At least we think it’s the world’s first toilet tour. Art Meets Function is a London walk led by Rachel, a public toilet aficionado.
Rachel is a native of California who’s fallen helplessly in love with the English capital. A student of theater, she’s discovered that tragedy and comedy in London are by no means limited to the stage. The city streets are weighed down by thousands of years of human history and there are fantastic stories in every restaurant, pub, park, office – and public toilet.
“I first became interested in public toilets when I was exploring the city as a tourist,” says Rachel, who’s started work on a book about London’s lavatories. “As a poor student opposed to paying for toilets in train stations I had to seek out free alternatives, and I had this silly idea that I should turn my research into a book. As I’ve researched it more I’ve discovered there’s so much to know about public toilets I never would have imagined.”
Conveniently, Rachel’s tour includes drinks in between visits to the conveniences. And some of those drinks take place in – you’ve guessed it! – a former men’s public toilet turned into a hip bar.
The impact public toilets have had on London life cannot be underestimated. From Thomas Crapper, the man who developed the ballcock and popularised the modern toilet, to the Tate Modern’s sidewalk facilities made with one-way mirrored glass (you can see out but people can’t see in), London has always been at the flushing heart of global lavatorial culture. Public toilets are about more than just peeing and pooping – they’re about hygiene, sanitation and development; health, poverty and politics. Although primarily, it must be said, they’re about peeing and pooping.
“I’ve always loved London,” says Rachel, who is also running theater tours. “I first came when I was 16 and I did a study abroad program when I was 20. Now I drive my British friends mad by constantly telling them about all the cool stuff I’ve learned about the city.”
Who does she expect to find on a public toilet tour? “Hopefully people with a sense of humor,” she laughs. “Which you need if you’re going to spend three hours walking around London looking at toilets!”