Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bog blog

I realized something profound about the States today. I still can't belive it's taken me more than three years for the penny to drop about spending a penny as we'd say back in Blighty.
No matter how far you walk across an American city you'll never find a public lavatory.
The fact I've just realized this has led me to question a great British institution, that so many of us back home take for granted.
Indeed when a local authority in Torquay once tried to shut the town's loos, it provoked a revolt among the locals shamelessly championed by the newspaper I worked for.
So what was the big deal? Will we Brits shackle ourselves to an unpleasant anachronism just because it's always been there?
I have a lot of memories of British public toilets from an early age; few of them were pleasant.
There was the Street Toilet, a pungent smelling place normally sunk into a concrete walkway, obliquely Gothic and resplendant with its chequer board tiles, broken windows, shattered seats and graffiti.
As a teenager you learned a lot about life from the graffiti on the stalls, hence the smug expression when your parents finally told you the "facts of life."
Even more sinister was the Park Toilet, a low slung green or grey place always in the most shifty and overgrown part of a public park frequented by equally shifty men in long raincoats.
The Beach Bog was a safer but not much more pleasant proposition, where the smell of the briney sea and a nearby fish and chips stand mingled with the sharp tang of urine.
And don't even get me started on the Bus Station Bog with its baleful pale yellow strip lights and chicken wire over the stalls. The Bus Station Bog was strictly a place of last resort for the most dire of emergencies.
Inner city pubs also boast their fair share of abysmal toilets, although I am fortunate to have never experienced anything as horrendous as "The worst toilet in Scotland" as depicted in the film Trainspotting.
Rather peculiarly the British Toilet Association asserts that the UK's loos were once "the envy of the world."
Not as I recall them, although at least you can sit on them if you feel brave enough, unlike the notorious toilets of France.
The British Toilet Association says the county needs better toilets now and needs to "stop the rot."
To my mind the rot was rather well established in the 1970s.
I'm not sure why the public lavatory idea never caught on in America but I'm quite glad.
Americans refer to toilets as "rest rooms." Frankly there's no way I'd want to take a nap in any of these places.

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