Monthly Archives: July 2014

When Is A Toilet Not A Toilet?

Can all members of the public use the Public Conveniences?

Can all members of the public use the Public Conveniences?

You may well be asking what has a question about toilets got to do with ordination training? Yet it has turned out recently to be the most basic and essential necessity of finding a toilet that really brought it home to me how we so often both intentionally and unintentionally exclude a large group of people within society

One of my fellow ordinands, Helena, is a former lawyer and is a passionate advocate and fierce protector of people’s rights. She also has Multiple Sclerosis and uses a mobility scooter and therefore knows first-hand what the world looks like to a disabled person. She, like the majority of disabled people, doesn’t just want and need to be as independent as possible, but believes that each and every one of us has to become much more aware of what needs to be done to create a naturally inclusive society; which brings me back to toilets!

We’ve all heard the stories of inconsiderate able-bodied car drivers who blatantly park in a disabled parking space thus denying any genuine blue badge holders from doing so; but what about all those who deliberately use the designated disabled toilets, because they are the closest, which on becoming blocked force the person in the wheelchair to have no facilities at all?

That is just one specific instance, but what about when a community in which disabled people live shows too little consideration or awareness of their needs? A case in point is when we went on a field trip to a neighbouring village to the college. Firstly, I have to say that I am not singling out this particular community, as regretfully it is not unique, and it should be acknowledged that the organisers of the trip should have completed a health and safety assessment prior to the visit. However, if what happened, on the surface appears laughable, it is also deeply thought provoking

Everybody needs to go to the toilet – fact. Everybody is aware that not all buildings they visit will have toilet facilities – fact. Everybody knows that where public toilets are provided they can use them…………

The church we were visiting did not have a toilet, which was reasonable enough given its age and listed-building status; the vicarage did have toilets (as you would expect) except the vicarage itself was inaccessible to a person in a wheelchair. Where then was Helena, who not unreasonably had reached the point when she wished to avail herself of these facilities, to go? The public conveniences were about 200 yards from the vicarage but on arriving at them we saw that there was no designated disabled toilet, in fact there were steps to get into both the ladies and gents (see picture above)

Where else could we try? Fifty yards down the road, the Catholic church was situated in a lovely new building with signposted disabled parking and push button entry access to presumably up to date toilet facilities – but the building was locked and empty. Around the corner there was a public house, and calling through the open back door we asked if we were able to use their toilets. We may, but whilst we could get into the pub, the toilets had a step down to them. Retracing our steps, we were advised that a key had been found for the village hall, this was some 500 yards in the opposite direction. Here there was a small disabled toilet, barely large enough to allow Helena to enter with her scooter and hopelessly maintained so that the clutch rail would not stay upright. We spend several minutes with the two of us trying manoeuvre ourselves, one holding up the rail, the other trying to fit into the cubicle, before I could step outside and she was finally able to relieve herself – so much for self-esteem and independence!

All in all this farce lasted about 40 minutes, and I jokingly said to Helena that it was good job she could hold on. To my dismay she told me that for many disabled people this was not the case – it’s called ‘social incontinence’, where lack of disabled facilities force otherwise continent people to resort to incontinence products simply to be able to go out into the world for any length of time. One more example of the removal of a person’s dignity.

Helena was just one person in that place at that time, but how many more people have come up time and again against the same problems and instead of feeling welcomed and able to play their full part in their communities have felt excluded and devalued.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters,
if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?
James 2:14

It is a hundred years since people and governments became more aware of the need to make provision for the disabled, following the many thousands of men who returned incapacitated from the First World War, either blind or limbless. One hundred years in which we have come a long way to recognise the equality of all in society and yet we still exclude and marginalise the disabled through not consulting or considering fully their needs, so that they can just BE

Maybe it’s time to look around the places you live and work in, remembering that it’s not just toilets but other things like ramps and rails; and when you spot something that needs changing, then do what needs to be done to make that change happen, including asking the people for whom you are doing it  what it is they really need.

Helena, endures much in the way that she has to adapt in order to undertake her studies and she shouldn’t have to. As I walk alongside her she has made me more and more aware of issues that should change and transform how we think and act as individuals, as a society and as Christians. This sort of teaching, in my mind, will always be more valuable than anything that an academic text book has to say.

An inclusive society means no-one should feel excluded

An inclusive society means no-one should be excluded

This piece has been written with the full permission of my friend and fellow Ordinand, Helena 

One Year And Counting

For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7

For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7

I received a notification last week to congratulate me on the one year anniversary of my blog. One whole year of sharing a journey with those who have graciously chosen to follow the blog; those who have commented on my posts; and all those who have clicked onto the site and may have lingered a while to read something.

As it happens I have actually published 52 posts – thus hitting my hopeful target of writing something once a week. If you know me as my family does you will realise that this is something of an achievement, as I am usually the type of person, who on receiving a brand new diary on the 1st of January and with all good intention, barely manage to complete the first week or two before popping it away in the drawer with those other almost pristine earlier versions [they’ve stopped buying me diaries now!]

