Le Pissoir


Let me set the scene – Vauxhall Station, a combination underground, suburban rail, and bus station on the edge of Zone 1, just south of the River Thames.  The tube station, on the Victoria Line, serves more than 32,000 people on an average weekday, while the suburban rail station serves nearly as many (many of those, of course, are the same!).  The Victoria Line station has a train every 2-3 minutes serving the heart of London, while the rail station has a train every 2 minutes to the terminal at Waterloo and trains serving many suburban destinations (including, two stops down the line, us at Earlsfield).  The bus station is the second-busiest in the city, with 11 routes (6 of which operate 24/7).  In sum, this is a very busy place, with most people changing between bus and train, bus and tube, or train and tube (as Astrid does twice every day).   

Like many stations in London, Vauxhall has public toilets.  I think the ones there are actually free, unlike at most inner London rail terminals, where you have to pay – 30p(ence) to pee!.  Vauxhall, however, takes it a step further…

One night a few weeks ago we were standing, waiting to cross the street between the rail station and the tube, when we see a young guy come tearing out of the tube station and run across traffic. He obviously had someplace important to go, and we watched him dodge a bus or two. But then he veered left, onto the traffic island.  We were confused, our view obscured by a double-decker bus.  When it pulled away we saw this:

This is the traffic island. You can see the urinal in the middle/right there. The big building on the left is MI6 -- the headquarters of the British Secret Service!

The “Urinal,” as it is so helpfully labeled, is wide open!  While there is virtually no privacy, there is short partition that provides the most basic level of coverage.  For you environmentalists out there, don’t worry – the flushing effect is only activated by a close-range motion sensor.  Why have this?  Apparently public urination (usually post-pub) is a major problem around town, so this simple, easy-to-maintain, always-open and “secure” location does the trick.  While I am not too keen to use it, I have to admit that it could be useful in a pinch.  

Now, every time I go by I look over to see if there are any patrons – and even in the light of day the whizz-shack is often occupied! 

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Posted on 06/05/2010, in Silly British Things, Transit and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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