Saturday, August 1, 2009

Travels with my RADAR key: Number 2

There are 7000 public toilets in the UK accessible with a RADAR key. This is my visit to one of them.

It’s Friday. One of those quiet days at work, so I decide to start my weekend a little early, and I pack up and go. With vague notions of walking half of the way home and catching the tube from Highbury & Islington, I leave Soho and head east. There’s a really good Oxfam bookshop near the British Museum, where I nearly always find something tucked away in a dusty corner. Today’s visit doesn’t disappoint, and for £3 I buy Ben Watt’s Patient: The true story of a rare illness. Ben Watt is one half of pop group Everything But The Girl and is, I believe, also an ostomate. So with my new book I continue on my merry way through the heart of literary Bloomsbury, stopping to relieve myself at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. As with most UC-ers, my knowledge of decent, available toilets is extensive. I’ve used the ones here a few times, and seeing the poor little kids running around with tubes sticking out everywhere never fails to put things into perspective. Around about this point on my journey I should turn left and zig-zag my way towards Kings Cross, but today I turn right. Skirting the fringes of Holborn, I head towards Clerkenwell, where things start to get a bit more warehousey and interesting. Now I start to think I might walk as far as Liverpool Street Station and catch the overland train home to St James Street, Walthamstow. The cool Clerkenwell web designery folk in their limited edition trainers begin to thin out as I approach Old Street and I find myself amongst the lunchtime masses of mini Gordon Gekko’s. Judging by the numerous packed out eateries in the area, Gekko’s ‘Lunch is for wimps’ rhetoric is as dated in the financial world of 2009 as his red braces. Enjoying the sunshine, I decide to skip Liverpool Street completely and meander my way northeast through Hoxton. Behind Hoxton Community Garden I discover a row of pristine toilets looking totally out of place in the fashionably grungy surroundings. Using my RADAR key I let myself into the disabled loo and empty my bag. The key saves me 20p. Hoxton becomes Dalston and the sound of Friday afternoon prayer from a huge mosque, competes with the traffic. I buy a Magnum ice cream and as I toss the wrapper into a litterbin, an Arab looking man standing nearby says, “That’s a pound for using the bin.” Gekko would approve of his initiative, I laugh and strike out north into Stoke Newington. Clapped out afternoon drinkers huddle in pub doorways turning the air blue with their jokes and nicotine. EastEnders doesn’t even come close. A right turn takes me into the leafy suburbia of Stamford Hill, with its population of Orthodox Jews in their traditional black dress, wide-brimmed hats and ringlets. I feel somewhat conspicuous in my canary yellow Macintosh, like someone has dropped a Smartie into a bowl of liquorice. I arrive in Springfield Park café eager for refreshment. With a much needed coffee I finally take the weight off my feet and settle down to read a few pages of Ben Watt’s book. Before me the park slopes away to the River Lee and beyond to Walthamstow Marshes. Finishing my coffee I lug myself over the cricket pitch towards the river. Heavy legged I cross the Lee with this tune in my head. Like a pair of nightclub bouncers surveying the queue for trouble, two geese with puffed out chests have a good long nosey at me as I pass. I pick a blackberry and pop it in my mouth. Home is in sight.