02.04 Wash your hands!

I for one am delighted, thankful and gratefully humbled by instructive sign age which seems to be such a ubiquitous part of our everyday life. The fact that we as adults need to be reminded to do the most basic human activities is a joy to behold. The plethora of signs displayed within the public realm; imploring me to wash my hands facilitated by the proven method of blue tacking A4 pages of laminated paper should bring comfort to us all.

02-04I’m often astonished by the lack of hand washing that occurs in men’s toilets (I don’t frequent women’s toilets often enough to observe their habits so I cannot estimate a useful statistic on their hand washing habits). Men however, are particularly resistant to washing their hands after the use of the urinal. 1 in 5 feels about accurate; which decreases to around 1 in 10 as the evening rumbles on and the lack of inhibition and the lure of the festivities beyond the toilet walls propels the said males back out of the toilet and into the social melee which awaits them.

However, these individuals are not confused regarding methodology, they do not stand ideally over the sink scrapping their hands over the plug hole confused and dazed regarding the correct procedure. Those who feel that the ‘finger rinse’ is more than adequate are not introverted shy flowers too shy to ask for guidance and who require education regarding the correct technique! They are in fact people who can’t be bothered to wash their hands properly.

As unhygienic as this there are only two solutions; perhaps a plague caused by peoples inability to wash their hands or a shift in socially acceptable behaviour. As the spreading of disease and pestilence seems like overkill perhaps we should opt for the later. Signposting detailed instructions in a lockable private space ain’t gonna do it.

A toilet monitor would be much more effective. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not proposing a toilet monitor in a similar mould to that of hall monitors in American schools (or at least the American teen movies I’ve wasted hours of my life watching). No; I’m referring more to a man sitting (or standing) in the corner of the toilet area.

This may sound odd but bear with me! I’ve been in clubs at 3am when people are so drunk that they seem barely aware that they have feet; and their ability to stand upright comes from a Weeble-like defiance of gravity. They seem as devoid of conscience and they will soon be of consciousness. However, at the moment that they realise that there is another presence; the man (let’s call him an officer) who has been hired by the club to spray their hands and with soap and provide tissues for them to clean their hands after he has sprayed it with soap… is watching them. He takes payment only in pound coins (as his tip dish confidently displays) and you in return will receive a lollipop.

The ‘hand-wash-absconder’ is now met with a dilemma. Do they now want a lollipop? Is it worth a pound? And most importantly; will they look bad if they don’t wash their hands? As this is the only way to avoid paying a pound for a lollipop that they didn’t know they wanted moments before.

Surprisingly, most succumb to the power of persuasion by the near silent toilet officer by either defiantly washing their hands and not participating in commercial transactions or succumbing to both incentives. Either way the ratio of hand washing rises considerably.

The message is clear; people need to be tricked into hygiene, information is all very well but social guilt is better.


This article was written in 2011 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time

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