Some of the posts have been very popular, perhaps talking into a current situation or speaking to others about something in their own lives. For myself, I know that doing this has been an invaluable exercise; helping me to chart my own journey and progress as I prepare for ministry and ordination. Thank you, therefore, for being a part of that.

God bless


My top five most popular posts by viewing stats – just in case you missed them

1. Coming Out Into the Light

2. A State of Flux

3. V is for Vulnerable

4. Pivotal Moments and the Parable of the Lobster

5= Holy Hogwarts!… An Induction!
5= Children Should be Seen and Not Heard

Let Them Eat Cake!

The Opulence of Versaille

The Opulence of Versaille

I suspect that most of us have heard the phrase ‘Let them eat cake’ and would hazard a good guess that we know who is supposed to have uttered those words. They have become famously attributed to Marie Antoinette, the Queen consort to Louis XVI, although the original French phrase ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche’†, refers to brioche, an enriched bread made with flour, butter and eggs – but let’s not get into an argument about pastries!

A portrait of Marie Antoinette at VersailleIn the late 1700’s, Louis and Marie Antoinette lived in great opulence in the Palace of Versailles, just outside of Paris, whilst millions of ordinary Parisians, like the great majority of their countrymen at that time, were starving and destitute, and itching for revolution. The phrase has come to portray the ruling classes as insensitive, ill-informed and ignorant of just how dangerous it would be to hold on to attitudes such as these.

Whether Marie Antoinette actually had any sympathy for her unfortunate people – and it would appear she might have from a comment she DID make, “It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness” – the French revolutionaries and history did not treat her so kindly and she felt the sharp bite of the guillotine blade in 1793.

Some 200 years later, and the poor and the destitute still roam the streets of Paris and still look for succour and relief from the more affluent.  On the Champs Elysees, one of Europe’s wealthiest shopping streets, the glittering facades of Mercedes Benz, Louis Vuitton and the House of Guerlain entice you to browse and exclaim at the prices. While just around the corner in the Avenue Montaigne and Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré the fashion houses such as Christian Dior, Chanel and Versace have no need to display price tags – because if you need to ask, ‘How much?’ you can’t afford it!

In amongst all of this showy extravagance, there are people who sit silently, holding up a paper cup in which there are a few small coins; their clothes more shabby chic than haute couture; or else they prostrate themselves, remaining motionless, their faces hidden. Yet they somehow blend into the scene,  almost invisible to the thousands of shoppers and tourists who manage to skillfully sidestep them without looking or pausing.

In 2011, these ‘delinquents’, as described by the French authorities, were controversially banned from approaching and ‘pestering’ people in several of the cities high profile areas but on a recent visit to the city, it was obvious that this was either being ignored or circumvented, and  I was presented with a moral dilemma that I hadn’t anticipated – to give or not to give?

Begging on the streets of Paris

Begging on the streets of Paris*

My initial reaction was that here were people in need, but at the same time I was aware of the stories of ‘professional beggars’ who made a good living scamming tourists. Indeed, the woman who dropped a ‘gold’ ring at my husband’s feet as we crossed a bridge over the Seine and exclaimed that it was our lucky day and perhaps we could reward her for pointing it out, got short shrift, especially when we observed her and her partner waiting to pull off the same trick on the next hapless tourist. There were also the youngsters, who thrust a clipboard under my nose near the Louvre on which there was a unnamed charitable petition sheet, which they urged me to sign and to donate €10 or €20 to help deaf-mute children, but which I regretfully declined,

At the same time there seemed to be so many that might legitimately be in need of assistance to simply afford their next meal while others might simply slip away at the end of the day and drive back home to their families in the suburbs – how was I to know which was which without being judgemental?

In the middle of these deliberations two bible verses came to mind,

Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Matthew 5:42


Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9:7

It would of course be easy to not make any judgement at all and to give to each and every one, but realistically this wasn’t possible. Or to give to nobody, thus avoiding fear of discrimination, and also making me a miserable non-giver! In the end I came to a compromise, which wasn’t wholly satisfactory, but which I hoped meant that at least there was a fair chance that it benefited some – that is, I would keep the coins that we had gathered over the week in my pocket, and without checking would drop a handful into the proffered cups as they appeared, until my pocket was empty… as I said, an unsatisfactory compromise, because I knew I would be unable to use the coins once home, but it was a the option I went with

I am curious, therefore, as to what others feel or do in these situations. Perhaps you could let me know?

On a similar note, because unfortunately it is often the appearance of the person that goes towards our decision-making as to who we might help, this experiment, filmed on the streets of Paris reveals some interesting but not unsurprising attitudes. Please be aware that some of the comments made on this YouTube video are quite forthright: Les Poids des Apparences/The Importance of Appearances Experiment

† The phrase was actually recorded by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Book 6 of his autobiography ‘Confessions’, which was written around 1765-67 when Marie Antoinette was nine or eleven years of age. The biographer, Lady Antonia Fraser believes it relates to Maria Theresa the wife of Louis XIV, but who the ‘great princess’ was, “who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, “Then let them eat pastry!” no-one can be absolutely sure.

*Neither of these photographs were taken by myself but are of genuine people in need on the streets