We’ve all been there. As you see a sign letting you know you’re about to pass the last-services-for-30-miles, your bladder decides it’s time to let your brain know that it needs to be emptied. And no, it can’t survive a further 30 miles. Not a chance.
So what do you do? Take the next exit in the hope that you might find a petrol station with a toilet that doesn’t need Walter White levels of protective clothing in order to escape without contracting a disease last seen in Dickensian times?
Or, if you happen to be a chap, taking a chance in a lay-by where you can safely go without the risk of being seen by some onlooking dog people. That’s dog walkers, of course.
Being a bloke, you plod on, in the desperate hope that you’ll make the services before you give your half-leather interior an unwelcome shower.
Naturally, your car gains a few extra horses, because — aside from Andy in an Astramax – nothing is quicker than a driver in need of a wee. After what feels like an eternity, you start to breathe a huge sigh of relief as the sign for the services looms into view.
Countdown markers: III… II… I…
You turn off, barely slowing down for the slip road, squinting hard to pinpoint the parking area that isn’t marked coach, lorry or caravan. And there it is: like a beacon of hope – the car park. All of a sudden you hear angels singing ‘Hallelujah’. It’s quite a moment.
At which point you’re faced with a new set of struggles. For some unfathomable reason, the service area planners have decided to create a mini driving test on the entrance to the car park. A slalom, a few suspension-killing speed bumps, a couple of chicanes and a point of entry so narrow you’re forced to breathe in.
It’s as though the planners spent far too much time trying to pass the racing licence tests in Gran Turismo and they’re hellbent on making you suffer. Curse that pesky Mazda Demio.
You find a space, park the car the best you can while cross-legged and rush out, blipping the central locking Partridge-like as you sprint toward the sliding doors. Are the toilets situated at the front of the building? What do you think?
First you have to run past CostBucks. The sound of the barista preparing a grande-size blend of sugary syrup and caffeine is doing nothing for your bladder control. Next up is the newsagent. Then the burger joint. Then the fruit machines. And then, finally, just when you thought all was lost – the toilet.
It’s as though you’ve conquered Everest. Your brain, so focused on avoiding an unwanted trouser-hose moment for the past 20 minutes, can barely differentiate between the signs for the gents or the ladies, but you’ve made it. After 30 miles of hurt, you can relax, promising yourself you’ll never leave it so late again.
At least until the next time you’re forced to endure the pain of the British motorway network.
Why make it so hard? The commercial reasons behind putting the toilets at the far end of the services are obvious – it’s no different to the gift shops you’ll find at the end of each ride at the theme park. Money talks, especially when the cheapest bar of chocolate costs the equivalent of the national debt. But seriously, give us fast lane access to the WC.
Over in Europe, things are better. The major services tend to be complemented by a series of toilet/picnic areas, so you’re never far from a wee break. Oh sure, these rest stops do come with an uncomfortable sense that you’re just minutes away from being stabbed/robbed/murdered (delete as applicable), but at least you can relieve yourself first.
In the UK, the torture is simply getting to the loo before it’s too late. Honestly, you could get through the entire Game of Thrones box set in the time it takes you to exit the motorway, negotiate the carpark gymkhana, find the toilet and re-enter the motorway. And a run in with King Joffrey would be a more pleasurable experience.