Jenny McCartney Jenny McCartney

The smelly, snobbish death of the public loo

In England, people dislike talking about lavatories in public. So soon, they will have no public lavatories

I blame Nancy Mitford: she made the English so frightened of saying ‘toilet’ that now they have hardly any left — of the public variety, that is, the sort that traditionally proved so useful to anyone who wanted to do a daring thing like leaving the house.

I’m quite happy with ‘toilet’ personally, being from Belfast, where pretending to be ‘U’ is a greater source of potential embarrassment than simply being ‘Non-U’ like everyone else. Still, once the waspish Miss Mitford tagged talk of the ‘toilet’ or the ‘lavatory’ as an unshakeable indicator of one’s place in the class system, I can see why many people preferred to shut up about the subject altogether.

Not any more. The conspiracy of silence is being eroded by urgent necessity. Ordinary citizens have woken up to the fact that, one by one, our public conveniences are being stolen from us by cash-strapped councils desperate to save every last penny, rather than encourage the nation to spend one in a timely and hygienic fashion. Last year, the British Toilets Association estimated that 40 per cent of Britain’s public toilets had shut in the past decade. Since the public conveniences closed in Daymer Bay, Cornwall, even the delights of David Cameron’s favourite holiday destination have been imperilled by misplaced urine. Michael Somers, of Trebetherick Residents’ Association, warned that ‘already, some people have been relieving themselves in the sand dunes’ in winter, and that he dreaded to think what might arrive in high season. Mr Somers said he had spoken to Mr Cameron, who supported the campaign to keep the amenities open. I don’t wish to worry Mr Somers further, but the Prime Minister has been proclaiming support for public toilets for a while, and things have only got worse.

Mrs Gillian Kemp, the genial campaigner behind Public Toilets UK, told me: ‘We want the provision of public toilets to be a legal requirement.

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