Whilst at home over the holidays I made a pilgrimage to Manchester council’s only public toilet.
Yes, that is correct. One public toilet. To serve an entire city of people, who, we can only presume, are sometimes involuntarily pushed into requiring the bog-standard set of expulsive bodily procedure facilities.
Maybe the council’s strategy is that, by taking away public toilets, one-by-one, we members of the public can eventually learn how to transcend our luxuriously inefficient desire to piss.
To seek and find Manchester council’s last standing, purpose-built shithouse is in many ways comparable to discovering a mythical oasis. The city is a cruel and inhospitable desert, yet somewhere within, exists a hallowed resting stop, available for use by all. A glimmering promise of satisfaction in the realm of basic human need. Is it really there? Or does it only flash, luridly, before the mind’s eye of a subject too far gone – too irredeemably lost in manic clenching delirium – to be present.
Nay. It is there.
But how? The inhumane results of continuing cuts to local council funding have forced municipal government bodies into sharing authority over decision-making with businesses. Councils can’t keep your public toilets open, so slash the free-to-use service and let profit-making companies soak up any extra business, goes the logic. Now, many who find themselves caught short in the city are made to feel like minor criminals if they use customer relief services without actually buying something.
And on top of this, it increases the pressure on cleaning staff. If you think about how many cleaners it takes to clean an entire city’s worth of shit, and then start sacking people who were doing exactly that job, just hoping that the reduced workforce will be able to absorb this decrease, then the city’s obviously going get shittier. Cleaning staff will be working harder, presumably not at an increased rate of pay, because what individual business is going to take financial responsibility for the council’s (crudely forced) decision to close down public toilets?
And all this overseen by a man with a famous ability to withhold his own piss for obscene lengths of time.*
So it is only through sheer resilience against a government dead set on flushing these essential services out of town, that Manchester’s only public toilet remains. Perhaps this is why finding it feels like a bit of a miracle.
Yet it seems important to note that this isn’t just an isolated toilet issue, the problem is wrapped up in a terrible model of reducing local councils’ ability to control how an area is being run, through central government placing harsh limits on budget allocations. Tom Crewe clearly sharpens the focus on this picture in his excellent piece for the LRB.
“We fret and fume about this council here, that service there, while the whole system is sliding off a cliff. There are hundreds of local examples of the impact of austerity, each unhappy in its own way, but it is only when they are viewed in aggregate that a picture emerges of an entire social infrastructure being destroyed.”
Will you find eternal salvation at your nearest council run public toilet? If you have one, I’d advise trying to make the most of it while it’s still there. This could involve kindly directing people towards it, crafting positive messages of support to put on its walls, or even laying a wreath outside the entrance in honour of those we have lost so far.