Trapped in a toilet turnstile

The ear of Dionysus
Photo by Serena Koi on

I’m down on my hands and knees trying to escape from the men’s urinal at the Neapolis Archaeological Park by squeezing myself underneath the turnstile at the exit. I’m trapped in a toilet turnstile.

I’m going out the way I came in not because I’m playing a perverse version of Parkour or because of a silly bet but because the exit gate, which should swing open automatically is jammed, its electronics misfiring as badly as an Alfa Romeo sports car made in the swinging sixties.

I want to leave the loo upright

I would prefer to be leaving this lavatory in a more conventional and dignified way. Upright on two feet, flies zipped up and trousers splash free. ‘Standing tall’, as John Wayne might have said. But, right now, my white linen shirt is snagged in the turnstile and I’m trapped like an angry worm wriggling through a small, unyielding hole.

I pray no one comes in and sees me while I sort myself out. A demeaning picture like this – ‘Boomer with Beer Belly Trapped in Toilet Turnstile’ – could go viral in minutes and leave my children no option but to change their surname and sever all ties with me.

The hand-written note on the exit gate should have been a warning. It said ‘Don’t push this gate. It will open automatically.’ Only, it doesn’t.

I’m piffling away my life

I’ve just piffled away ten minutes of my life patiently pressing and repressing the exit button while nudging the door with my thigh. But each time the door swings open a few tantalising inches, it shuts again, as heartless as Priti Patel’s Nationality & Borders Bill.

Less than 100m from this malfunctioning urinal is the tomb of Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathematician who calculated Pi. What would he do if he saw me now? Laugh, I guess, that 2,500 years after he invented the screw pump, mankind still can’t build a functioning door to a public convenience. Ecce homo. Ecce man in the middle.

I have made a couple of half-hearted attempts to climb over the gate, but it’s hip high and getting my leg over it (so to speak) without emasculating myself is risky. I’ve considered ‘Doing a Sweeney’ and kicking the gate off its hinges, too. But there were a couple of fierce looking Carabinieri nearby when I entered this purgatorial pissoir and, I don’t think they’d approve of me vandalising their public loo.

My wife is buying a cappuchino

More importantly, nor would my wife. She’s buying a cappuchino at the Park café, the other side of this tyrannical toilet turnstile, and expecting me to join her soon. If I turn up arm in arm with a couple of Carabinieri on my way to the local police cells, she won’t be amused. Not least because it would disrupt the schedule for the day and we haven’t yet seen the Ear of Dionysus, where the ancient Greeks sought Godly advice, or the Nymph’s Grotto. Both are on today’s bucket list and must be ticked off or else.

I wonder if she will wait for me? I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t. This Sicilian trip is meant to be our first empty nester, post Covid holiday as well as a postponed wedding anniversary. But that doesn’t mean she’s got to waste it hanging around waiting for me to escape from a lavatory. There may come a time when she chooses to help her husband in and out of the loo, but that time isn’t now.

Two giant Trump supporters stand over me

I realise there may be more at stake than my personal dignity. I take a few deep breaths and slowly unpick my shirt from the gate and then thread my body carefully through the turnstile. I’m about half-way out, when I see two large Americans, staring down at me.

‘You OK, buddy?’ asks one.

‘Perfectly,’ I say.

‘Re-enacting ‘Escape from Colditz’?’ asks the other and laughs.

Both are wearing MAGA baseball hats. Just my luck. When you need someone with a heart along comes a Trump supporter.

‘More like ‘Escape from Brexit’,’ I say, a little breathlessly. He laughs.

‘Hear that’s not going so well, either.’

‘You want us to pull you out?’

Pray to the Ear of Dionysus

The shame of being saved by two Trump loving Americans is more than I can bear. Silently, I call on Dionysus and all the nymphs, fauns and holy whatnots who have ever lived in this Park to help me out of this pickle.

‘There,’ I say, staggering slightly as I stand up. I wave the Americans through the turnstile.

‘All yours,’ I say.

‘Have a good day,’ they say, as they slip their large buttocks sideways through the turnstile.

As I hurry to the Park café, I wonder if I should warn them about the broken exit door and the trouble they too might have exiting the urinal. But I’m more worried about catching up with my wife and forgetting this undignified episode so don’t.

‘Where next?’ asks my wife, handing me my coffee.

‘The Ear of Dionysus,’ I reply. ‘I’ve got to thank him for something.’

‘Thank him?’

‘Yes. He just got me out of a really tight spot.’



A version of this blog has appeared in the Chiswick Calendar.


Published by Man in the Middle

Ecce Man in the Middle. The stale meat in the inter-generational sandwich.