An OfSTED inspector once confided in me: if you really want to know a school, go and visit its toilets. And she was not wrong: for all the froth and razzmatazz that a school could muster when government inspectors came to visit,there would be many times they would forget to look after the basics of their children’s needs. Teaching and learning strategies? Tick. Attendance records? Tick tick. Behaviour modification programmes? Oh yes, tick tick tick tick tick. But the school toilets?
In many a shiny school I visited, the toilets were still left in a disgraceful state. Cubicle doors kicked in, toilet paper hanging off the light bulbs and the stench of urine never far away and always beckoning you to look for the next urination hot spot.
Things were made worse by some bizarre school policies which instructed children not to go to the toilet at all between the hours of 9.30 and 10.17 precisely: or only on a Tuesday: or only if accompanied by a gazelle. No wonder the poor dear’s little bladders went into convulsion the moment they joined big school.
So since then I have been alert to the promise of shiny schools and the reality of their crap houses. And the same thing applies to many civic monuments up and down the country and around the globe: the magnificence of the Taj Mahal, the promise of liberation at The Statue of Liberty or the spiritual communing at The Vatican promise so much but deliver so little in the way of public amenities. It’s like they all want to celebrate the nobility of human endeavour without acknowledging that every King, President or Pope also needs a crap once in a while.
Happily, this is not the case with St George’s Hall in Liverpool. That it is a major public monument of historical significance is indisputable; that it offers a thousand and one ways for the occasional visitor to engage with the City’s past is without question: but the real icing on the cake are the gents toilets which are modestly upholstered and a welcoming relief to the bombast in the Big Hall along the corridor.
Decorated with some fetching light blue, grey and cream coloured tiles which make the urinals feel like a glorified beach hut as opposed to the nearest pharmacist’s clinic, the space enables you to go about your business with a spring in your step and song in your heart.
Liverpool may well have won the European City of Culture Award in 2008 and spent millions upon millions of pounds upon its local artists such as Royal De Luxe and their splendid puppets, but what will linger longer in the memory at a fraction of the price are the toilet facilities of St George’s Hall, for those of you who have got caught short at Lime Street Station and can’t pay? won’t pay! the 30p the station will charge you.