Archive for June 2011

Some thoughts about toilets

June 18, 2011

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals


“It is better to have a relationship with someone who cheats on you than with someone who does not flush the toilet.” – Uma Thurman

“I always say – you want a man who can fix the toilet.” – Pamela Anderson

One of my favourite adverts over the past years has been that for McCains Chips where a little girl is being asked whether she prefers ‘Daddy or chips’. She is not sure but eventually, when her father steals one of chips, decides in favour of chips! I am in the same position as I write this Speaker Corner. Should I write an open letter to Professor Steve Dean about what I feel he should do as the new Chairman of the Kennel Club or should I concentrate on something rather more parochial – like toilets?
Which, I ask myself, is more important? It is a tricky conundrum because clearly Steve Dean can, and I’m sure will, have an enormous impact on the world of dogs as has Ronnie Irving over the past nine years. On the other hand, toilet facilities are rather more immediate and given our experience at Southern Counties during the show and the concerns of exhibitors, I have to say that we had marginally more conversations in the Secretary’s Office about toilets than we did about the Chairman of the Kennel Club. On the basis that this column is primarily about the practicalities of showing dogs (although I must admit into straying into philosophy occasionally) I have finally opted for toilets! I know Steve will recognise the importance of the best possible facilities for exhibitors.
Back in 1984, Pelham Books published my book All about Showing Dogs. It attempted to distilled the basics of the world of dogs and I am pleased that, looking through it now, despite the fact that my involvement had been but fifteen years, there is little in the advice and information I give that I would change. I had been Show Manager of Southern Counties Canine Association for eight years and run my first dog show in 1972, The Nordic Open Show for Spitz Breeds, so I had some experience although, I must confess, not quite so much as I have now.
The first sentence of Chapter Two says ‘Dog shows are for the exhibitor’ and you can be assured that that is still my view and, I know, the view of the vast majority of those people who are involved in organising dog shows that every level. However I want to concentrate on the chapter on Show Management for there I identify what I still call the essential elements of any show – the three ‘C’s. They are ‘conveniences’, ‘car parking’ and ‘catering’. Clearly it is important to have a good judging panel and to have the administration from beginning to end both slick and efficient, but unless you have those essential elements in place exhibitors will, quite rightly, complain bitterly.
Under the heading of ‘conveniences’ I wrote: ‘The main problem with toilets is that people all want to use them at the same time. On arrival or immediately after lunch and are not the times choose to visit the conveniences if you are female. At some events even the ‘gents’ develops a queue although it must be said that many shows do make a special effort or have particularly well served venue. The biggest problems are those outdoor shows which have to hire portable toilets, for they are expensive both in themselves and in the provision of tanks or the extensive piping required to reach the mains sewerage service.
We all tend to push the question of lavatories to the back of our minds unless we actually need one and there is a tendency to let the loos fend for themselves at a dog show. Certainly it is often impossible to increase the capacity but what is not impossible is at least to make them as civilised as possible so that if people have to wait they do find towels, toilet paper and litter bins stocked or emptied as the case may be. It is here that the show management is seen to care about the exhibitors. It is not difficult to ensure before the show that the toilets are clean, that the locks work and the smallest rooms are well ventilated. It also takes very little time to freshen up the place and top up consumables during the day, resulting in exhibitors feeling refreshed after their visit rather than frustrated. Care in this area is one which pays real dividends. Some shows are known by the quality of their toilets and this really does modify the attitude of exhibitors. Every little thing that the committee does to make the life of the exhibitor easier reduces the pressure both for themselves, the dogs and the show management.’
Remember that this was written 25 years ago when the quality of toilets at dog shows was much less sophisticated. Indeed, some will remember WELKS where scout camp latrines were still in use in the early 70s. Things had already improved by 1984 and have improved immeasurably since that date so generally speaking a visit to the toilets is no longer the rather disturbing adventure it once was.
There are always problems: flooding, broken cisterns, taps left running and consumables not replaced quickly enough for example but these are minor inconveniences these days compared with the year at Crawley when the tanker which was supposed to empty the cesspool did not turn up and it began to overflow. Many will remember the committee, equipped with buckets, flushing the toilets so that only the minimum amount of water was used.
All this comes to mind because we had a serious problem with the loos at Southern Counties this year and the foregoing paragraphs are to assure exhibitors that if things do go wrong it is not because the those responsible were thoughtless or inconsiderate. You can be absolutely certain that these things are thrashed out in committee very thoroughly – but things still occasionally do go wrong.
Southern Counties moved to Newbury seven years ago. There were a number of reasons but one was certainly that the portable toilets which we had to bring onto the Showground consistently gave exhibitors more problems than we felt were necessary. One of the distinct and important advantages of Newbury was that it had brick built toilets, with mains water. They were not in the most convenient position but it did save the expense of bringing on portable units and until last year proved more than adequate for the numbers of exhibitors and visitors to the showground.
Naturally, as things had proceeded perfectly smoothly for several years, the question of whether the toilets would be adequate in our Centenary year was never considered by the committee. It just goes to show you should not take anything for granted!
On Friday morning at about 7.30 we had our first inkling of a problem when the catering tent reported that there was no water available at their standpipe. Almost immediately afterwards we had reports from exhibitors, stewards and contractors that the toilets were becoming blocked because the cisterns were not filling up fast enough to flush the basins properly. We contacted the Showground management who said we should talk to their plumber who, they said, was responsible. He was rung immediately but was 35 miles away and said as far as he was concerned everything was in order although we should check the main stopcock to make sure that it was fully on. This was done immediately, of course, and there was a further half turn on the tap – but it did not make not make a scrap of difference.
Further discussions were held with the Showground management and with the plumber but they did not know what was wrong and did not have the facilities to find out at such short notice. We immediately put out a public address announcement to apologise and we also notified friends on Facebook and other social networking sites asking them to advise exhibitors to use the service station at the junction of the M4 and A34 to get comfortable before they came onto the Showground.
As you can imagine, the Committee was mortified, for despite all the hard work that had gone into producing what we had hoped was the perfect a dog show, this was a serious setback for exhibitors and there was simply nothing we could do. Many exhibitors were understanding but it seemed to us a shame that so many made the assumption that the problem was caused in some way by thoughtlessness or mismanagement on the part of the Association. It was suggested that we should have had portable toilets although, as the problem was caused by lack of water pressure, this would actually have made matters worse.
As with any responsible organisation we shall be discussing the matter in considerable depth, and I suspect to the discomfort, of the Newbury Showground management in the very near future to find out precisely what happened and why.
Unfortunately, there is no absolute guarantee that such a problem might not arise with any of our major outdoor championship shows. However, you can be sure that they will not have occurred because the show management’s are not concerned. They care deeply that their exhibitors have an enjoyable day and are disappointed if they are not able to fulfil those expectations.