I was in dire need of a leak the other day just after seeing Atonement at the Nu Metro at Canal Walk, the shopping centre near Cape Town which, in design, sits uncomfortably between Nataniël’s boeredoir and the visual riot going on in Sol Kerzner’s head at any one time.

The gents’ loo at this movieplex is somewhat more restrained than both of those wild images. Shiny black floors and walls dotted with urinals, all quite ordinary, really, until you step up to one of them, unzip, give Johnny the first airing he’s had in two hours, and let fly the collected waters. It is in mid-flow that the bloody urinal starts talking to you. Say what? Whoozzat?

“Not me, brother, it’s this thing here talking.” That’s Vusi, three urinals down, just about to give Thulani some air, and he starts and splashes on the floor when the little voice addresses him.

There’s a tiny speaker built into the wall, and that voiceover guy from M-Net is in there, bro, and he is checking us out. What’s he say? Ah man, I missed some of it, considering that I was trying to pee and all (I didn’t exactly have a notebook to hand, you know), but it went something like this: “Fact. Fifty-eight percent of males do not wash their hands after peeing. Go wash your hands.”

I take no responsibility for that percentage, by the way; it’s just an example, though it’s not far off the one given by the talking urinal. For all I know, it could be 57%, or only 52%. But look, either way it’s a lot, and if you think about it, the bloody urinal has a point: wash your flippin’ hands, dude.

This is worrying if you think about it. I mean, how far could this go? Dunno about you, but when I’m having a pee, especially just after seeing a movie, I like to reflect on the cinematic masterpiece I’ve just seen, assess the performances of the leading actors, mull over that scene again in which Keira Knightly steps out of the water in a negligee, heady stuff like that, you know. I do not want a lecture from a frigging talking urinal trying to teach me what my mom taught me in 19 … oh, whenever.

Is there no quiet space left for us in this world? No nanomillimetre of time or space that will not be appropriated by those who will instruct us or have us buy their goods? Like those little ads on websites that flash incessantly at you when you’re trying to read someone’s brilliant column, or, my worst, the horrible songs played when you’re on hold, and the endlessly repeated messages from the woman in the phone. (How do they get into these small spaces?)

What else will they sell us at the urinal?

“Fact. Tight underwear can inhibit bloodflow and cause all sorts of nasty or embarrassing problems. The new easywear range from Calvin Klein is designed to alleviate this. And by the way, for those Afrikaans-speakers among you, it’s ‘Klein’, the German way.”

“Fact. Most men of a certain age need a little help, if you know what I mean? Try new Uplift, available from leading pharmacies or from www.uplift.co.za. Contains Viagra.”

“Hi there. You look like the sort of man who appreciates the good things in life. Treat yourself to a weekend of pampering at our new health spa and wellness centre. Trained masseuses on hand.”

“Stop right there! Has it ever occurred to you that if you pee too often, your muscles will weaken over time and you’ll end up with urinary incontinence? Why not zip up and come back in half an hour? It will do wonders for you!”

“Whoah, dude! That’s way too much shaking for polite company. Try one of the booths.”

And finally …

“Ladies and gentlemen … oh sorry, there’s just you. May we ask you to take your seat in the cinema, sir? Tonight’s screening of Charlie Wilson’s War is about to begin. Oh by the way, your wife wants some popcorn and a Coke Light.”

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Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman is a journalist, budding playwright and sometime chef. He's written two plays, An Influence of Ghosts and Blue Train Coming, and back in the day wrote loads of songs. He paints a bit in watercolours...

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