Claudia Pritchard: When only a Pissarro can answer your need

Share
Related Topics

Ah, the National Gallery, temple of British art acquisition: the Wilton Diptych, medieval miracle of preservation and Christmas card elect; the Rokeby Venus, stripped from her native Spain; two of the nation's five covetable Vermeers; and, arguably the greatest treasure, free lavatories.

We dive into such sanctuaries for enlightenment, but they serve a more basic function too. For only those with steel bladders will have failed to notice that the great British public convenience is now a rarity. Many of the finest specimens – noble Victorian monuments to public hygiene – have been sold off by once proud local authorities only to re-emerge, supply-side, as it were, as cafés. Others have simply been shut. They cost too much to clean and maintain, harbour drug addicts, attract vandalism.

There are splendid examples – light, bright, spotless, staffed – and they charge, anything up to £1 a visit. Pay up or pop. For a family on a tight budget, that's a fiver to answer the call of nature. One London cathedral tired of sweeping away the needles has introduced a charge to weed out all but legitimate users. Understandable, but showing visitors the way to the cloakroom I file under "Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden".

One door closes and another door closes. For years, I have been checking in to the Charing Cross Hotel for approximately three minutes and checking out again, without actually troubling the busy desk staff. Now the ladies' powder room is out of bounds to itinerants like me: only a legitimate guest's swipe entry card will secure admission.

A nation whose sense of humour is largely based on widdles and whoopsies is ill-equipped to take seriously the public health implications of the great disappearing convenience. While a good number of men clearly believe that 16 pints will be alchemically converted into solid muscle and sexual charisma, in reality, a historic building somewhere will be anointed with two gallons of corrosive piddle.

A rather alarming urinal for city centres, which rises phallically with the falling darkness, is no match for the dedicated piss artist. But older people refrain from drinking anything at all before venturing out for fear of being caught short, and so, say medics, become dangerously dehydrated.

Ryanair is to take a pound for a pee, or so it says, although we didn't believe Michael O'Leary last time he flew easily into the headlines with this penny-pinching proposal. No one uses the on-board WC capriciously, by way of in-flight entertainment. In an emergency, you dart in, you dart out. It isn't a lifestyle choice. Under the Geneva Conventions, a prisoner has a right of access to toilet facilities, which puts Mr O'Leary in the sinister mausoleum of vindictive bullies somewhere between the Marquis de Sade and Pol Pot.

What future then for the parent with a child who needs to go, for the woman whose period starts in Superdrug – or for any normal human being, in fact? She must develop a lively interest in the arts. The very excellent, free Manchester Art Gallery is just the place to freshen up when the excitement of Piccadilly Gardens kicks in. The Royal Academy loos can be reached without paying for the exhibition. And there's a wrinkle at the Royal Opera House, morning, noon and night, whereby you can get a cup of filtered water too.

National and local government alike have washed their hands of personal hygiene, but Britain's wondrous arts institutions have come to the rescue. We can repay them by bumping up their visitor numbers. They look after us, body and soul.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine