There’s nothing like carrying everything you own to make snails seem nobler. It’s 3am, and having put my life into a rucksack weeks ago, I’m plodding homelessly across London without a place to crash. Pints of coffee are catching up with me, and unlike a snail, I don’t have the option of seeping fluid as I go. There are toilets, I realise, back at Charing Cross, but because I hate u-turns more than being illogical, I decide I’m bound to bump into some. I know I’ll regret it even as I make up my mind, and sure enough, by 4.30, my kidneys are in full revolt.
They’re unexpectedly fraught, public loos. I don’t have cause to think about them much, but toilets are where police target queer men, where trans people are beaten and harassed, where forgetting wheelchair users becomes a conscious choice. Not long ago they were segregated by race and class , and it’s only recently, here and there, that they’ve been gender specific. (Ladies’ rooms, Soraya Chemaly notes, are still designed for men.) Public toilets I learn tonight, are also being hit by austerity.
Over the last decade, half the country’s conveniences have shut, with one in seven of those in service in 2010 gone by 2013, sacrificed by impoverished councils. By the new year, 600 more are expected to have closed. It recently emerged that due to London’s shortage and contracts denying them breaks, drivers for private taxi firm Uber are forced to carry spare bottles. Like them, I’m finding there’s nowhere to stop: signs at Victoria point to an all night loo nearby, only for notices to say the building shut at six. Whatever cut caused this, it must have happened recently.
London’s streets are meant to be paved with filth – the reports about Uber even declare the capital awash with piss. What’s striking is, it’s not. This isn’t Paris, whose roads are hosed down every morning, or subsiding Berlin, under siege from its own sewage. For miles, traipsing down empty roads, not so much as a crisp packet blows by. London at this hour is a vacuum, sterile and quiet as the grave, and somewhere in the contours of my spine, this bothers me.
Read more at Novara.