Friday 19 October 2018

Mary Kenny: At your convenience? The pressing matter of where to answer the call of nature


Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

An English tourist visiting Ireland has been complaining about the lack of toilet facilities around the country. There is much to attract visitors to the Wild Atlantic Way or 'Ireland's Hidden Heartlands', but public toilets in these lovely landscapes can be few and far between.

Well, the French probably represent the gold standard in the provision of public loos: the first urinoir (sometimes dubbed, more vulgarly, pissoir) was opened in Paris in 1839, and by 1914, there were 4,000 of these conveniences. They were mocked as an example of French lack of inhibition on bodily matters, but that's ridiculous: the public lavatory is a sensible, comforting and sometimes urgent public provision. George Bernard Shaw saw it as a symbol of social progress.

The benefits of such progress are listed in a best-selling, if unusual, tourist guide to Paris called Où Faire Pipi à Paris? by Cecile Briand (Where to wee in Paris?). Ms Briand has surveyed 250 Parisian toilets which are open to the public. These include the Sanisettes; the "superloos", which have replaced the old urinoirs, now demolished as being a little too indelicate and open - and a little too odorous.

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