diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Comfort stations

How often do you find yourself on the tube with that nagging feeling that you probably, desperately, imminently need to find a toilet? You might be on your way back from the pub, you might have a cola-sozzled toddler in tow, or it might just be that your body can't hold it in like it used to. Travellers once had to remember, or worse guess, where to find a station with a convenient public convenience. But no longer. TfL have finally published a detailed map on which appear all the toilets on the underground network, and you need cross your legs no longer. Such blessed relief.

And here it is - the Tube Toilet map. Good news, it's much simpler than yesterday's step-free map. There are only a handful of symbols to cope with, and they're all the obvious ones. The usual bloke for a gents, the usual woman for a ladies, and the usual side view of a wheelchair for one of those extra large disabled loos with a grab pole. Up to three symbols can appear at each station, depending on which of the above they've got. And these symbols can be either red or black. Red means the toilet is inside the ticket barrier, so you'll only get to use it if you have a ticket. And black means the toilet is outside the ticket barrier, so anyone can use it.

Essex loosHere's an example from the eastern end of the Central line. At Buckhurst Hill there's a gents and a ladies on platform 2, and at Loughton there's a gents and a ladies in the public half of the ticket hall. Debden has nothing (sorry) while Theydon Bois has one of each. Erm, hang on, these symbols are quite small, aren't they? Which gender's black and which gender's red? It's really quite hard to tell when the only difference is a couple of tiny pixellated triangles at groin level. But just remember, on this map (if not in real life) the gentleman always comes first. So Theydon Bois must have a (red) gents exclusive on the platform and a (black) ladies free-for-all in the ticket hall. Desperate travellers in wheelchairs should make their way instead to Epping, platform 2, where there's an Oyster-only unisex accessible convenience. Sorted.

OK, there is a little more to it. Some of the stations on the map have asterisks, like at Epping, which means check out the special information on the back of the map. An asterisk has one of two very different meanings. It could mean you have to pay to use the toilet or, on the other hand, it could mean there are baby-changing facilities. But be warned, not every toilet with an entrance fee has an asterisk, neither is there an asterisk at every station with baby-changing facilities. Also, two of the toilets on the map have both an entrance fee and baby-changing facilities, but only one of these has an asterisk. I am at this point losing the will to live. Just check the list on the back of the map, it's all explained there. Probably.

And then there are stations marked with a dagger. This is TfL's way of saying "there's a toilet at this station but it's not one of ours, so don't blame us if it costs you to get in or if it's a bit mucky". Most of these are at mainline stations, such as Victoria or Ealing Broadway, although some are just council-owned toilets that happen to be close to a station entrance. But still within the station itself. If the toilet's outside in the street or in a nearby shopping centre, it doesn't count. It may exist in close proximity in real life but it won't be on the map (probably). Conversely there's some debate as to whether all the toilets marked on the map are still open. Morden may have done once but it doesn't now, so I'm told, and Ickenham's not 100% convincing either. Have your silver coins ready, just in case.

urinally blessed MetrolandSo what can we learn from the distribution of London's tube toilets as indicated on this new map? Well, it appears that some parts of town are urinally blessed. Every single station here in Metroland boasts a restroom, for a start, plus most of the overground extremities along the Central and Piccadilly lines. It's possible, for example, to ride from Finchley Road to Acton Town via 20 consecutive cubicle-friendly stations. Certain tube companies in certain eras appear to have placed a high priority on providing complete toilet facilities for all their passengers. But not others.

If you're caught short in central London, it's more miss than hit. Apart from the mainline rail termini there aren't many underground toilets shoehorned into Zone 1, although Bank, Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus are useful boltholes when the urge strikes. The ultra-modern DLR may be 100% accessible but it turns out to be a 90% toilet-lite wasteland, so keep well away if bladdered. Likewise there's an inconvenient void along the Hammersmith & City line, and down the southern extremity of the Northern line, and across almost all of Islington. As for the Bakerloo line, whose name might suggest better, try not to venture northwest beyond Paddington or you'll need to hold yourself in.

It's a bit of geographical lottery, this lavatorial availability, which is why TfL's new map could be so useful. Why not slip one into your pocket or handbag to help you to target the porcelain next time you get caught short underground. You won't be able to pick up a paper copy of the map anywhere, sorry, because apparently it's download only. Better fire up your colour printer, then. And try to make it A3, if you can, because the skirts on those symbolic toilet people are well tiny.

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