Saturday, March 06, 2010

Spend a penny, spend a lot

There was a problem with the toilets at work recently (without overdoing the detail, there was a blockage). It took the best part of a week to clear, so for four days, every time we needed to relieve ourselves, we had to tramp down to Marylebone Station (fortunately less than a minute's walk) to use the facilities there. Leaving aside the fact that this apparently contravenes our Human Rights (I base this solely on hearsay), it also brought about the fairly ludicrous spectacle of a long line of desperate workers queueing to get thirty pence from the petty cash tin - rather like those old images from the USSR when people queued for bread. Except in our case, rather than standing glumly, hopelessly, staring vacantly into an uncertain future, the stance was more jumping from foot to foot, restlessly contemplating a future the outcome of which we were entirely sure of.

The point of this post is not to decry the condition of the station toilets. After all, public loos are rarely the most salubrious of places. Nor is it to wonder at the fact that the cubicles are always engaged, even in the gents' where no one ever sits down unless they absolutely have to (and I'm not talking in a "I really do quite need to go" sense but when things have reached "it's this or shitting myself" levels of desperation), so you always end up standing by the warm air hand dryers trying not to give the impression that you are the kind of person that hangs around in public toilets.

The purpose of sharing this recollection is to plead for some type of justification for putting the fee for using the toilets at stations up from twenty pence to thirty. It is one of the few aspects of the whole commuting thing that makes me genuinely angry (although I have to say I have not considered marching on Parliament or taking to the streets - mine is a gentler, more anodyne sort of rage, which might perhaps manifest itself in the signing of an internet petition, or mentioning it on a blog). Really, though, what is the point? Ever since I first came across a thirty pence toilet (at Hammersmith, to be prcise) about four years ago I have been quietly fuming about it. For one thing, there is no thirty pence coin. This means that that bit at the start when you fumble around in your pocket for change is made even slower and more awkward, hardly ideal when you are desperately trying to restrain your bladder or, worse still your bowels.

For another thing, why on Earth should we have to pay to use the toilet on a station anyway? Surely it's an amenity like any other public space - a library, for example, where to my knowledge you can go for a slash absolutely free, as long as you don't take any of the books in with you. It's not as if they don't make money out of us in other ways, and, let's face it, if you are on a station it is more than likely that you are getting on or off a train, so they needn't worry too much about freeloaders taking advantage of their facilities when no actual rail travel is intended. Maybe stations see themselves more like pubs than libraries. Rumour has it that if you want to use the loo in a pub you have to buy a drink first - could statioons adopt a similar system, whereby a valid ticket for travel is required for use of the toilets? It might enable them to stop charging this ridiculous entre fee.

But it would have made life very uncomfortable for the employees of a certain London-based design agency.

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