo. It’s supposed to be shit.
Everyone hates it.
After a month the Loo Awards people get back to me. They say they’re sending someone for an inspection. They’ll be there next week. Frank says, “They probably think it fits with the whole greasy spoon vibe.”
“Shit with shit.”
“Something like that.”
“Why pretend to be something we’re not?”
“Win worst loo of the year.”
The day the Loo Awards man comes out I wake early and get to work before Frank. I want it to be as shit as possible. When the man arrives I make him a chip butty and a glass of orange juice from concentrate and take him out to the Portaloo. He inspects and takes notes.
“Well?” I ask when he’s done.
“I’ll get back to you.”
“You can’t say anything now?”
“Not at this stage.”
“Not even an idea?”
“Sorry, I have a procedure to follow.”
A week later the report arrives. It says: Thanks for the opportunity to review your toilets. We know you’ve taken a lot of time and care with it so we’d like to give you some feedback. First, the toilet itself: it was disgusting, it needs a clean. The toilet roll was below standard and the door was broken. We liked the soap, but the hand dryer was broken. Please try to fix it. I hope this feedback doesn’t disappoint you too much. There were many positives too. Keep trying and I am confident we will consider your toilet for the Loo Awards in the future.
Frank says, “That’s worse than the emails.”
“And the loo was better then.”
“You’d think the photos were enough.”
“I know. All they’ve done is tell me what I know.”
“You should just go back to how it was before.”
“Keep the customers happy.”
“Even if they have no idea what they want.”
The next day I reconnect the hand dryer and put the soft toilet roll back in, along with a rougher one. I go back to alternating between potpourri and air freshener, and reinstall the moisturizer. I fix the lock and get in contact with suppliers about a heated seat. We serve bacon and eggs, beans on toast and scrambled eggs, chip butties, milky tea and orange juice from concentrate. I get rid of the feedback forms and figure the Loo Awards are rigged.
A month later a man comes in and says, “Hi, I’m from the Loo Awards. Your Portaloo’s great. Do you want me to nominate you for a gold medal?”
I tell him to leave.