Claire Gardner: Flush of youth spent in school loo

The reputation of most school toilets is far from pretty. Picture: TSPL
The reputation of most school toilets is far from pretty. Picture: TSPL
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TOILETS, in my long-gone school days were the stuff of legends – where reputations were made or lost, friendships cemented or broken and entrepreneurship thrived.

In fact I would go as far as saying that through my teenage school years one particular “bog block”, as they were known, was the nerve centre of our education system.

And hiding in a smelly cubicle swapping secrets and sucking on a sneaky cigarette certainly beat an hour of rulers and rubbers in the dreaded double maths.

It wasn’t always like that though.

In fact, like Shakespeare’s famous poem The Seven Ages of Man, our journey through the school toilet system can be neatly divided into The Eight Ages of the Can.

We all started out as snotty nosed five-year-olds with socks around our ankles in a world where we called a toilet a toilet – despite the fact they were the size and height of a small watering can.

Back in those early days we all simply popped in there to do the necessary business – perhaps aided by a long-suffering teacher to wipe noses and bottoms.

And so it remained for a few years until something fundamental changed, and despite the nose-crinkling stench of urine and disinfectant, we started to view them as a second playground.

Then came the hilarious occupation of scrunching up loo roll, soaking it with water and chucking it at the ceiling to see if it would stick.

We always had the cheap and universally hated shiny toilet roll that doubled up as tracing paper in art classes.

And as well as utterly failing in their fundamental bottom-wiping task, they were also pretty useless as ceiling bombs – but it was fun at the time.

Once we had decided that loo-roll scrunching was kids’ play, we moved up the toilet career ladder and graduated into stretching cling film over the loo seats.

As puberty took grip, however, toilet pranks gave way to gossiping and graffiti – with break-times often spent in heated debates beside the hand-dryers over boyfriends and infidelity and using a compass point to scratch on the door Oscar Wilde-inspired lines such as “I Love Mark”.

Then the entrepreneurial spirit came bursting through and toilet blocks became a hive of industry – with homework-finishing services being set up on top of toilet seats by the clever few.

As we bickered and bitched our way through the teenage years we moved on to the big stuff, with first-time smokers being encouraged to have a puff on a Benson & Hedges – and sometimes a slug of some hideous alcoholic beverage such as Dubonnet Red – nicked from a parent’s drinks cabinet.

The final journey in the Eight Ages of the Can was the snogging with boys behind a locked toilet door. Maybe not the most romantic setting for a first kiss – but certainly educational.

All of this was played out a good 20 years ago or so – and since then I’ve hardly given school loos a second thought until last week when it emerged that education chiefs are planning a massive overhaul of school toilets.

Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People has now launched a campaign for new guidelines on school toilets – saying they need to provide “dignified and safe facilities.”

Now I’m not going to argue against the need for proper sanitation – but while our “bog block” was the perfect location for wrongdoing and naughty stuff, actually using the toilets for what they were intended was an absolute no-no.

They were smelly and dirty, there was rarely any soap, and the hand-dryers never worked.

In fact, I’m sure many a bladder condition was caused by spending the day trying not to spend a penny.

So as a parent now, I welcome any initiative to posh-up our school loos and make sure they flush in all the right places.

However, if these education bosses think that just by having foamy soap and uber-fast hand-dryers they are going to stamp out the true spirit of the loo, I think they are sorely mistaken.

As long as there are locks on doors and teenagers looking for private places to rebel, I firmly believe that toilet blocks will rule.