Lack of public toilets mean older people have ‘nowhere to go’, says a press release by Help the Aged.
However, it’s not just older people. I developed ME/CFS in my early 40s, and part of the package is bladder urge incontinence, which means, in the words of the Bob Dylan song “If you gotta, go now, or else it’s down yer leg…” OK, Dylan didn’t actually write the last bit, but you get the picture.
This means I’m unable to use public transport for all but the shortest journeys. Even where toilets exist on the local Merseyrail network they’re frequently locked, the trains don’t have toilets at all and nor, of course, do buses. Travelling any distance by car (driving, for some reason, exacerbates the problem), means peeing in lay-bys (or anywhere I can find a quiet corner), often to the accompaniment of a chorus of honking from the witless, or asking for spurious directions in pubs “…and by the way, can I use your toilet please?”. The end result is that I haven’t been further than 10 miles from home for years, except on very rare occasions when I absolutely had to, hence the lay-bys. And travelling to Liverpool – I live in Wirral – by train is an impossibility. When I was married, a simple car trip to Chester, 20 miles away, had to be punctuated by a stop – coming and going – at my sister-in-law’s house. I enjoyed that, since, as a bonus, it gave us the chance to pillage the biscuit barrel.
You may recall that Tony Blair, prior to being elected, promised that all pub toilets would be open to everyone, not just customers, a promise that went down the pan, so to speak, once he got the keys to No. 10. That, surely, is an idea that needs resurrecting, even if publicans levied a nominal fee.
I know of one pub manager, in Liverpool, who flatly refuses toilet access to anyone not a customer, on the grounds that it ramps up her water bill. For men, that doesn’t hold water (sorry), as urinals flush automatically no matter how often they’re used, but she does, just, have a point where women are concerned. I don’t accept, though, that the occasional passer-by, caught short, is going to push up her bill by a remotely significant amount (Liverpool city centre, after all, isn’t short of pubs and bars). Her attitude is very common, though, and Liverpool has many pub doorways with signs saying “Toilets for the use of patrons only”, and other, more charmless, variations on the theme.
I haven’t been to Liverpool this year, but how this played with foreign visitors during the City of Culture year, especially the French, who manage to provide public toilets without the claimed drug, cottaging and vandalism problems used as excuses to close them in the UK, is quite beyond me (though they do seem to survive in small towns better than in cities). The French, by the way, are moving to the Tardis-style public toilet (in the UK, by the way, if you’re disabled, the RADAR key fits these), but pissoirs still survive, though modern ones are in boring concrete rather than trditional cast iron, and while I accept that pissoirs are no help to women, they are a hell of a lot better than the alternative of public peeing. I remember seeing, once, in a suburban rail station in Cologne early one morning, a respectable-looking business-man standing with a briefcase in one hand, and his cock in the other, blithely peeing over the edge of the platform – quite unaware he was in full view of passengers on passing buses. Or maybe he just didn’t care, though one has to wonder why he didn’t go before leaving home. . .
As I worked in Liverpool for many years, I knew where the toilets were in many of the public buildings, but by the time that information became vital, increased security had put paid to using them, and if you’re on foot in Liverpool, pretty much your only chance for relief is a dark corner in a multi-story car-park, where you’ll be very aware of the numbers who have been there before you, or a quiet back alley somewhere, though these are getting harder to find as the city is tarted up. And you can be certain that, no matter how secluded your chosen spot, approximately half the population of Liverpool will come into view as soon as you’re in full flow. . .
Anyway, back to Help the Aged. They do acknowledge, on their website, that other age groups are affected, but journalists often look no further than the press release, which doesn’t, so the public get an unrealistic impression of the severity of the problem. This post started life as an email to Help the Aged, but I thought it would reach a wider audience here.
HtA, by the way, suggests that many people carry a container to pee in – sorry, but if you can find somewhere private enough to do that, you don’t need a container. OK – public peeing could be considered anti-social, but the real culprits are those who created the necessity for it, not the poor buggers forced into it.
Update: If you do get caught short, my advice would be to choose a busy pub and just walk boldly in, as if you’re looking for someone. Weatherspoon’s beer barns are good for this – they’re so big and so crowded. OK, you may get snarled at on the way out but, hey, by then you’ve had your pee, so it doesn’t matter!