Sunday, November 25, 2007

Queen Victoria's thrones

The ornate gates are now rust-flecked and chastened by a tightly wound knot of cold chain, denying public access to the public lavatory below. Like frozen Slinkys, discarded beer cans litter the steps which descend to a stubbornly padlocked door. It’s a common sight on the streets of London these days. These once magisterial, Victorian conveniences are no longer convenient. Shut. Locked. Permanently engaged. In the last 10 years around 5,000 public toilets in England and Wales have been closed down. Which is a rather buttock-clenching statistic if you happen to have ulcerative colitis. The last thing you need when your bowels want to open is to find the toilets closed. But if you happen to be in leafy, deer-loving Richmond in south-west London and you urgently need a poo, you could be in luck. All you have to do is look out for Community Toilet Scheme stickers in the windows of cafes, pubs and shops. Any business displaying the sticker will allow non-customers to use their toilets for free and with no obligation to buy anything. It’s all part of a new initiative backed by the imaginatively named British Toilet Association (BTA). Businesses that sign up to it will be paid £600 a year, which comes out of the budget formerly spent on maintaining public toilets. Which is a pretty penny for just letting someone spend a penny on your premises. I think the Community Toilet Scheme is an admirable idea, but I’m just not sure if it actually came to it and I desperately needed a loo I’d have the necessary chutzpah to burst into a florists, point at the sticker in the window with a nod and wink and march out the back for a ten minute, noisy crap. No, I think I’d find that a tad awkward. Being terribly English and all that, I’d have to buy the florist a bunch of flowers to make up for the intrusion.