A colleague of mine recently showed me a catalogue with a new toilet from a German manufacturer. It was called the Balena 8000 Shower Toilet- for daily freshness and comfort and had a shower arm that emitted a spray of fresh water at body temperature to your backside, then a warm jet of air to dry you. The arm then retracted and was cleaned with disinfectant before the next user. Presumably this dispensed with the need for toilet paper and hand washing and made this device extremely eco-friendly. This is the latest example of man’s endless ingenuity in developing more and more sophisticated ways of carrying out our most basic needs.

In Austria and Switzerland, their preoccupation with anal cleanliness has resulted in toilets that have seats covered in a fine layer of tissue paper, which is replaced automatically when the user flushes the chain. Fine, you think, until the paper gets stuck to your bottom and no amount of pulling and tugging will remove it. Not very good if you are about to embark on a romantic evening with a new date. Presumably, those who wear lederhosen and enjoy the art of backside slapping, end up with the paper permanently embedded.

In Italy, they have removed all areas where contamination can occur with the result that you spend ages hunting for the flushing device in the cubicle and resort to filling the basin with mountains of toilet paper to spare you any embarrassment. It is only when you close the doors that you realise that the toilet flushes automatically. They also have washbasins with no taps. You endlessly move your hands to and fro under the fountain and just when you are about to rip it from the basin in total anger, discover that there is a simple foot pedal on the floor under the sink.

In Europe, they have installed time switches in the toilets, which means that you only have a very limited amount of time to finish your ablutions until you are plunged into total darkness. Fine as long as there is light in the washroom but if the whole place shuts down, as is often the case in Romania, then you find yourself crawling towards the exit on your hands and knees with your trousers hanging from your waist and all your vanity exposed. When you eventually do find the exit and open the door, you are suddenly bathed in light and appear as some demented pervert.

An increasingly common sight in the town centres in the UK is the pay to enter toilet, which is designed to offer a clean and secure facility free from intrusion by tramps, vagrants and drunks. You pay your money, do your business and exit as the door closes and the whole toilet is flushed clean. Fine so long as you don’t try and cheat and attempt to sneak someone else in without paying. Some friends of mine tried this once only to find that the second person that entered was sprayed from head to foot in water and disinfectant before being rescued from his hysteria by a passer by paying the full amount.

Despite this, I must say that I would prefer cleanliness and sophistication to some of the experiences that I have had.

I once worked in the Pacific Islands and would travel around them in a ship with an innocent, young doctor who used to return at night grim faced and lacking any appetite. When asked what he had been doing all day, he replied that he had been stitching up the rear ends and removing splinters from local women who had cut themselves wiping their bottoms on trees protruding into the sea. So much for those idyllic scenes of sun drenched beaches washed in surf.

I also remember working in Eastern Europe just after the Berlin Wall came down and finding the entrances to public toilets barred by old ladies holding a bowl and a toilet roll. For the payment of a simple sum, you were presented with 3 sheets of rock hard toilet paper irrespective of your size or disposition. If you found that you needed more, however, then you were forced to shout loudly, place more money into the hand that appeared underneath the door, and receive a further 3 sheets.

In Latvia, on the Baltic Sea coast, I once ventured into the toilets near the hotel entrance only to find that there were no cubicles to separate them or provide any degree of privacy. The thought of sitting there with a row of trouser less men filled me with horror and I fled to the Ladies only to find a similar situation there. This was taking communism too far, I thought only to learn later that Latvia had been the principal home for KGB agents, who presumably were so paranoid about spying that they could not trust anyone to do anything including going to the toilet alone.

At the bottom of the list must surely be the “ hole in the floor” system used in France, the Middle East and parts of Africa. Which contortionist invented this? How on earth are you supposed to balance on your knees with your trousers wrapped around your ankles as you flick at the swarm of flies that inhabit these places? You can always choose the option of removing your clothes and placing them on the floor, but you then run the risk of finding them covered in water as you pull the chain and the basin overflows.

If, however, you are toilet phobic and cannot bear to use public toilets anywhere, then you can always resort to a course of Imodium, which will bung you for days. Take care, however, with local varieties of this drug since I once gave a colleague of mine something called Idiom in Syria and he miscalculated the dose to find himself totally constipated for 3 weeks and in an extremely explosive state for his long journey home.