I had shat literally all I could possibly shit, but somewhere, deep down, I knew I would need to shit again imminently. Such are the joys of food poisoning, or in this case some dodgy Albanian tap water. In fairness, the foreign office advice had been fairly clear cut.

“The tap water in Albania may cause illness – you should drink only bottled water. If you drink milk, make sure it is UHT.”

Well there was no “may” about it. I had been to the toilet 13 times thus far into the night with no end in sight. The inevitable evacuation of my bowels was the only thing that could truly be counted as constant in Albania, a charming though slightly quirky country. It was at this moment in the proceedings that I went to pointlessly wipe my arse again. My hand reached through the telling empty air where the bog roll had once been and immediately my fears were realized, there was no more paper. One facet of Balkan shitters in general is the tendency to have a bin for the used toilet roll, as Tito-era plumbing isn’t up to volume of toilet roll being deposited by western European tourists who were too cheap to buy bottled water in the wake of the breakup of the former Yugoslav Republic. It turns out Hoxha’s attitude to sewage was remarkably similar.

The whole thing was a learning process, one that hitherto remained unfinished as my own liquid stool liberally coated over my own nether regions and prevented me from movement. It is at these moments, when all hope seems lost that the human brain sets itself apart from the beasts amongst which we inhabit the earth.

I surveyed the bog. A standard affair with shower, toilet, shite IKEA furniture, nothing out of the ordinary except for the small squat porcelain bowl that stood beside me, immediately differentiating my current environs from their British equivalent, for next to my stricken self was the small porcelain bowl of salvation, a thing more European than Brie, Paella, trams and liberal drug attitudes, a fucking bidet.

The bidet is a mysterious thing, something so foreign to the British rear that we have no word for it and thus, as with many things we don’t fully comprehend like croissants, papier maché and nouveau riche, we bow to the French for guidance. In my 28 years on earth I have received neither the instruction nor the encouragement to use one. If in the unlikely event that we encountered one, perhaps on a family holiday or in a roadside service station in rural Belgium, my mother’s clipped Presbyterian words would ring through:

“Just don’t touch it.”

There were no questions, there were to be no answers. What appeared to us to be the hideous bastard child of a sink and a toilet remained a shameful secret, confined to some corner of a foreign toilet that is forever not England.

Anyway, some things the adult mind needs to work out on its own. These things range from paying utility bills to subtly proposing anal sex to a long-term girlfriend for the first time. It turns out that the correct usage of a bidet is one of these autodidactic moments.

The bidet sat like a lifeboat to my stricken cruiser so as I, astride the toilet as I was, had little difficulty in negotiating the movement down one level to the right, as cheek touched porcelain the die had been cast. The first thing is the feeling, physically it was exactly the same sensation as I’d experienced a few years back after a night in Glasgow, that included several pints of lager, a bottle of MD2020 and a dodgy kebab , the consumption of which had left me caught short in the street. In my haste to unburden myself I had rushed into a pub shitter and neglected to check if the seat was down. As my arse landed on the piss and water mixture of the lower (gentlemen’s) seat, I knew I had erred. In that particular case it turned out that there hadn’t been a seat anyway (mysteriously to avoid thievery), so I missed out on nothing. Still, the experience wasn’t altogether great.

Anyhow, the bidet was different. On a purely mental level, I was at peace. Unaware, though I was of the specific comings and goings of bidet culture, I knew that ostensibly it served to wash people’s arses. This concept left my rear in less distress than the rancid urine of some Clydeside jakey.

So, to the main event. To borrow from the French again, the bidet is not one of the multitude of all things Gallic than fulfils the abundant mysticism of je ne se quoi. No, it is literally a tap to squirt water up your shitty arse, so that’s what I did. A little hot, a little cold, up, down, left, right and bang, you are done. The only issue is that at the end you are left with an exceptionally wet arse. In most cases this could be easily dried with toilet paper, the lack of which necessitated the whole experience in the first place. This opens up an interesting chicken and egg debate, the principal question therein being how you dry off after the hosing. In any case this was purely academic as, being in a hotel, and being an inconsiderate bastard I used their hand towel. Result.

Cover image courtesy of Avisionn Photo via Flickr 

Read more of Laurence River’s works here.