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For the sake of the shops (and our bladders) open the public toilets

Steven Downes says it's time to open our public toilets     Photo: Natasha Lyster

Steven Downes says it's time to open our public toilets Photo: Natasha Lyster

It’s not very British to talk about going to the loo.

Steven Downes says it's time to open our public toilets       Photo: James BassSteven Downes says it's time to open our public toilets Photo: James Bass

If the subject upsets your sensibilities, don’t read on. But as it’s something every human has in common, up to and including the Queen, I’d say it’s time for us to get over it.

Public toilets are as important as shops, cafes, museums, theatres, restaurants, pubs and car parks. They are among the things we all search for when looking for somewhere to go for the day.

However, right now it is a devil of a job to find somewhere other than at home or behind a tree to spend a penny. And I fear that it is going to drive another stake into the hearts of our high streets and tourist spots.

So I’m calling on all of our councils and other organisations that own or manage public toilets to get them open - and do it now.

It might sound dramatic, but consider how many older people live in or visit Norfolk.

We all know that the older we get, the more often we have to take a tinkle - too often in the middle of the night.

I’m 46, and I already have to factor in the availability of toilets when I plan to leave my home for any longer than an hour or two.

In 1996, aged 22, I sat at the bar of The Wellington in Cromer to watch England v Spain during Euro 96. The pub was absolutely heaving and I did not want to lose my prime spot. So I didn’t move for the full 120 minutes, then the penalty shoot-out victory.

Nine pints, but no trip to the loo. I believed I was evolving into a camel.

Now I can manage two pints, then that’s it: backwards and forward to the pub toilets for the rest of the evening. One of my close family members can’t get past a half.

Everybody knows that it’s essential that everything possible is done to jump-start the shops and other businesses that have been blindsided by coronavirus. And yet, too many public toilets remain closed.

Covid-19 means they are fighting with a hand tied behind their backs: while the toilets remain closed, they are also having to hop about on one leg.

The argument against will be all about safety and social distancing, but we seem already to have moved beyond the point of enforcement and into the realm of trust.

We are adults, and we know the risks and our responsibilities.

Put in hand gel dispensers, open the loos and trust people to be safe and sensible.

The alternative is for them to remain closed, and for many people to stay away.

Families with children, who will not be able to manage their bladders, are unlikely to head to the coast or the Broads for the day while the “closed” signs stay up.

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The same goes for older people, for obvious reasons.

There really are few things more uncomfortable than being caught short and having nowhere to go. That possibility is exacerbated already by having to queue to get into so many places, in order to achieve distancing.

Unfortunately, the 2m social distancing turns into miles when people vote with thgeir feet and stay away from the city, the towns and the resorts.

At the moment, in some places signs should read: “Welcome to Norfolk - cross your legs.”

It would be better if they could say: “Welcome to Norfolk - spend your pounds and spend a penny.”


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