On the blog

Monday, 9 June 2014

A love affair with toilets

Toilet Twinning has recently teamed up with London Loo Tours, which now offers the opportunity to twin a toilet and have a private tour. We share an obsession with toilets and a slightly wacky sense of humour. Here, toilet plunger in hand, Rachel Erickson, the Loo Tour Lady, explains her passion for the privy… 

I spend most of my life thinking and talking about toilets.
People often ask me why.
It’s a long story…

When I moved to London in 2011 to study for my MA at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, I never could have imagined the path my career would take. I came partly because I loved London and partly because I saw this as the best place to pursue a theatrical career.

The toilet obsession started very innocently, with a personal mission to avoid the 30p and upwards charges at many public conveniences across the capital.  I started learning where the free ones were, and noticing the difference in price at different spots.

It would have remained an innocent joke had I not decided to become a tour guide. I happened to mention my toilet obsession in a biography and my interviewer responded by saying, ‘And you should definitely do a public toilet tour of London. Definitely.’

Being a curious person, I started to wonder if I could actually pull it off. Despite being a regular user, I hadn’t thought a lot about toilets other than knowing where they were and how much they cost.  I took them for granted.

And so began the long journey down the toilet path… I researched, chatted with providers, and read every book I could get my hands on, and soon found that the topic was a bigger one than I had ever imagined. The tours grew surprisingly quickly, from something I had thought would be a one-off joke to them becoming my main occupation.

I also found out just how important toilets actually are. While paying 30p may be a frustration, I know now that we are among the privileged where toilets are concerned.

One of the highlights of my career has been attending the 2013 World Toilet Summit in Solo, Indonesia. The toilet summit takes place in a different country every year and brings together entrepreneurs, academics, city planners, manufacturers, environmental activists and an odd assortment of others like myself who don’t quite fit a category.

The mission is to explore solutions to the global sanitation crisis that affects approximately 40 per cent of the world’s population. There are still today 2.5 billion people worldwide who lack access to safe sanitation. It is one of the world’s biggest killers, hitting women, children and the elderly the hardest. A lack of toilets can also have severe economic impacts too, leading to a less educated and less productive workforce.

Yet, it doesn’t get talked about.

The reason is largely down to the webs of taboos and inhibitions around bodily functions: toilets are a tough subject to talk about. They aren’t as sexy as water, for example.  A picture of a politician turning on a new water pump is more attractive than using a new toilet (not to mention the potential for puns!)

The driving force behind the Toilet Summit is Jack Sim, also known at Mr Toilet, who founded the World Toilet Organization in 2001. He said something during the conference that has stuck with me ever since:

‘If you can laugh at yourself, you can get others to laugh at you. And if you can get them to laugh, then you can get them to listen.’

This is where I hope that my tours can, in some small way, bridge the gap between humour and action. They remain fairly light-hearted, with history, gossip and a small smattering of bad puns. But it is also a chance for me to provoke people to dive a bit deeper, and to plant seeds. As I develop Loo Tours, my mission is to connect with organisations working in sanitation so that some of those seeds can grow.

At heart, I think we are all closet toilet enthusiasts. Everyone has a story, and the most rewarding days of the tour are the ones where 15 people who were total strangers at the start spend an hour afterwards in the pub talking about the subject.

If we can harness this secret enthusiasm, then we will be well on the path to positive change!

Toilet Twinning is a brilliant initiative, and I am very pleased that they have agreed to partner with me on tours. Twinning a toilet is a simple and fun way, not only to support education around safe sanitation, but also to spread the word about your contribution and perhaps encourage others to do the same. 

Loo Tours is currently offering the opportunity to twin your toilet and get a private tour (http://lootours.com/home/tours-for-a-cause/toilet-twinning.html)

Twitter: @londonlootours
Facebook: LondonLooTours
Blog: Doingyourbusiness.blogspot.co.uk