Spending a penny: The highs and lows of public toilets 85



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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.

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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Jacqui Lee

Jacqui Lee is 75 and now retired but the last ten years or so have been some of her busiest. She worked at a hospital, where she took several Certificated courses, she cleaned a school, helped to run two conventions, wrote short stories, started painting, and in fact is never bored even now, "I honestly feel we are lucky to still be upright and breathing, and my motto is, Remember yesterday, dream of tomorrow, but live today. I love fun, clothes, food and friends."

  1. No matter where we are always go to McDonald’s you know they are clean at the station in Rome we paid 50 euros and the cleaner cleaned after each person I was fascinated. In Venice it was yuk the public rooms, muck was meeting us out the door so we run into a hotel and asked the receptionist they where pissed off it was obvious we weren’t the only ones

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  2. On a trip to Britain a few years ago I went to the ladies toilet in Harrods !! It was amazing gold and marble, spotlessly clean, a complimentary perfume table and lovely attendants, later in the day we went to Lutton to meet friends, we were a bit early so popped into a little back street pub to fill in time, needed to use the toilet there , what a contrast to Harrods !!!! out in a grubby yard, no toilet seat and filthy !!! When we met our friends they were shocked we had even been into that pub, let alone had a drink and used the toilet !!’ one of the worst in Luton apparently !!!! n

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    • and when you were in Luton did you feel like you were in a nice part of England or did it look and feel very foreign?

    • well the part we wandered into was a bit dodgy but overall was ok. friends lived nearby and we got off the tube in Lutton and they picked us up there

  3. Carry a pack of wet wipes and wipe down everything you are likely to touch.

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    • Yes wet wipes are a saver in many situations, carry them always.

  4. My husband and I have been traveling across the USA for 3 weeks every restroom I’ve visited have been very clean, very impressed.

  5. Many years ago when I was young I holidayed in Mexico. I was only 20 and a very innocent 20. I was horrified because the toilets were unisex. Very disconcerting to come out of the cubicle and be washing your hands and a man comes and stands next to you. And no I was not in the Mens by mistake. lol

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    • I had the same experience in Tokyo, only they had a sign on one door for women and around the corner men’s, however when I washing my hands the Japanese friend we were traveling with was washing his hands and he could see the look on my face and said no I’m not in the wrong toilet they are unisex.

    • Had the same experience in a camping ground in Europe when in my early 20’s and it was not only toilets but showers as well. Early in the season so they would only open one amenities block. It was rather weird but one has to do what one has to do, at least they had proper toilets not squatters.

  6. Well I never complain about toilets least we have them in other countries you have to walk miles to get to one and they charge you ! We very lucky here ! Parks a beautiful with usually clean toilets I do thank McDonald’s for saving us more than once in overseas for toilets and wifi!

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