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Open Features: Have You Been Inconvenienced?

...Unless you are fortunate enough to have the capacity of a camel, the one thing that everyone needs when they are out is a WC, toilet or loo, call it what you will...

Mary Pilfold-Allan raises a subject that is rarely talked about but is a matter requiring prompt legislation.

To read more of Mary's telling articles please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=mary+pilfold-allan

Unless you are fortunate enough to have the capacity of a camel, the one thing that everyone needs when they are out is a WC, toilet or loo, call it what you will. The thing is, there is no such thing as a regulation loo and some can be a real inconvenience.

As the subject is hardly dinner party conversation, maybe it’s one that doesn’t get exposure often enough. Personally I feel the time has come when loos, along with other public facilities like Mother and Baby rooms, First Aid areas and places for people to sit and take a rest from the madding crowd, should be of a certain standard. All too often they are not and we simply put up with it

Cast your mind along these lines and come up with the worst WC you have ever come across. It may well have been in this country, for sadly we seem to have reached a point of mediocrity where, so long as the door closes, there is evidence that there was once a seat (now departed) and a trace of soap, long dispensed, we forgive and forget in gratitude for finding one at all.

My own worst experience is two-fold and both incidents took place on the paradise island of Mauritius. The first, some 20 years ago, was during a visit to the famed botanical gardens. Caught short on a stroll among the soaring palms, I headed for a wooden hut discreetly tucked away behind some bushes. When I opened the flimsy door a cloud of flies rose from a hole in the ground with all the menace of the birds in Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same name and circled me with malevolent intent. The witches in MacBeth had nothing on those flies. Needless to say the urge to go promptly went.

My other exposure to the basics of life and loos was more recent. Suffering from an overdose of a particularly potent curry and having endured a bone-shaking bus ride into the capital, I was desperate by the time I arrived at the bus terminal. Speed was of the essence. I could have matched the Olympic record for the sprint. Imagine my horror when I found a notice apologising for the ‘inconvenience’ – the loo not only closed but padlocked!

With my predicament plainly written on my face, another facility was pointed out to me on the far side, a couple of hundred yards away. And yes, it was open, and yes, I did use it, but it is a memory that lingers on…and on. The door didn’t close, had probably never closed and needed to be held shut with one foot. There was a basic hole in some tiles, no sign of paper (not even a leaf of newsprint) and nothing to flush with. An enamel mug chained to a tap and far enough away as to be useless, hung temptingly out of reach. Now come on Mauritius, if you claim to be a luxury location, do something about the loos!

As for the best of loos, well, they can sometimes be found in the most surprising places. You would expect that the top hotels worldwide meet the criteria, as do swanky restaurants (although not all) but for simple efficiency, where everything is spotlessly clean and works, I cast my vote for the WC in the café at the IQ Business Park near Cambridge.

Pride of place as one of the top locations for toilets on the tourist trail in the UK can be claimed by Ely, famous for its great grey cathedral. In recent years the City attained recognition for some of the best ‘starred’ public toilets in
The Loo of the Year awards. A press release of 2006 merrily declared that ‘You Won’t be Inconvenienced at our Toilets’. (The English language might though!). I am sure that the thousands of tourists who visit Ely every year are grateful for the ability to use a clean and decent comfort stop.

I seem to remember Lady Lucinda Lambton doing a television programme about the great British loo and making the subject so interesting the viewing public turned on their television in droves to watch it. I am also inclined to think that some sort of government official was appointed to improve the standard of public conveniences nationwide. So come on all those with responsibility the keeping as comfortable, this is the 21st century and if someone cannot invent a design that manages to retain its seat, flush when required and is self-cleaning/sterilising, then the Age of Technology still has a long way to go to become fact.

In my teens I visited a village in the Peak District where answering the call of nature was a truly social affair. At the bottom of a long path, wedged in a corner and hemmed in by aromatic shrubs, lodged a loo. Not just any loo, a three-person wooden earth closet. While three complete strangers sat and did what came naturally, a fourth person could strike up a conversation with the inmates through a small open window in the door. That loo was social by construction. Sadly all too often today’s public conveniences are prone to antisocial destruction!

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