The Human Lavatory

Gentle reader one day you will come, as I have now, to a time in your life when finding a toilet becomes not a distraction but a necessity.

London loos, until the 1950s, were famous the world over, but now according to the British Toilet Association (yes, there is a pro-toilet lobby group), a third of the lavatories run by city councils have closed in the last three years.

[W]hile London with a decline of 40 per cent since  1999 is the largest drop in the country. They claim there is now only one public toilet for every 10,000 people in England but only one for every 18,000 Londoners.

London’s magnificent Victorian public toilets were built after The Public Health Act of 1848, called for ‘Public Necessaries to be provided to improve sanitation’. The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851 had toilets for visitors. These were installed by George Jennings, a plumber from Brighton. He felt strongly that there should be decent public facilities. To offset the cost, visitors were charged 1d for using the toilets, giving Mr Jennings a net profit of £1,790 in only 23 weeks and so the phase was coined (sorry for the pun), to spend a penny.

London’s first public on-street convenience was a gents at 95 Fleet Street; it was opened on 2 February 1852. Another, for ladies, was opened on 11 February at 51 Bedford Street. As well as being a public service these ‘Public Waiting Rooms’ had water closets in wooden surrounds. The charge was 2d entrance fee and extra for washing or clothes brushes. They advertised the facilities in The Times and distributed handbills. But unfortunately they had very few users and they were abandoned.

William Haywood started the first municipal underground public toilets in 1855. These were outside the Royal Exchange. The contractors were George Jennings; yes it’s that man again. These toilets charged 1d, a price which remained standard for nearly all public conveniences until decimal currency was introduced in 1971.

George Jennings became a notable campaigner for public toilets, which he called ‘Halting Stations’, hardly surprising after the tidy profit he made at the Great Exhibition. At first he found it hard to convince authorities to adopt them. It was thought a topic which should not be mentioned. Nearly all public conveniences were for men with few provided for women. The logic was that far more men were away from home than women, either for work or leisure.

These limited facilities were far better than in the Middle Ages where people simply used a bucket or pot and then threw the contents into the gutter or the Thames. With the projecting first floors of medieval  London the pot’s contents would be thrown out with gay abandon to the warning of ‘gardyloo’ (a corruption of the French phrase gardez l’eau hence the nickname for a toilet.

In the 12th century if you happened to be walking in London and needed to spend a penny, you could employ the services of, I kid you not, a human lavatory. These were men and women who wore voluminous black capes and carried a bucket. I think you might be ahead of me here, but I will go on. For a farthing you sat on the bucket while they stood above you and enveloped you with their cape, thus protecting your modesty.

In London an Act was passed which allowed cabbies to urinate over the rear nearside wheel of their vehicle, but only if a policeman shielded you from view with his cape. The law has not been revoked, but I have no intention of asking a female police officer if she would help me to relieve myself.

Now over 150 years after those pioneering Victorians built public “Halting Stations” your choice is now limited, do you:
(a)    go to McDonald’s
(b)    illegally use a suitable wall or hedge
(c)    brazen it out, and use a hotel’s facilities; or
(d)    go back to the tried and tested method of a bucket.

Just don’t expect to find a caped crusader.

Photo Attribution:

Bunker Mentality

10 Kensington Palace Gardens
[A]fter convincing the gullible that house prices could only go upwards, and changing the look of upmarket estate agents by putting in plasma screens, bars serving fizzy water and getting spotty youths to drive around London in pseudo-rally cars, Jon Hunt sold his Foxtons estate agency at the peak of the housing market, to an equally gullible investor for £370 million.

Now he wants a small extension to his Kensington Palace Gardens house. A tennis court would be nice and somewhere to store his impressive collection of Ferraris. The problem is that, while he might have told potential buyers in his estate agency days that ‘there was potential to extend’, Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council beg to differ. So he was left with only one alternative, build down.

The multi-millionaire is to build a massive underground extension, effectively giving him five extra storeys. The expansion comprises a tennis court, housed in a two-storey sports hall that meets Lawn Tennis Association guidelines on size. Below it will be a car museum, with a special lift to move in his treasured machines. The structure some 80ft deep and stretches 180ft into the garden. The plans also include an extension under the house and also the front garden.

It all rather puts you in mind of a certain Mr. A. Hitler under the Reichstag in 1945.

Gordon’s a Post Turtle

Have you looked at Gordon Brown lately? He has the haunted look of a hunted animal, with his authority ebbing away and the Palace of Westminster’s standing with the voters at its lowest point for many years, he reminds me of finding a turtle balancing on a post. You wonder how he got up there, he didn’t get up there by himself; he doesn’t belong up there; and you wonder what dumb ass put him up there to begin with.

[A]fter 12 years of corruption at the Mother of Parliaments the chickens are coming home to roost. They have removed hereditary peers and replaced them with Labour’s yes men, only to find, surprise, they have been taking bribes; top civil servants are now just clerks; and they put a Speaker in the House just to comply with their bidding. Now their little empire is coming to an end.

