A Wheelchair User’s Survival Guide to Pub Toilets

by Laurence Clark

BBC Ouch 27th January 2010


Your average able-bodied person assumes that ‘disabled loos’ in pubs are the height of hygienic spacious privacy. But how wrong this can sometimes be. Comedian and wheelchair user Laurence Clark gives us the benefit of a lifetime’s experience of these locked-away special hidey holes …

Back when I was a student, I gave pride of place on my bathroom wall to a framed poster showing every pub toilet in Liverpool – both gents and ladies. Neatly arranged in columns were photos of over a hundred of these dank, smelly, highly inaccessible cess pits. I decided to make it a personal mission during my three years at university, to conquer each and every one of them.

Poor balance and alcohol have never been a good combination for me at the best of times, however. And while this wasn’t a problem on a night out if I was able to stay sitting down, it would suddenly become a real issue if I ever needed to stagger out of my chair and tackle an inaccessible pub bog.

One common strategy used by wheelies when drinking in a pub with a toilet that’s impossible to access, is to order spirits all night long – the neater the better. But although this low liquid intake approach to bladder control will enable you to minimise the number of times you need to spend a penny throughout the evening, you’ll very likely wind up in a pretty ugly state the next morning. It is not recommended.

Alternatively, you could choose to go to pubs with a certain well-known fast food chain outlet nearby, since they can usually be relied upon to have an accessible loo. I only ever venture in to use their toilet and nick their straws, since I can’t stand the food. Using up their resources without giving them a penny in return, is my small attempt at anti-globalisation activism.

The various disgusting states in which pub toilets are left in can also be a big issue. For example those featuring filthy grab rails and puddles of you-know-what on the floor. On one memorable occasion years ago, I slipped in a toilet cubicle and fell forward into a kneeling position. I spent the rest of the evening making up implausible excuses as to why I had wet knees. Even the best chat up lines in the world couldn’t rescue me from that one.

One way to avoid slipping and falling over is to pee sitting down. However being both somewhat well-built, and having less than perfect balance, has gained me quite a reputation over the years for accidentally breaking toilet seats whenever I plonk down on them.

I was once on holiday in Botswana, staying at someone’s house quite literally in the middle of nowhere, when I managed to split their wooden toilet seat in two by merely sitting on it. To make matters worse, this was very probably the only toilet seat within a 50 mile radius. Fortunately, the personal assistant who was travelling with me at the time happened to have a rather large behind, so the owner automatically assumed that she was the one who had broken the seat. But since they were too embarrassed to broach the subject with her and I never owned up to my crime, I got away scot free.

Of course, nowadays more and more pubs have accessible toilets … or as they are more commonly thought of by pub landlords: handy storage cupboards for smelly mops and buckets which can occasionally double as a bog if some stroppy wheelie threatens to sue.

I once asked to use an accessible loo in a bar and was told they couldn’t unlock the door because they’d lost the key. Once I’d kicked up enough of a fuss, it turned out they’d had the key all along but the entire room was stacked high from floor to ceiling with crates of alcopops.

When I finally got in, after they’d considerately cleared a path to the bog, I felt morally obliged to stash a few bottles away in my bag. I don’t even like alcopops!

But my all-time scariest experience involving a pub toilet happened a few years ago in Glasgow. I opened the door of the accessible loo to discover I’d disturbed a couple having sex on the floor.

Rather than feeling embarrassed and getting out of my way, they instead shouted unintelligible abuse, locked me out and carried on where they’d left off. Since I really desperately needed to pee, I went and got the bouncer to forcibly evict them.

They weren’t very happy to say the least and I spent the rest of the evening looking over my shoulder, convinced they’d be coming back to get me.

In conclusion: It would be nice every once in a while to throw caution to the wind by going out and getting hammered. However, the reality of the situation is that wheelchair users still need to do a bit more forward planning if they want to enjoy a night on the tiles.

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