BBC ALBA takes a look at those keeping Scotland's public toilets flusing in the run up to the Loo of the Year Awards
The Ladies and Gents
BBC ALBA – Monday 3 June 2013 - 9 – 10pm
Public toilet cleaning is far from glamorous – it can be ugly, it can be grubby, with long working hours. It is often a very lonely job, but someone’s got to do it.
A lighthearted programme on BBC ALBA ‘Trusadh: Gaisgich nan Goireasan – The Ladies and Gents’ offers an insight into what it’s like to be a public toilet cleaner in Scotland in the run up to the 25th annual ‘Loo of the Year Awards 2012’, dubbed the ‘Toilet Oscars’.
This heartwarming documentary lifts the lid on the lives of some of the men and women who keep the Nation’s ever decreasing quota of public toilets flushing. We join cleaners in Glasgow where drug taking and prostitution are among the daily challenges, and travel to the Hebrides where wind-blown sand is the biggest enemy for one of Scotland’s oldest toilet cleaners.
In the programme we hear from Robert Smith and Mo Gallagher who together travel round Glasgow each day keeping the city’s automatic toilets flushing. As part of their job they try to estimate the average usage for toilet paper. Currently it is “eight sheets” per visit. They also regularly find objects left behind including umbrellas, walking sticks and even crutches.
New automatic toilets installed in Glasgow have helped to reduce drug and social problems in the cubicles, however, problematic customers are still a daily challenge for Robert and Mo.
Mo said: “There have been times when I’ve felt intimidated. I’m not an aggressive person so when you do have to move people on they do get mouthy, they do get verbally aggressive. With regards to the police officers and individuals, that can led to an exclusion so they are aware of this and they tend not to have the paraphernalia on them, they tend to dispose of them in the bin and it’s my job to get them out of harms way – not ideal.”
Robert added: “The council removed 26 boxes from me full of needles.”
Part of Robert’s job is to check the meters at the former Edwardian underground toilets at St Vincent Place (Glasgow) once a week. It is a dark and dingy place down there and every time Robert walks past the old office he feels the presence of figures from the past. “Down in the gent’s side ... Although you had an attendant they wouldn’t see who was going by and you had a few problems ...”
Agnes Maclennan (75) from the Isle of Lewis is one of Scotland’s oldest toilet cleaners who looks after the public toilets and summer camping facilities in the coastal beauty spot of Uig. Agnes starts at 9.30am and her main challenge is managing the sand and the water brought in by customers from the beach all day long during the summer.
Agnes said: “It’s not twice a day you need to be here but three times. They get well used. They are very popular. The men are cleaner and tidier, far better than the females.”
In Aberdeen, council attendants and good friends Kathleen Kidd and Diane Bellingham sing as they shine the urinals: “you’ve got to be happy at your work” said Kathleen.
Diane, who has been in this job for five years, said: “It’s a job and there are not a lot of jobs out there and I like what I do……I love it.”
Janet Stewart from Inverness is a Highland Council employee who also loves what she does. Loud tunes for the early morning clean are a must for Janet. “I’m my own boss – I just like being on my own cleaning – I didn’t plan on being a cleaner, I wanted to go to college to be a hairdresser but it didn’t work out that way.”
Montrose based Flo Kenny, has been a toilet attendant for 26 years for Angus Council and takes great pride in her job. “I find if I go to another toilet I compare it and say…..oh I wouldn’t do that.”
The little extras are important to Flo who brings in plants, teddy bears and trinkets and has flowers on the sinks as she feels it brightens up the experience. At Christmas time Flo even likes to dress up the toilets by draping tinsel round urinals, saying: “It’s a laugh”.
John ‘Bertie’ Mackenzie from Staffin lost his job when the public toilets closed two years ago. He is now campaigning for more public toilets to be available in the area and says: “It’s only natural for us all to need the toilet no matter when it is. And without facilities what is anyone supposed to do. But now I think the only answer is to take photos and send them to the local newspaper or that you film it.”
In Horsham, England Mike Bone (a former washroom salesman) and his wife Donna lead the passionate family team behind the annual Loo awards and claim to “have the bug for toilets”. The youngest family member Riley (3) also likes to take part in toilet inspections.
It is edge of their seats time as the finalists wait to hear who will get to swap the cleaner’s tabard for glad rags and head to Birmingham for the award ceremony.
As the programme explores some of the lesser known temples of convenience, it also looks at the past present and future of Scotland’s humble public ‘cludgie’, as numbers have been cut by around 40 percent in recent decades - a public inconvenience according to some!
‘Trusadh: Gaisgich nan Goireasan – The Ladies and Gents’ has been produced for BBC ALBA by MacTV and will be transmitted on Monday 3 June at 9.00pm.
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30 May 2013