Relief below ground

IT IS NOT OFTEN that I feel the need to write about answering the call of nature but after a recent visit to Hampstead’s South End Green, I must satisfy the urge.

There is a yard at South End Green, where buses serving the route number 24 wait before setting off to Victoria station. Long ago, this yard used to have tram tracks as it was the terminus of a tram line. A lovely small café, Matchbox by name, stands beside the yard. Its owner, Mirko, a friendly Slovenian, serves excellent hot beverages and a range of mouth-watering snacks, both sweet and savoury. The nearest public toilets are across the yard, almost opposite to Matchbox.

The toilets are below ground level and accessed by staircases with cast-iron structures above them. It was only on our most recent visit to South End Green, in December 2021, that I had reason to descend into the ‘gents’, and I am pleased that I did, not only for reasons related to my physiology but also to satisfy my curiosity.

The ‘gents’ is magnificent, with its white glazed brick walls decorated with bands of light green bricks, its long narrow, black and white chequered floor, its polished dark wood cubicles, and its row of white urinals all topped with grey (marbled with white streaks) granite separators. Although there is electric lighting, a skylight admits some natural light.

The underground toilet facilities, both the men’s and the ladies’, were constructed in 1897 for the benefit of passengers using the tramway. Stephen Emms, writing in the “Kentish Towner” in October 2013, noted that the gent’s underground facility at South End Green was a pick-up place used by homosexuals. He noted:

“But most memorably South End Green is the only public toilet still in use known to have been visited by iconic 1960s playwright Joe Orton. Apparently it was his “favourite pick-up point” too””

You might be relieved to learn that my recent brief visit was completely uneventful.

Check the toilet!

One of my cousins in France gave me a useful tip.

He said that clean toilet facilities are often associated with satisfying restaurants. What he meant was that if the restaurant’s management took care of small details such as the toilets, it was likely that they would take care over the more savoury aspects of the business such as the food and customer care.

Since I was given that tip, I have noticed that there is a remarkably high correlation between my degree of satisfaction with the restaurant and the state of their ‘loos’.