If they were serious about stopping corruption in the expenses scandal that has engulfed Parliament this week, they would:

  • Reduce the number of MPs to 400, by getting the Boundary Commission to redraw the constituencies;
  • As 70 per cent of legislation is now done by Europe, devise a way to get them to work longer for their constituency, instead of having 13 weeks holiday this summer;
  • Increase their salaries to comparable rates of other professionals (say £100,000 a year);
  • Provide a quality Hall of Residence in London to give them secure accommodation when away from home. The American embassy in Grosvenor Square is to be vacated soon, a perfect location; and
  • Finally, provide them with an Oyster card to get about London during the week, and a first class return ticket from their home.

They won’t amend their ways, it’s been a nice little earner for them for years, and of course what else could they do, most of them have never had a job outside of politics.

Well, CabbieBlog just doesn’t trust them; I think I’ll ask for the fare up front if any politician hails me!

Gormley or gormless

Fourth Plinth

[E]nglish compromise don’t you love it? First we beat the Frenchies at Trafalgar, with Nelson dying on board HMS Victory at the moment of victory then he is brought home to a hero’s funeral in a barrel of rum.

Nelson had already commissioned his coffin in advance, specifying that it was made from salvaged timber from a French ship sunk at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, and giving specific instructions in the event of his death. Clearly as England’s greatest hero he would be buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, but what about a sarcophagus? A 300 year old Italian black marble one was found in Windsor Castle originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, in keeping with Wolsey’s stature at the time. Wolsey later fell out with Henry VIII and the King decided he would like to lie in the sarcophagus for eternity. Unfortunately the King’s memory did not last for an eternity and so the elegant marble vessel lay unused for three centuries but, and as luck would have it, Nelson was a perfect fit.

A fitting monument was now needed for our naval hero, and so Trafalgar Square was built with Nelson 150ft above us on his column. “Let’s surround the column with a vast plaza and place 4 plinths on each corner, each supporting a statute of a military leader”, suggested someone. “We can think of three suitable candidates” suggested another: “Naturally King George IV on a horse, Henry Havelock and don’t let us forget Sir Charles Napier but what about the 4th Plinth? Let’s compromise, we’ve run out of money anyway so we had better leave it empty.”

We are rather proud of our indecision on what to put on the 4th Plinth, so to celebrate that fact, we had been adorning it with various artworks.

Now one of our greatest living artists, Antony Gormley, has come up with the suggestion of giving people their 15 minutes of fame (well, 60 minutes actually), by allowing them to perform on the 4th Plinth. CabbieBlog is considering some performing art, but what shall it be, maybe watch a cabbie whingeing?

Let It Be

Abbey Road As a child of the ‘60s I have seen The Beatles in their heyday.

My first chance to see them was at the BBC Paris Theatre formerly in Lower Regent Street when they came to London and nobody had heard of the Fab Four outside of Liverpool or Germany.

Within weeks they had a No. 1 hit and the rest as they say is history.

[I]n 1969 The Beatles released their final album Abbey Road, with the iconic pedestrian crossing sleeve, photographed by Iain Macmillan, who had but 10 minutes for the shoot on the 8th August 1969. Apparently the man on the pavement in the background was an American tourist who only found out much later that he had been immortalised. On the left of the original picture is a VW Beetle which they had tried to have moved for the shot. The owners lived in the apartment block opposite and later the number plate was stolen as a souvenir. The car was sold at auction in 1986 for $23,000 and is on display at the VW Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.

The genesis of this week’s blog was started by a recent fare of mine who lived next door to the studio, who told me that once she saw a Japanese man walking naked across the crossing, being photographed for posterity.  Dozens of near accidents happen here, and all day vehicles are sounding their horns. At least if there is an accident, some evidence could be available as there is a 24 hour live web cam of the crossing.

Now correct me if I am wrong, but can anybody tell me why everyday scores of people, many not even born in 1969 risk injury by being photographed jaywalking across this crossing?

These same people also graffiti the wall of the studios (and their neighbour’s wall), which the clever Abbey Road people have painted white for that very purpose. The wall get so much attention that it has to be repainted white every 6-8 weeks.

Paul McCartney lives nearby and he must be as baffled as the rest of us at this behaviour, especially as most of these people have never heard the Abbey Road album. Well Paul McCartney might not have to wait much longer to sell this album to these young blades. Later this year, after many hours of work in the Abbey Road Studios (who claim incidentally to have the largest purpose built recording studio in the world), the entire back calalogue will be available on a new completely remastered set. Whether downloads, previously unobtainable from i-tunes, will be sold remains to be seen.

Well all of you, buy the CD set but just keep off that bloody crossing when I’m driving past!

Abbey Road picture:

freddie-mercurysAs a footnote to this, the late Freddie Mercury’s Kensington house also suffers the same fate.