Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Paved with gold

I was going to do a posting on the substantial amount of weight I have lost so far this year as a result of our training, but that posting will have to wait. Instead I'd like to talk about something that's been bugging me for quite a while - and it was especially the case on yesterday morning's run.

The streets of London are indeed paved with gold - but it does not glitter....it stinks...of urine. I'm probably exaggerating a bit, but I challenge anyone to walk one kilometre in London without coming across the smell of urine. On my two kilometre walk to work I usually pass about three urine hotspots - the underpass at Aldgate is particularly "nice"...I end up holding my breath for the 30 metres it takes to pass.

All this because London has very very few public toilets. The problem becomes even worse outside business working hours, as once the pubs and restaurants are closed then there are considerably less toilet facilities available. On our run along the river, from Tower Bridge to Chelsea Harbour (a distance of about 12 kilometres) there are five public toilets. The first of these consists of an Automated Public Toilet:

The advantage these have is that they are 24x7 (unless they are broken). They cost 20 pence. I've never ever used one of these toilets - I don't trust an automatic door on a toilet. It's a stupid idea! I've seen the Aldgate toilet with it's door open - and a bloke trying to hide his face as his arse was in plain view while he was doing his "business". I assume the door was faulty or his money ran out!

The 2nd public toilet along the route is by Blackfriars Bridge - it is rarely open. I think it works on a 9am to 5pm weekday only basis. It too charges 20 pence. The 3rd public toilet is brilliant - it's at Embankment. It's open from 7:30am to 11pm, seven days a week - and it is free and clean (because it is staffed). Brilliant. The 4th public toilet is at Westminster Underground Station - these seems to be open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday only. They charge 50 pence (yup - one whole dollar to "spend a penny" - bargain!!!). The final public toilets are a further 6 kilometres away at the start of Lots Road in Chelsea (in the Lots Road Park) - and they are free and clean. They seem to be open from about 8am to 6pm, seven days a week.

And that's it. Five public toilets (which are rarely open) along one of the main tourist routes in London. And it get's much worse if you head East from Tower Bridge - the first public toilet is 4 kilometres away, at Canary Wharf (and it's rarely open).

If you were homeless would you bother paying 20 to 50 pence for the use of a toilet - or would you just do your "business" on the pavement? In the middle of the night when there are no public toilets open would you walk all the way to your not-so-near Automated Public Toilet (which costs 20 pence) or would you just use the pavement? There's lots of homeless people in London. Also add to that the drunks from the bars and clubs on their way home - at which time the public toilets have closed. I think you now have a better understanding of how London's streets are "paved".

Surely there's plenty of retails establishments that people can pop into to use their toilets? Well, let me tell you about a conversation I overheard on Monday. It was in my gym, Fitness First. They had a handy man in to fix their doors. He was at reception:
"Could you tell me where your toilets are?"
"Urm, actually, they're out of order today."
"Yes, sorry."
"Ok. Can you tell me where you go when you need to use the toilet?"
"Urm, they're out of order"
"So, there's no where for you to go?"
"Urm, let me just go and check"
The receptionist then went and asked the manager if it was okay for the handy man to use the gym's toilets. He came back and gave him the direction to the changing rooms (which contain perfectly working toilets).

It was quite ironic that I heard that conversation because let me tell you what happened yesterday morning. The run was a long 21 kilometre slow run (i.e. half-marathon). It was an early start - waking up at 5am and heading out at 5:30am. About 45 minutes into the run I needed a toilet - now rest assured being a man if it was just a case of needed a pee then I would have just done it against a tree...so obviously we're talking about a "number two" here! My nearest public toilet was 3 kilometres away (at Lots Road) so I just had to "contain" myself and carry on. When we got to Lots Road the toilets were closed - I think it was about 6:40am. We knew there was a Shell Petrol Station another few minutes into Chelsea, so we headed to that. I went inside and found that their customer toilets were "out of order". So I began a conversation with the member of staff:
"Excuse me, are there any other toilets"
"No, sorry they are out of order."
"So, where do you go if you need a toilet"
"The toilets are out of order and I don't have a key for them."
"Yes, but if you needed to go where would you go?"
"I'm going home soon" (!)
"Earlier, if you needed to go where could you go?"
"Sorry I cannot help you"
"Look, I know you've got a staff toilet. I'll give you a pound if you let me use it."
"No, sorry I cannot help you."
It was obvious they had a staff toilet but he must have felt I was going to trash them or something. It was too much effort for him to be a decent human being and let me use them.

So we carried on running (back towards home/work). Eventually (6 kilometres later) we got to Westminster. The public toilets were closed. It was probably about 7:30am. So we carried on running. Finally I managed to use the public toilets at Embankment.

Is this really how a major developed and wealthy city should treat the most basic of it's peoples needs? What do they expect the public to do? Personally I would introduce a law that forced retails establishments to make their toilets available to anyone (maybe for a small charge, say 20 pence) and I would ensure there are plenty of free 24x7 public toilets available throughout the city. I know it costs money to staff public toilets 24x7 but how much do we end up spending cleaning urine and faeces from London's pavements.

And what price the impression tourists get when they walk those golden pavements?

Anyway, rant over. I think I'll write to Boris (our new London Mayor) and see if I can get a response from him. Otherwise maybe I'll run for mayor in 4 years - you never know, I may even win...stranger things have happened before! ;)


Blogger SatpalSandhu said...

Hi Bro,
Thought I'd leave a comment, since I got an 'Honourable Mention' from you earlier.
Totally agree about London's toilets and you can def have my vote for London Mayor, but only after Boris has had a chance to clean up the streets. :-)
Here's a tip the next time you're caught short in London - stroll into any large hotel, there's usually a toilet on the ground floor or on the floor where they have their conference rooms.

21 May 2008 at 09:51  
Blogger Sat Sandhu said...

Finally, a comment on my blog from a member of my family, wow!!!

Cheers big bro...not sure I want to "do it" on the floor where they have their conference rooms ;)

Anyway - you don't live in London so you don't get a vote....but thanks for the moral backing ;)


21 May 2008 at 09:55  
Blogger J-one said...

Hi Sat, Once again, you have hit on something that carries over to my part of the world. Santa Cruz, CA is a "summer beach / tourist" town. Most businesses have signs: "Restrooms for customers only" or "No public restrooms". We too have a lot of homeless people. Trader Joe's, a US chain of "specialty" grocers, has a location downtown in Santa Cruz--until last month they had public restroom facilities. Now they are locked, and a customer has to be accompanied by an employee--somewhat embarrassing, to say the least. I didn't recall, from my one trip to London, that there seemed to be any shortage of "facilities", but I must have just been lucky!

21 May 2008 at 20:24  

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