961205 : TOILET : PIC JULIAN KINGMA : NEWS : ANT- EYE VIEW OF THE GIRLS TOILET.

THERE is one thing that is guaranteed to make me grumpy (actually, there are many things that have that effect, but allow me the rhetorical flourish): it is the fact that architects still do not appear to understand that women go to the toilet differently from men.

Go to any public event - cinema, theatre, concert, sporting event, whatever - and take a look at the ladies and gents at interval. The queue will be for the ladies. Often, it seems the same number of cubicles are allocated to the ladies as the gents, even if the gents also has urinals.

No doubt there are cost implications regarding the allocation of space, but guys (and most architects, engineers and developers are still guys), your female patrons are not happy. It is no fun at all to watch the blokes enjoying a drink in the interval while we stand (or hop, from foot to foot) in a never-ending queue for the loo.

When my daughters were small I always got my husband to take them to the gents when we attended a public event. We dealt with far fewer wet knickers as a consequence.

Given how much a part of daily life toilets are (we go between four and 12 times a day, depending on how much we drink, how old we are, whether we are pregnant), it is funny how little we talk about them. Perhaps this is because one of the definitions of civilisation is how far we can separate ourselves from our own waste.

Call me juvenile, but like many people, I still find scatological humour absolutely hilarious. We tend to laugh at things that shock us a bit, that break social rules, so it seems the loo is still taboo.

Some people still feel very shy doing their business in a public convenience. I had a friend who always filled the bowl with toilet paper so no one in the next cubicle could hear any embarrassing noises. There is also a lovely story (probably apocryphal) about Marilyn Monroe having dinner with husband-to-be Arthur Miller's working-class parents in their humble New York flat. The loo was right next to the dining table, separated by only a thin wall through which everything could be heard.

When Marilyn finally had to go, she first turned the taps on in the bathroom hard so they would muffle any sound she made. When it came time for Arthur and Marilyn to leave, Arthur took his mother aside and asked her what she thought of his bride-to-be.

''She's a lovely girl, Arthur,'' Mrs Miller said, ''but she pees like a horse.''

Perhaps our inhibitions begin at school. One of my earliest memories is of the forbidding and freezing stone toilet block at the village school I attended as a five-year-old in Britain. In my memory, the cubicles were immensely tall (I had considerable trouble reaching the chain) and their high ceilings were wreathed in ornate spiderwebs. Indeed, we kindy kids used to soothe our fears of these Victorian-era toilets by drawing daddy-long-legs on our slates (yes, I know, I can't quite believe it either, 1962 and we were still using slates). A chalk dot in the middle, then huge, spindly lines out to the wooden frame for the long, nightmarish legs. The pictures we drew remain vivid in my mind, testament perhaps to just how terrified we were.

This is not uncommon. Doctors will testify to the actual physical harm many small children cause themselves by actively holding on for fear of the humiliation and vulnerability that awaits them in the school toilets.

Newer primary schools are finally being designed with toilets scattered between classrooms, so little kids don't have to march terrified into the anarchic, smelly, neglected space that is too often the school toilet block and, sometimes, the seniors' smoking room.

Mind you, there is the other extreme. Toilets in some public spaces have completely jumped the shark. There was a Twitter kerfuffle recently about some expensive urinals that were installed in a nightclub. Created by an avant-garde female German designer, the bowl of the urinal was designed to look like an open, lipsticked mouth. The outcry was loud and immediate as women declared the urinals sexist.

The club owners tried to argue they were not necessarily gender-specific, but unless they all represented Mick Jagger their argument didn't - ahem - hold much water. They were removed, with apologies, within days.

The desire of nightclubs to have groovy loos may well have gone too far. My daughters tell me of a club with unisex toilets in which the glass cubicles are clear until you enter, when they frost up. This makes many female patrons nervous. The girls have solved it by going in pairs, with one standing in front of the glass partition while the other goes.

And don't get me started on the loos that flush themselves. Startled cries of victims of a premature flush are more than enough to make me grit my teeth and cross my legs.

But it is perhaps with taps that designers have lost their heads completely. How often do you go into a venue's bathroom now and spend longer trying to get water to flow from a tap than you could imagine possible? I've waved my hands in front of sensors that turn out to be soap dispensers, searched vainly for any likely looking button only to discover it on the floor and, once, a cunningly hidden lever you were supposed to push with your knee! Who knew?

I suppose it's fear of germs. Trouble is, making taps so complicated no one can turn them on may lead to us failing to wash our hands at all.

■Jane Caro is a social commentator, writer and lecturer.