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CARRY ON AT YOUR CONVENIENCE

26-02-2007

Lynn Hawthorne contemplates the decline of the great British facility….and suggests we should recommend those that are above bog standard.

Shopping in a snooty suburb of Birmingham recently, I popped into aFrench- style café. Not to put too fine a point on it, I needed the toilet, so toddled off. Umm. No toilet paper, no paper towels, no handryer. And the floor looked like it had last seen a mop in 1987.

If that was the state of the loos - probably also used by staff - what on Earth was the kitchen like? I settled for a cup of tea and forwent lunch altogether.

What is happening to the great British lavatory? You can't watch an advert break on telly without being inundated with products to ensure the sanitary freshness of your domestic facilities, yet the public convenience is in decline.

Half of all the public washrooms in the UK have closed in the last decade or so and it's got to be down to cost, I suppose. Yes, that old chestnut. Councils have attempted to save money by closing down its toilets in town centres, being under no legal obligation to provide lavatories, and in some places, finding one at all is difficult. But we shop more frequently and for longer periods of time these days, so lavatories are actually needed more, surely?

When we do manage to find somewhere to spend a penny, we're often assaulted with coloured lights to put off the drug users and I'm always concerned when I see a sharps bin. It's good that there is somewhere safe to dispose of these hideous things safely, but……

Surely it's not difficult to provide clean, well-stocked facilities that both complement and compliment a town?

There are, however, memorable exceptions. In a village that, sadly, I cannot name for memory reasons, roughly midway on the coast-to-coast route between Lancashire and Yorkshire, there is a public convenience of international significance.

A local woman, who obviously takes great pride in her work, cleans it to perfection. She arranges fresh flowers and lace doilies on tables and keeps the place spotless. She also maintains a visitors book, in which people leave her messages of thanks and praise and travellers - particularly those from abroad - actually make a point on their journey of stopping there in preference to other villages en route. The toilet block has even been featured on travel and news programmes in America, Canada and Australia!

Now I'm not saying that our local authorities have got to go that far, but there are sparkling examples in our own region. Take Lichfield, for example, where, on a municipal car park site, you can tinkle to your heart's content to the sound of music. The selection varies, but Abba to Elvis, they can all be encountered here. Fantastic!

A recent BBC ONE Life programme featured the work of the British Toilet Association, for such an organisation exists, and I marvelled at their dedication to their belief that an inescapable act of nature should be conducted in sanitary surroundings. I heartily agree.

I've often contemplated writing a guide to public toilets in Great Britain. If we have them for accommodation, pubs and restaurants, why not the British bog? Anyone seriously offering sponsorship, just let me know!

In the meantime, if you spot a grotty loo, report it - complain! On the other hand, if you find a gem, send your nominations to The Stirrer and let's have an award of our own!

Go on then, nominate your favourite "watering hole". Leave a comment on the miscellaneous section of our messageboard.

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