The Bog Standard Advisor: The Town Hall, Barrow in Furness

It’s said that Barrow Upon Furness is built the wrong way round; the front of things are at the back and the back of things are on the front.  This is as true of Barrow Town Hall as it of much of its wider urban landscape: so a visitor who has been caught short and is looking for some quick relief will have a problem if they think they are going to find the toilets quickly through the front door.  Because the front door – the one through which would naturally walk – is actually the back door, and what you want to be doing if you’re really desperate, is use the back passage.IMG_1504

Barrow in Furness is also disparaged for being on the end of the railway line; at the outer edge of English civilisation and having the highest concentration of neurotics in the whole of the UK.  Whilst all of this is unfair and none of it true, what is true is that the toilets in Barrow Town Hall are hard to find: but once you’ve found them, they are quite a delightful experience.

The first thing the rushed visitor finds when coming in the back passage is a PRIVATE sign: which hardly encourages you to go any further.  But the hardy, desperate visitor ignores these signs and heads up the stairs and eventually sees the signs they are wanting to see and heads off in that direction with one sole intent in mind.

IMG_1500Once in the cloakroom (and the good burgers of Barrow have called it a cloakroom as opposed to resorting to a cruder nomenclature), the visitor can be delighted by the architecture and the efficiency of the water systems.

Relief is quick and efficient and on the way out, one gains a bit more understanding about Britain’s industrial past at the same time by being able to study and marvel at the history of UK submarine construction for which the town is rightly famous.

The Bog Standard Advisor: St George’s Hall, Liverpool.

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?

2015-03-24 10.46.10In 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.

2015-03-24 10.47.01Happily, 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.

The Bog Standard Advisor: Nottingham Town Hall.

IMG_1445Nottingham Town Hall is a highly salubrious venue when it comes to visiting the city’s glorious past and the many artefacts that reflect its long industrial history. It sits in the pride of place of Market Square and naturally attracts a lot of street vendors, mobile tea and coffee units and neighbouring restaurants.

What is less known about Nottingham Town Hall is that it is home to some very comfortable gentlemen’s toilets.

You can sit down in comfort, wash your hands at ease knowing full well that there is clean hand towel nearby and there are even baby changing facilities in the same room as the urinals.

IMG_1446Some might baulk at the idea of this kind of adjacency but there’s no getting away from it: if you’re half inclined to be taken short whilst you’re in the middle of Market Square in Nottingham, heading over to the Town Hall will provide you with quick, reliable and comfortable relief in a way that the local McDonalds Fast Food outlet will never be able to.

 

 

 

The Bog Standard Advisor: what’s it all about?

There are endless restaurant reviews across the world, reviewing every edible thing from eggs to echidna and back again.  One thing they all have in common is that they review and comment on the facilities which involve putting food and drink of various quantities and qualities into the human being.

What they frequently omit to mention are the facilities which involve disposing of the waste products that emerge once those food and drinkstuffs have been processed by aforesaid human being: namely, the toilet.  Or WC. Or Crapper. Or John. Or Bog. Or whatever you want to call it in your home town or metropolitan lair.

This bog-blog is going to address those deficiencies by irregularly reviewing toilets (WCs, crappers, johns etc.) that one has had the pleasure or displeasure to visit.  It will, without fear or favour, name the guilty and praise the innocents when it comes to advising the world’s public about which toilets (WCs, crappers, johns etc.) to use and which to avoid like the plague, just in case you stand a chance of catching nasty from the water system.

Watch this space… but don’t stand too close, just in case.

The pressing question for the Modern City: how to deal with Urination Hot Spots?

Deeply woven into the psyche of our cities planners are many challenges of great significance: traffic lights, pedestrianisation and the night-time economy to name but three. The third member of this triumvirate of city signifiers brings many benefits but has also led to the emergence of a rather peculiar and problematic cityscape feature: the urination hot spot.

That’s right: those places in the city which quietly and unassumingly attract hundreds upon hundreds of visitors nightly to relieve themselves before they gleefully hop back up the street to join their fellow cavorters in fuelling themselves up before visiting the next urination hot spot. No need for a tourist guide, website or city ambassador here: urination hotspots apparently announce themselves with the minimum of fanfare but with the maximum of impact.

Now there’s nothing odd about having a piss outside: it’s something that is as natural as eating kebab and chips in windy bus stops. No, what’s remarkable is that our collective pissing has generated places which are like magnets to urine: places which call to our bladders, ‘Piss here, please piss here! Not over there but just right here!’ Just as our architects have dreamt up fabulous new city vistas, so our collective bladders have replied to those dreams with their own unmistakable response to city living: the urination hot spot.

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Instructions on using the WCs at the artillery regiment

Now what’s that all about? Intuitively you might imagine that the pattern of piss over a city centre in one night would be randomly spread: people pissing wherever and whenever the fancy takes them. But apparently not: the phenomenon of the urination hot spot suggests that certain spaces in cities are privileged with being pissed on more than others; and that there is something magnetic about those spaces where, like in all good capitalist morality tales, wealth attracts wealth and piss attracts piss.

We might ask ourselves: is there something in the architecture of the city which attracts piss heads to piss where others have pissed before them? Or is there something hormonal about piss which biologically communicates with other people’s bladders over the ectoplasmic equivalent of wi-fi and which urges passing strangers to “Piss here! Not there but here!” Or is it a cultural phenomenon? A kind of “I pissed there cos my dad pissed there and his dad pissed there before him?”

Whatever the reason, you’ve soon got a urination hot spot on your hands (if you’re very unlucky). And if you’re a city planner you’ve got an even bigger problem in your face (or nose) if your job is to improve the quality of living in your city: how are you going to get rid of such urination hot spots?

Given the managerialist culture those planners work within, there’s only one thing you can do first of all: measure them and implement interventions which are intended to reduce or remove them altogether. And this is where it gets tricky. How do you baseline a urination hot spot?

Presumably you would need to measure the volume of piss poured into the hot spot over night and compare measurements both before and after your intervention strategy. But before that happened, you’d have to have a definition of what constituted a urination hot spot in the first place. How would 15 Guinness drinking rugby players emptying their bladders over half an hour register on the UHS scale? (See, there’s an acronym already – a sure sign we’re working in a genuine managerialist culture). And how would they compare with a gaggle of estate agents drinking litres of Pino Grigio over the same period of time?

The managerial challenges are endless but one thing is certain: the Urination Hot Spot is, along with pigeons, McDonalds and inexplicable public art, here to adorn our streets and boulevards for many years to come.

(Although one solution is here.)