Susan van Ling had a dim view of French toilets. But she handled them well...
The Still, hot, South-of-France midday air was so thick you could almost feel it, and the streets were being washed with long hoses. I remember thinking how civilised everything was. It must have been the water that made me think of toilets and my heart sank. French sanitation was one reason. My Dutch husband was the other.

He always just walks into the nearest hotel or restaurant when he wants to use the loo ... but I can't, because I'm English. It can cause the odd domestic scene so when I need to go I don't tell him. After an agonising wait, I eventually found a sign directing me to the public facility.

Women of 44 are conditioned for years to back into toilets, thus the squats found in France (which need to be confronted head on), take some getting used to. The ghastly sight normally behind me was now in front of me but I could not stop. My glasses - which were perched on top of my head - fell silently and decisively into a million years of excreta and paper.

I could see nothing close up without my reading glasses, no more map reading and I wouldn't know what I was buying, or eating. It was a disaster and the French would pay. Why clean the streets when the toilets are a living, palpitating germ bed. I stormed the Hotel de Ville and asked, in what can only be described as Allo Allo French: "Mon lunette sont dans la toilette. And what are you going to do about it?"

To be completely fair the policewoman was extremely sympathetic ... and offered me a role of paper. Or, she wondered, could madame use a very long plastic bag. The look on my face as I visualised my arm down the black hole was enough to make the poor woman step backwards. I took the bag and walked away ... it had to be done.

Inside, the toilet the door was locked and someone was inside. "What's the word for flush?" I yelled across the square at my husband. Obviously his Business French lessons hadn't included that lesson. I ran back.

"Don't flush ... pas de flushing," I screamed.

The door opened and out walked a very angry woman who asked in English, "Can I help you?". The explanation followed in hysterical tones and her anger at my plight turned to total sympathy. "Can I get you some paper?"

I placed two pads of police paper in the floor and positioned each knee on them. Then I thrust my arm in the black plastic bag.

"I can't do it," I cried. "You can, you can..." encouraged the woman.

I closed my eyes and thought of England. Through about six inches of paper and ... things, I hit something metal and there they were. There was a loud cheer behind me - I had done it, I had had my arm down the sewers of France. I was invincible.