Public lavatories, toilets, loos, or whatever you like to call them, figure largely in the lives of people who get around a lot. This was brought home to me recently when we were doing a bit of exploring in the Kent countryside. As usual, there was no shortage of places to go (I don’t mean the loo)- it was more a matter of deciding what direction to take – but since we had not been previously, we chose a village that is has quite a reputation, Chilham, in Kent.
Chilham is draped over the top of a range of gentle hills and can be accessed from the A252. The village square, once grassed, is now paved. At one end is the gateway to Chilham Castle, a fabulous home which dates back to at least 1086 when it was classed as a manor. It is open to the public on any day that we are not there. Yes, we missed out again. (Must check these things more thoroughly!)
There is a school, a church with a graveyard, pubs and encircling the square, beautiful medieval buildings, both houses and businesses. These buildings straggle down the five roads radiating out, back down the hill and gradually peter out as flat ground is reached. Some parking is allowed in the square, but it seemed rather rude to leave the car in what was really a communal front yard, so we opted to use the car-park at the bottom of the hill and to walk up.
And so to the loo issue. Sitting in front of a tent, surrounded by racks of brochures and with a table covered with papers, was a very friendly local resident. Behind her were the local public loos. A welcome sight, I may say for slightly older than middle-age travellers. But – not for long, it seems. The local council want to pull them down because they cost too much to keep clean. The local population are totally dismayed and have organised a PETITION demanding that they be retained. We were asked to sign it and did so, readily.
Public toilets, as supplied for casual visitors, for the most part are the most revolting, filthy arm-pits of the world and if you can find one that is half-way decent, you should cherish it and commend those responsible. I visited one in the North, not long ago and it was foul. All metal furnishings and floors and walls of scarred concrete painted in a tasteful shade of British Racing Green . No paper except that strewn on the floor. No locks on the doors. Built-up dirt decorating the corners. The sort of place where you just know that you will pick up more ‘nasties’ if you wash your hands than if you don’t! But – guess what? There was piped music surging through each cubicle and it was classical organ music – Bach, I do believe. Very surreal. There was a queue in this toilet. It was situated at a popular picnic spot. Why, why ,why do they not make some effort to make it clean and pleasant to use?
You know – there are some things on earth that will never make a profit. Clean loos is one of them, luv and you just have to suck it up!
Back to Chilham. There were suggestions for over-coming the problem. Perhaps a villager could hold the key and lock and unlock the building and ‘keep an eye on things?’ Unfortunately, the population is either rather elderly, or not always available. Older folk are wary of hoons and confrontation. Perhaps visitors could use the loos in the local pubs and tea-rooms? These buildings are TINY. Can you imagine a coach-load of tourists swarming through a tea-shop that can barely fit two tables and a couple of chairs? And why should local businesses be expected to provide facilities when they can barely meet the needs of their own customers?
Who knows what the final decision will be? I just hope that the loos stay right where they are and open for business, so to speak. For God’s sake, this is England where millions of pounds are spent on winning gold medals and building stadia. Surely we can run to providing a decent place to have a pee!
Oh – by the way. Chilham is famous for being the place where Miss Marple, Poirot and Jane Austen’s Emma were filmed!
For more on the Elephant House, see my future blog on Chilham.