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The toilet rebellion: will Britain’s locked coffee-shop loos soon be open to all?

It is an act of the purest social altruism. Two citizens – or, as they are now known, toilet activists – have built a database of loo codes for cafes and shops across the capital. Are these two young people who need the loo a lot? Or are they tireless crusaders against an ever-more-marketised version of society, where human needs that were once accommodated as a shared responsibility have been outsourced to commerce? To put it simply: nobody any longer cares about whether you need a wee, unless you also need a cappuccino.

The privatisation of toilets is one of the least contested areas of the public realm. This is not, I think, because toilets are immune to politics – witness the agonies over the unisex loo, which this database explicitly references – but because the state of needing the loo is such a temporary one that it doesn’t register as a meaningful deprivation. Nor does it ignite our sense of pride in the commons. Really the only question it raises is: “Why didn’t you go before we came out?“

And yet the issue is much more pressing when you think of the people with disabilities who especially need access to public toilets so they can leave the house. Also, think of all the places that needn’t smell of urine if everyone had access to a public toilet wherever they went.

This is much more life-changing, especially if you live near a notoriously wee-soaked station or a run of garages mysteriously favoured by less continent men. Before you complain – it is emphatically a male thing. Women don’t urinate outdoors, unless we are hiking and somewhere very secluded and verdant, and even then it’s not because we need to, it’s more of an adventure wee. The whole phenomenon is quite one-sided, battle of the sexes wise.

My concern is that no database, however well-intentioned, would ever deter these people, because the need to urinate in a public space is territorial. They don’t lack facilities, they actively want to make the world smell more like them. But I would need more data of my own – maybe even a database? – before I could establish this as fact.

Source: TheGuardian