Date of writing : Monday, after lunch, 06/01/2014
Even the servery workers weren’t sure what lunch was today. It was supposed to be fish fingers for me but I got some kind of circular thing with breadcrumbs on. I’m still not certain whether it was fish or some kind of animal. I’m probably glad I didn’t go for the mystery pasty. But anyway, today we’ve been on normal unlock in the morning, which is something to be thankful for. It meant I had a chance to try to teach a bit of basic calculus to a guy with the same name as me from my county, as a set-up for a joke; punch line still didn’t go down too well though. I’ve been talking to him a lot lately, so he probably needs a name. Let’s call him ‘Paul’.
I managed to have a shower this morning, which was probably overdue. Maybe certain images may spring to your mind when you think of prison showers – they’re often the basis of jokes, sometimes involving a muscular tattooed gentleman asking if you could pass him the soap … Rest assured, things aren’t nearly as intimidating as you might imagine. It’s not just an open room, and people generally observe social rules to make everyone more comfortable.
All socially normal males quickly learn the rules of the urinal. There are several of these, universally accepted, that serve to maintain social comfort and minimise the risk of allegations of predatory homosexuality. For example, if there are three urinals and one at the end is occupied, you should choose the one at the other end. The more socially-minded male will, when faced with an open choice of all three, avoid selecting the central one – mindful of the impossible situation that would present for the next visitor. The fundamental rule is that there should be a gap of at least one urinal between you and any other gentleman. This rule is allowed to be ignored only during times of very high traffic, and even then only if each man makes it outstandingly clear where he is (or more importantly, isn’t) looking – like the exaggerated mirror checks required during a driving test.
Now, this does bring me neatly to an aside. I have a confession to make: I’m not a urinal user. For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from ‘stage fright’ – I’m psychologically incapable of urinating in the presence of another person. I believe this is far more common amongst men than is generally accepted. Given the choice, I’d always go for a cubicle. Moreover, I also confess that I’ll generally sit down too … There! I’ve said it. When locked in my cell however, I’m almost always in the presence of another person. Of all the practical problems presented by incarceration, it was this that initially I found most difficult. Thankfully, of necessity I’ve gradually overcome the issue – even though I still take any opportunity I can to toilet in private.
Anyway there was a point to my urinal discussion – the social rules of prison showers are very similar to those applicable to urinals. There are cubicles of a sort here, fairly large, but with walls and doors that come about halfway up my biceps (I’m a little under six foot tall). The cubicles are in rows of threes and fives, and again, the aim is to keep an empty one between you and the next guy. I’m thankful that the vast majority observe this social convention. I say the vast majority, because there’s always an exception …
Perhaps there should be a multiple-choice test before people are allowed into the general prison population – a bit like the driving theory test – for example:
1. When your cell mate collects his towel, shower gel and flip-flops, and heads out of the door, do you:
(a) Conclude he is going for a shower and think little of it,
(b) Ask whether he is going for a shower and try to start an inane conversation about it, or
(c) Follow along to the showers a couple of minutes later – because we’re all buddies, right?
2. When in a shower cubicle next to someone you know (aside of course, from the fact that this should not have happened), do you:
(a) Acknowledge them with a curt nod and/or minimal vocalisation, then act as if they weren’t there at all,
(b) Engage them in polite conversation, or
(c) Lean on the dividing wall and attempt to converse at length whilst paying no attention to the direction of your gaze?
3. When finishing your shower, do you:
(a) Get dried and dressed promptly, mindful of the comfort of your fellow inmates,
(b) Get dried and dressed at your own pace whilst chatting to anyone who is around, whether they like it or not, or
(c) Wander about naked for as long as possible, to ensure your body is thoroughly aired in all recesses?
Ok, by now you’ve probably guessed who the exception is. There are some who say they don’t know how I can cope, sharing a cell with Ahmed. Yes, I’d probably like to be sharing with a more normal guy, such as Paul, and we’re working on that as a longer-term aim. In the meantime, actually I’m finding Ahmed fairly amusing. Having established how to work round him he is in truth Mostly Harmless.