'SOME days when I get home from work and my husband puts a plate of cold chicken on the table, I just can't face it after a day's lavatory cleaning. There are times when the job definitely affects my appetite - but it's the best way I know to lose weight.'

Sheila Scott, 60, chuckles as she lunges towards another cubicle, armed with powerful bleach. She is one of a large team of cleaners who keep Bournemouth's public lavatories spotless - until, that is, the less desirable users undermine her efforts.

For pounds 3.20 an hour, six days a week during the holiday season, Mrs Scott braces herself for a task that exposes her to a rich assortment of 'mostly disgusting' sights, sounds and smells in the ladies' loos.

When she took on the job five years ago, she thought she was destined for the sack in the first week. 'I noticed that this elderly lady had done her business on the floor, and she'd left obvious footprints as she walked away. I rushed into the cubicle and threw bleach all over the floor ready to mop up.

'What I hadn't realised was that there was another lady sitting on the loo next door, and a few minutes later this rather posh person stormed over and angrily accused me of ruining her expensive pair of slacks. They'd obviously been down by her ankles when the bleach spattered across the tiles and washed underneath the partition. There were white splodges all over them, so I offered to pay her pounds 20.

'As it turned out, my boss firmly informed her that it had, of course, been an accident, so she was sent off to the town hall to make an official claim.'

Mrs Scott is upset by the public's disregard for hygiene. 'The worst sight I've had to face was a lavatory pan crammed with beer cans and on top of the lot was a pile of faeces. I had to clear it all out by hand, and although I always wear rubber gloves, the smell was indescribable.'

Occasionally, Mrs Scott has strong words with her clientele. One regular target is a well-dressed woman in her sixties who appears during the summer months and always misses the target. 'We call her the Phantom, and I've got so sick of this performance that I often wait for her to come out of the cubicle and threaten to have her locked up.

'All I get in return is a lot of insults, but I often get those anyway. The public always blame us for the messes they come across, even though it's their fault in the first place. They're the ones who drill holes in the doors to watch other women, or leave yards of paper trailing across the floor, or miss with their aim.

'Sometimes when I've checked the hand drier, I've been showered with excrement that a person's stuffed up inside it. I've had to go home to change my clothes and go back to work.'

It is not unusual for Mrs Scott to catch people washing their feet in the hand basins, or find whole lavatory rolls or soiled sanitary towels stuffed into the pan: 'You wonder why on earth these women cannot put them in the bins.'

A house-proud person, she despairs at the lack of respect shown for other people's property. If she can intercept the abusers, she does.

'One thing I won't tolerate is two women going in a cubicle together,' she fumes. 'Their intention is usually pretty obvious, so if I can, I tell them they must go in separately. One couple were in there for an hour one day and they can't just have been having a wee.'

Mrs Scott's job is a far cry from her former role as a window dresser in an overseas department store, let alone her winter pastime of oil painting. 'But work is hard to find, and I look forward to my wage packet at the end of the week.

'More than anything else, though, it's the comradeship of the other cleaners. There's always someone to pour out your troubles to, and if you can't handle something, you can guarantee that one of the others will come to the rescue. It's like one big, happy family and I'd miss it.'

Nevertheless, only Mr Scott and a few friends know where she clocks on each morning at eight. She says her brothers, 'who are a bit snobby', would have a fit if they knew, and she hasn't told her son, who lives abroad.

'There is a health risk - I have picked up the odd stomach bug. You certainly see all sorts of awful sights and hear all sorts of explosive noises, but I like being left to my own devices. When I worked in a store there were always managers and buyers breathing down your neck. It made you so nervous that you made mistakes.'

(Photograph omitted)