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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Pissing in the streets

I went to a Westminster Forum conference on binge drinking yesterday. It was worth shelling out for to hear the latest thinking on why drinking is evil, and to be fair, there was a rough consensus reached on the role of the community pub being beneficial and beer - particularly cask ale - not being the main problem.

One of the best presentations was from a police inspector who had looked at the problems with drink-related anti-social behaviour in north London and reduced them by looking at the causes rather than just trying to treat the symptoms. So for example they have officers patrolling a car park with Blackberries trying to sort out minicabs for people rather than just waiting for them to get into a fight in a cab queue and then arresting them.

But one of the main problems is, apparently, trespass - people going into gardens and pissing on the flowerbeds, the lawns, even the doorways.

Sure, this is revolting. But no-one actually presented an alternative solution.

Hands up - every now and then, maybe once every couple of months, I take a leak in some dark street corner on the way home. I'm not proud of it. I'm faintly disgusted by it. But here's the thing: the British Public Toilets Association (yes, there really is such a thing) reckons 45% of public conveniences have closed in the last couple of decades. They occupy prime real estate - one former public toilet was recently sold for £125,000 as a flat. A parliamentary enquiry just this week estimated that the number of public conveniences in the UK has fallen from 5,410 in 2000 to 4,423 this year.

And then you've got the pubs themselves: almost every pub I visit these days has big notices on the door: 'toilets are for the use of customers only'. Why? What possible harm could it do to allow someone to pop in and take a quick leak? Some pubs near me have even installed security locks on the toilet doors, so you have to go to the bar, shame-faced, and ask for the code before you're allowed to use the facilities. This mean-spirited approach shames the essence of the pub.

So put yourself in the shoes of the average Friday night drinker: you've had a few pints. You've been ejected from the closing pub into the cool evening air. You've got to that point in the evening where you need a piss about once every half hour. If you're very lucky and the night bus comes or you happen to drop on a taxi, you could be home in an hour. There are no public toilets, and you're not allowed to use those in any of the few pubs or bars that remain open.

What, precisely, is the alternative to urinating in some conveniently dark corner or behind someone's hedge?

If anyone has any suggestions, please contribute: I'd offer a prize for the best one, but you know, credit crunch and that...

12 comments:

Velky Al said...

Taking a leak on the flowerbed in anti-social behaviour? Brits must love coming to the Czech Republic and seeing little kids being held over drains when they are caught short.

Jeff said...

Those outdoor pissers they have in Soho are fantastic, but my mate Dr. Robbles has a phobia of them so refuses to avail himself of such fine facilities.

There's a company called Elliott Loohire (!) who make such things. It was owned by a former client of mine, so I worked with them a lot. It was all glamour in the city.

Laurent Mousson said...

Excellent point, Pete, public loos are a fast disappearing species.

Making things a lot worse is the fact that the temperature change from the warm inside of the pub to a cold winter street actually does cause an urge to pee for most people... So even if you're on a "pee every 30 min" cycle, you're likely to need bladder release within 10 minutes of leaving the pub.
Unless you go just before you leave the pub.

Reminds me of an incident a few years back at Lausanne Beer fest, here in Switzerland. The festival was taking place under tents on the lakeshore, in a rather posh part of town. To cater for second-hand beer, the organisers had placed numerous mobile urinals, looking like dark green plastic mushrooms.

As I was peeing in there early in the afternoon, I heard people coming along the quay and complaining loudly about "urinals on the leakeshore, I never..." "What a disgrace" etc.
I was quick enough climbing off the plastic mushroom and silencing them before thy lestby asking if they'd prefer festival goers to pee in the potted plants instead ?

But still, "wild" peeing's a known side effect of alcoholic drinks, even with plenty of conveniences outside the perimeter of the festival, i.e. accessible after it has closed.

Charles said...

I have to say that those outdoor pisser things are pretty rank and they always have them right out in the open. Couldn't the council hire some kind of posh portaloos that they just deploy at peak times - like the posh loos you get at festivals?

Velky Al said...

Such portable loos over here are hired from a company called "Jonny Servis"!

Matt Kelly said...

Richmond Council have devised a novel way of dealing with the situation, although it's probably not of greatest use to the evening drinker caught short on the way home.

www.richmond.gov.uk/community_toilet_scheme

Jeff Pickthall said...

I get annoyed by big shops such as department stores etc. They are obliged to provide toilets, but can you find them? Usually on the fifth floor and indicated by a 3" sign.

Boak said...

Er...as a woman, the wild pissing option is sadly denied to me. Can't you chaps just hold it in like we have to?

lizzie said...

I'm a woman and have certainly used a few flower beds. Come on, it's just killing weeds!!!
Though I would much prefer a public toilet.

Laurent Mousson said...

Boak : there are IIRC a few little gadgets on the market designed to allow for upright peeing by ladies too.
They were, as far as I know, designed for mountain / very cold weather use, so are usually sold by mountaineering gear retailers.

Tom Norton said...

Take a look at this, urinals that appear from under the streets at night.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/essex/6191052.stm

Curmudgeon said...

Apologies for being late to the party, but I strongly identify with this post. As a middle-aged bloke, I know very well that if you've consumed a reasonable quantity of beer, you will need a piss between 20 minutes and half an hour after leaving the pub. If you're a short walk away, or a short bus or cab ride, or someone can give you a lift, fine, but otherwise it's a problem.

The streets of Northern towns used to be dotted with little male-only urinals that were open 24/7 (presumably to prevent the very problem you describe), but they have all gone. Yes, I've often pissed in the open in a quiet corner, but I always feel somewhat unhappy about doing it.

And I'm convinced that the mass closures of public toilets we have seen over the past twenty years have been a significant factor in deterring middle-aged and elderly men from going drinking in pubs.