I refer, of course, to your capturing the British Tourist Authority's "Loo of the Year" award yesterday. You must have been flushed with pride to see the "Golden Seat" trophy accepted by your toilet operatives. (Do you bus them in from neighbouring boroughs, I wonder?)
Only last May, at the International Symposium on Public Toilets, Professor Wang Gung, the vice-chancellor of Hong Kong University, said that toilets are a mark of civilisation. "Public toilets should be the concern of every single citizen, because the cleanliness and standards of hygiene they do or don't set are truly a measure whereby the standard of a society can be gauged," he said. By those criteria, you can be seen to have excelled yourselves.
As Francis Bacon said: "Places where men urine commonly have smell of violets. And urine, if one hath eaten nutmeg, hath so too." You, Westminster, have recently all too often, as the metaphor has it, been pissed on from a great height. And today you have come up smelling of violets.
Of course, the annals of toiletry record that you have already had a brush with fame: on 11 February 1852, the world's first ladies' public lavatory was opened in Bedford Street, Westminster (only nine days after the Lord Mayor had pulled his chain at the first gents' in the City). It is a moment no less significant than the day in 1912 when Richard Hardy patented the musical toilet-roll holder. (Did you know, incidentally, that in the entire novels of Jane Austen, the word "toilet" occurs only once and "lavatory" not at all?)
We all knew you had it in you, of course, and as Chung Wah-nan, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, said at the above-mentioned symposium, "what goes in must come out". The smart money has been on Westminster to lift the Golden Seat since the beginning of November when Lord Morris of Castle Morris - clearly a man who knows a good urinal when he bestrides one - acclaimed your facilities, in a debate in the Upper House. "The lavatories and urinals of the House of Lords," he said, "despite tasteful modernisation from the original conveniences, retain spaciousness, graciousness and a splendour of brass and glass."
Your detractors may allege that in 1989 you moved 100 families into flats riddled with asbestos, but did anyone stop to think about the excellent toilet facilities you were thereby putting at their disposal? I think not!
Of these and other allegations you may, thanks to this award, now wash your hands please. What are allegations of gerrymandering as long as your jerries are not jerry-built? So, without further ado, may I propose the health of your good selves and your lavatory assistants, down to the lowliest toilet duck. Gentlemen! Lift the seat!
WILLIAM HARTSTONReuse content