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May 09, 2003

Pop-Up Pissoir

A few months ago, I was wandering down the street, near the office, when I spotted a small celebration. About ten people were standing around a metal object which was descending into the pavement. A few balloons and streamers were attached. Everyone applauded gently and then wandered off, looking slightly embarrassed.

I wandered over to have a closer look, but by the time I arrived all there was to see was a metal-rimmed circle of bricks, flush to the floor and looking a bit like a large manhole cover. And the odd balloon. Nothing to indicate what it was, or why it was being celebrated. I wondered half-heartedly whether it was some element of Secret Underground London, and would be pressed into service in the event of a nuclear attack. I walked across it a couple of times, but nothing happened.

Until last night, when I reeled down Villiers Street rather the worse for wear. The metal object was revealed in all its glory, and it turns out to be London's first pop-up open-air urinal. Apparently the area, which is full of clubs, has a particular problem with drunken men relieving themselves in any convenient spot late at night. (I trust we can discount the special circumstances of 31 December 1999, where Westminster council thoughtfully provided no portable toilets for a crowd of three million people.)

Each evening, the Urilift rises from the ground by remote control to cope with the expected late-night crowds, and each morning it slips away well before the rush hour, leaving a discreet and decidedly non-Parisian circle on the ground. The Guardian provides a helpful interactive guide.

So here's the question, for those people on my readership list who are appropriately equipped. Just what precise combination of drunkenness, urgency, embarrassment, and regard for social niceties and urban hygiene would persuade you to use a urinal in the middle of a busy street rather than nipping down a side alley and pissing against a wall in private?

Posted by Alison Scott at May 9, 2003 08:03 PM

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I have got to get me one of those! When I build my permanent retirement home, I will install one of those bad boys in my back yard!!!

Posted by: Brandon West at May 19, 2003 12:46 AM

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