Freshen Up

I don’t know what it’s like in your neck of the woods, but going out in the centre of town these days can be a bit of a nightmare. Not because of the roaming gangs of beered-up young men, who make the average foetus look like Stephen Hawking in the brains department. Not because of the drinks prices, which as soon as you enter the Digestion Charge Zone make buying a round bring a tear to your eye and necessitate you remortgaging your house. No – it’s all because of the “freshen up” man.

Going to the toilet in a nightclub used to be so easy. I hate to get technical here, but you entered, did your business and then left. Now, however, you have to negotiate around the guy trying to force various types of soap and aftershave on you while you wash your hands. But I already have put on aftershave – I’m dressed to impress. Forgetting aftershave is like forgetting your trousers. Aside from the obvious irritation of being accosted, though, the “freshen up” man makes me very uncomfortable. And it has little to do with the cringeworthy “no spray, no lay” patter, painful though it is.

Bristol, where I live, is a city that has often struggled to move beyond its lucrative links with the Atlantic and African slave trades, which made a lot of men very rich until the beginning of the nineteenth century. There is regular controversy over the naming of streets such as Blackboy Hill and Whiteladies Road, and of the music venue bearing the name of Edward Colston, one of the city’s wealthiest slave traders. Even now, the issue is a melting pot of anger and shame.

With this history around me, the sight of a man – always a black man, I’m sorry to say – standing in a toilet area, being deferential to a stream of people as he tries to wash their hands and make them “freshen up”, can’t help but make me think of slavery. This is the twenty first century, but the existence of such a role and the people filling it really does hark back to another age. I really don’t like it. And I know how to wash my hands myself, thank you very much.

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