My name is Cornelius McAfee, I’m 69, I have lived in north Islington for 45 years. I worked as a teacher for most of that time in schools, adult education and even taught in Pentonville Prison. History was my main subject and it’s always been a major interest. In what seems like a previous life I was a road sweeper in North London and of course one had to get to know the local lavatory facilities.
Those were the days of maintained lavatories, with several stalls, polished brasses, mops swishing dettol about and the famous Izal ‘medicated toilet paper’. When I was a little boy in the 50’s my dad, a local Bobby (remember them?), took me and my brother to see the goldfish in the cistern of the very grand public lavvy in Holborn. I was astonished and impressed and used to keep goldfish and koi carp for years after that.
Well the years have rolled by and now I find I’m one of the many who need to know where the
facilities are when I am out and about. There are many of us, those with long-term health conditions, who are inhibited in their behaviour by lack of adequate facilities. I cycle a lot, in fact I never learned to drive, and try to plan routes where I know where I can stop for a ‘comfort break’. I go equipped with a blue radar key and a ‘Bladder and Bowel’ card on my phone. I know where the supermarket loos are, where the park loos are and where I can nip in to use a pub loo. Many cafes expect you to buy something before you get access to their loo. It is embarrassing to show the Bladder and Bowel card while waiting in
a queue to get the code to use the lavvy.
I was horrified to find that well maintained public lavatories are things of the past. There have been times when I have had to use the cover of a shrub to relieve myself. Not very dignified but necessary.
Islington and ‘le tour des toilettes’
I was keen to see what Age UK London were up to when a friend said they had a meeting on the subject. Cutting to the chase I agreed to do an audit of Islington’s public lavatories the next day (Saturday 29th October). Hopping on my trusty Brompton, putting the details of the loos into my navigation device, I set off in a loop round my home borough.
If you read the blurb on the Islington Council website you will see:
‘There are eight public toilets located conveniently around the borough.’ ‘Seven of them are automated, fully accessible and open 24 hours a day.’*
Absolute tosh! From Holloway to Highbury , from Newington Green to Islington Green they are all out of order. Shambolic and dishonest. Surely someone at the Council is responsible? Someone must be salaried and in charge of the public disgrace that are these facilities. The council website should say ‘Islington Council encourages public urination and defecation by not maintaining its lavatory facilities.’ It is a shameful situation.
I created a Powerpoint of my photos from the day and spoke about my cycle tour at the ‘Let’s Talk about Toilets’ conference at City Hall on Friday November 25th. I was delighted to meet other activists who are involved in this important crusade. I will certainly be taking part in the Age UK London campaign for a coherent and functioning council policy on public lavatories.
(if you’re on twitter you can view and share the thread here).
*The Islington Council website has been edited since the cycle tour (‘audit’) took place. The page now refers to ‘six’ public toilets.