Christine Tongue: Terrible toilet tales

Christine Tongue

“Somewhere to pee” was the main plea from a group of Access Thanet members in the first physical meeting we’ve had in a long time. We were discussing what we need  to survive in Thanet. Well, however kind and inclusive people are trying to be to wheel and stick users, you won’t see much of us if we can’t go to the loo!

Let me take you on my revealing- and scary – one day odyssey in Broadstairs last week.

The sun came out so I set off on my scooter to Stone Bay where there’s a wide flat sea wall, good for scooting and good for practising walking – I’m still recovering from having a load of my bones replaced with some expensive German technology.

A new addition to the beach huts is in place! It’s called DISABILTY UNIT. I assumed it was a lav, but there was no way of finding out as the door was padlocked with a serious looking chain.

Optimistically I ring the number on the door. “It must be out of order” says the nice man in customer services. I tell him there’s no notice on the door.  He looks it up and finds it was ordered by another organisation and he’ll ring them and report a problem.

After all this I dare not venture to the new cafe on Stone Bay for a coffee  – you can guess why,,,

So I park outside the harbour toilets where there is an accessible loo which  opens with a special key, called a Radar key. It’s supposed to keep the lavs exclusively for disabled people, but in fact anyone can just buy one from Amazon. Please don’t!!

Door says ENGAGED,  so I wait. And wait. And you’re not able to cross your legs with an alien hip joint so stress is rising. I knock on the door.  “Anyone there? Are you OK?” Silence. So i try my key, which doesn’t turn. Rejecting kind  offers of help from passers-by, I  head for the tourist kiosks and report the two problems.

Resisting the urge to rush home  I try the accessible loo on the bandstand.

Hurray! It’s open, I  don’t need my key and my scooter can get in! The floors a bit sandy and wet but I can hang onto the scooter for maximum safety.

Mission accomplished and I try to get out. Panic! The door wont open. It’s like the time my cousin Tommy locked me and my friend in our garden shed. But this time there’s no cackling ten year old rascal outside, just my poor partner wondering what I’m shouting  about and I’m not eight,  I’m in my seventies and my legs don’t work.

Something must have dropped the lock I think, but the door is not locked. It’s just stuck.

Norman hauls on the door. No luck.

“This happened yesterday!” a voice says.  “We need to both pull! And you push from inside.”

So I push and two men haul on the handle. The door frame shakes and starts to crack and I burst out into freedom.  But with an empty bladder….

It’s all been reported of course, but why does it happen that one of life’s necessities can ever be so neglected? Three accessible toilets and none working? And the powers that be are still behaving like my naughty cousin in 1954. Can’t we do better?

Christine is a founder member of Access Thanet, a local disability campaign group.