E Jane Dickson: 'Fraudulently using a lavatory isn't an offence in Italy, but taking up residence in one may be'

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The Independent Online

"'To pee or not to pee,' as Shakespeare might have said," cackles Conor for the 50th time in a morning, "that is the question."

"'To pee or not to pee,' as Shakespeare might have said," cackles Conor for the 50th time in a morning, "that is the question."

The problem with children in hot places is that they are always having to drink. Which means, of course, they're always needing to pee. Since our arrival 10 days ago in Tuscany, I have checked out every kind of lavatory arrangement, each one stinkier than the last. If the gods are smiling, it will be a proper sit-down affair, with paper. More often, it's the old "steady-on-the-foot plate, aim, fire!" system of the stand-up gabinetto, and the Golden Shot challenge of talking one's eight-year-old daughter through this procedure from the other side of a prudishly locked door. ("Oh, for god's sake, it's fine," I hiss, smiling apologetically at the lengthening queue. "What do you think they did in the days before toilet paper? Just shake around a bit!") "That," says Con, as Clara relates the horror of the latest pitstop, "is a reason why boys are better than girls. With a willy, you can pee where you like."

In Siena, Clara is once more in extremis, and so are my nerves. Leaving Conor practising ceremonial flag-waving on his new Palio banner, and his granny in a shady square, I straighten Clara's sun frock and march her into the nearest five-star hotel.

"Just look like you know where you're going," I instruct. Our purposeful progress through the lobby leads us straight to a service elevator full of dirty laundry.

"We're for it now, Mum," says Clara.

''Nonsense," I bark, sounding more and more like Maggie Smith in Tea with Mussolini, "we'll just ask this gentleman." Quailing before the haughty stare of the concierge, I ask instead where the business centre is (reasoning that any business centre worth the name will have a toilet attached), and learn - bugger it - that there is no such facility in the hotel. I do my best to look like a frustrated captain of industry (in too-tight skirt and flip-flops), and stalk from the desk, catching sight - thank you, God! - of a mahogany door with "Toilette" clearly marked in golden letters.

"This is the poshest toilet I have ever seen," breathes Clara, marvelling at the linen hand towels and bottles of cologne at our disposal. I, too, am loathe to leave the cool, marble, rose-scented precincts of the loo. But while I'm sure that fraudulently using a lavatory is not a civil offence in Italy, I think taking up residence in one might be, so we rejoin the flag party in the piazza. "It was fantastic! Just like being a spy," Clara tells Con, who immediately wants to try it for himself.

"Forget it," I tell him. "You are the one with the willy. You can pee where you like."

But Conor is not to be beaten. "What if it's a poo?" he says. "You pooed this morning," I remind him. "For now, as Sartre might have said, it's peeing or nothing."

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