Sandra Dick: Spending a penny expensive business

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APPARENTLY in ye olde Edinburgh, some enterprising chaps came up with a fabulous idea to provide a much appreciated service for folks in their desperate moment of need.

Armed with a bucket and a large blanket, these helpful – and definitely strong stomached – types must have been a welcome sight to those caught short, desperate to spend a penny but with nowhere to spend it in.

Back then a public convenience with flushing toilets, running warm water, a supersonic Dyson hand drier and a splodge of Toilet Duck were amazing things just waiting to be invented.

Instead in those days, the original Portaloos consisted of a bloke, a bucket, a cover and, if you were very lucky, a leaf or chunk of moss for that vital post-job tidy up.

Who back then would have given a hoot for the modern wonders of internet shopping, the latest smartphone gadgetry or cared when the new Apple store is opening, when something as basic as being able to find a loo when you most need it – and do the deed without half the Royal Mile watching – was still centuries away.

After all, going to the loo is – alongside breathing and feeling the need to tweet sarcastic comments during X Factor – about the most basic human function of them all.

Now safely ensconced in the modern age, you’d think we’d have cracked this whole ‘going to the toilet’ thing and realised that in places where lots of people gather, there’s a chance that quite a few will at some point, need the loo.

You’d think that the obvious thing to do is to ensure that there are enough of these conveniences – convenient being the key word. Yet along comes news that five automated toilets in St Andrew Square, the Grassmarket, Leith Walk and Portobello Prom are being dismantled. On the table is a saving of up to £75,000 in annual running costs – astonishing to think one cubicle alone costs £15,000 a year to run, substantially more than ‘spending a penny’.

According to the council, there are enough permanent facilities nearby for folks to get to. Assuming you don’t mind walking while cross-legged and then waiting in a long queue while trying not to think of running water, you should, in theory, be able to get the job done.

Apparently the council has a toilet “action plan” up its sleeve to counteract concerns that removing the loos will simply lead to tourists and late-night revellers being caught short.

Let’s hope it doesn’t involve a man, a bucket and a big blanket.