Spending a penny: The highs and lows of public toilets

We all have to use them now and then, sometimes reluctantly, for the fastidious there are moments when they would rather burst than use one. My Father flew all the way to Australia without using the aircraft toilet; he managed to use those at stopovers instead. He was a quietly determined man and must have had great bladder control! The facilities on trains and buses are sometimes a horror story, but the other side of the coin? Well there are some I have used where there has been a real sense of pride, showing someone cares. One in a small village had flowers, curtains and ornaments it was a delight. It just needs one person who cares to keep it nice.

My first experience of the Middle East on a stopover included being forced to buy the toilet paper sheet by sheet. The next stop had beggars sitting very close to the doors, hands out asking for money. Then the horrors of those holes in the floor encountered across Europe. For a woman who is less than agile getting down using it, is a sight to behold. At this age I would have to just stand and aim, and hope to hit the target.

Here in Australia travelling outback means wildlife, of the hairy and the smooth and slippery kind. So far in our travels only had green frogs, which were not too bad, pythons might have had me running for the hills. Spiders are a constant worry not like the old myth under the toilet seat, but above you when you look up, and you know how Huntsman love to drop suddenly.

But listening to a news item about dementia, and making shops friendly, changing signage, and making things clear I was struck by the total absence of this common sense with some councils, no names! Will not shame them. Have encountered one where there are signs that mystify the main body of people using them, not only those who are already confused. I worked with people with dementia, and had to assist them to use some very unfriendly toilets, after all we had to accompany the men too, that was slightly embarrassing but if you take a person out for the day it is a necessary task. They are often unable to remember what they are doing or know where they are. I tried to be compassionate and save them feeling embarrassed. Just part of the job. I did once get stuck in a toilet trying to help a larger lady get back in her wheelchair; I was stuck in against the wall unable to move! All in a day’s work though.

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Somewhere in this area, we have a toilet showing a one legged woman and stating “Ambulant”, now when I was working in hospital ambulant meant able to walk? So what are they saying? This toilet is for one legged people who can still walk? There is a disabled toilet too but typically with the wisdom of planners is round the corner and not seen easily. If I was more confused than I am I also might have a problem working out which was the women’s toilet. Surely we don’t need all this obtuse signage? Keep it simple I say, don’t get too clever; just show a normal female and male. Most of us still recognise that image. Although the female may be in male clothes, and the male in a dress, that is a different issue. If they want to tell us more than state this toilet is disability friendly. Then put large signs to point to one with wheelchair access too. See simple; no ambiguous ‘ambulant’ and people missing appendages. Although my friends and I always remark,”right just off to the one-legged toilet’.

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