Real lives: Time for the Ladies to take a stand

It had to happen: someone's invented the female urinal. But will we use it? HESTER LACEY investigates
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ladies' loos are a perennial problem. There are never enough of them, for a start. Unless you are an Olympic-standard sprinter who can make it to the front of the queue the second the interval starts in the theatre, you're likely to miss the first 10 minutes of the second half of the play. Then there's the grim standard of loos in pubs, clubs, stores and stations, which makes spending a penny (or, more likely, 20p) an unsavoury experience.

This has been recognised in some enlightened circles; at the new Sadler's Wells, the chief executive, Ian Albery, found time to include in the specifications a high ratio of ladies' loos, though, he admitted, it was impossible to guarantee there'd never be queues. The All Bar One chain of bars, in its quest to attract the female customer, makes a particular effort to ensure its loos are fragrant, clean and tidy.

But now these issues are being addressed in a far more organised, scientific way. Sphinx Gustavsberg, a Dutch sanitaryware firm, is looking at the ladies' loo from a radically new angle. The Lady P is a urinal designed for women. It promises to speed the process of going to the ladies' room, thus quashing queues, while eliminating hygienic qualms as it is automatically disinfected after every use.

The Lady P is the brainchild of designer Marian Loth, who graduated from Delft University last year. She was inspired by a friend of hers, who, in a bit of a hurry one day, used the men's urinal. "She used it very well, and asked herself why there wasn't something like this for women," explains Marian. "I was looking for a final project at college and thought `This is my kind of job!' I did a lot of enquiries about the feelings of ladies in public toilets." Her research revealed an open secret of those who use ladies' conveniences. "They said they always hover over the toilet, without touching the seat. Women hate toilet seats!" Her masterplan was deceptively simple. "I decided to design a toilet ergonomically adapted to that hovering position - and with no seat. I work with the three Hs - hygiene, hovering and high speed."

The Lady P looks like a cross between a men's urinal and an ordinary loo - it hangs fairly low on the wall to let women pee standing up. Apparently, you stand with your back to the wall, bend your knees a bit - and voila! Each Lady P comes in a frosted-glass cubicle with a swing door to protect one's modesty. The door is a device to shave vital extra seconds from time-per-use, though part of the speeding-up effect is psychological. "You take your time if there's an ordinary door, you pause to put paper on the seat," says Marian. "The partition is a balance between intimacy and openness - you can hurry but still have privacy."

The Lady P is fairly pricey. Each unit costs 4,000 euros (around pounds 2,700). But reaction so far to test models in Holland has been positive. "I made the design sympathetic so acceptance would be easier," explains Marian. She believes it will eventually be found in discos, airports, service stations, shopping centres and cafes Europe-wide. Launched at a German trade show last week, it's already a hit; some customers have been demanding to buy on-the-spot, though large-scale production has yet to get under way.

Sphinx Gustavsberg is confident it will take the world by storm. "Lady P is aimed at the modern, self-confident woman. Thanks to Lady P, women can pee in a comfortable, hygienic, quick way," says an enthusiastic company release. The loo has been put forward for two European design awards. Marian, meanwhile, is basking in her success: "I can't believe it, but I'm very glad. It's like a dream."

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