Stirring the Pot

overcoming fear of the blank page

You’d have to have been hiding under your toilet to have missed the news out of the UK this week of a national government guideline on public toilets.

Communities Minister Baroness Andrews unveiled the guidelines today, admitting that “some people may find the whole idea of a strategic guide on public toilets funny”.

The guidelines basically endorse the clever innovations of Westminster and Richmond upon Thames councils, including the SatLav and community toilet schemes.

The Conservatives half-heartedly attacked the report, claiming it endorses the closing of free public toilets, and leaves those already disadvantaged by loo loss even worse off. They also throw in a rather snarky jab about the Prime Minister’s ‘hypocrisy’ in having the gents toilets in the “First Lord’s Residence” refurbished at tax-payers expense. It seems reasonable to me that the state should expect to refurbish the Prime Minister’s office loos on occasion; they are a work environment just as any other. But I can’t blame them for succumbing to the temptation of making the comparison.

I think the community toilet scheme is a great idea, because it’s so human. I tend to dislike other solutions, such as spaceship toilets, because they attempt to mechanise an animal action, which I think makes the whole thing seem dirty. However, there are fundamental flaws with the community toilet scheme. The key is in the word ‘community’ – the scheme relies on people to work together in a social way. There are great publicans who realise that ‘very normal people’ get caught out when they’re out. But there are plenty who follow the ‘it will lead to trouble’ line, and who rant about the ‘young people’ who will abuse the system. From the Whitehaven News:

The landlady of The Anchor Vaults, Janice Burns, agrees that opening the toilets to non-customers would be an opportunity for youths to misuse and vandalise the toilets. Consequently, she would not go ahead with the idea, even if offered government money.

The main people advocating the community toilet scheme are from groups concerned with bladder conditions, old people and people with small children; I couldn’t care less about any of those people. I feel that ‘community’ schemes like this fail because they ignore the needs of young people and public drunks, who are, apparently unfortunately, part of the community. Well, young people and public drunks need to piss too, and I suspect that if you make them feel unwelcome in ‘community’ toilets they very well may start vandalising them.

(I’m reminded of a time I was told I couldn’t use the public toilet in a KFC in Sydney – I walked round to the staff carpark at the back and pissed on the nicest car there. And I’d only had a few beers.)

The SatLav, meanwhile, is very clever. I haven’t investigated it yet, but I wonder if it’s very useful at 2 in the morning?

All in all, I’m very impressed with the guidelines. 24dash is right when it says that it is the first of its kind. I’ve seen reports come out about the state of toilets in third world countries, but a national toilet strategy for a wealthy nation is unheard of. The only thing close is the Australian toilet map, which is government sponsored. I wonder if these ‘guidelines’ are a precursor to a more robust document?

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.

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