Children won't take the pee with good loos - the same goes for schools and rules

A health and safety stint at a new primary opened my eyes to the ways in which play has progressed

The in-service suite was on the top floor of a large, new-build primary school. It distinguished itself from my own primary school in many ways. Though I didn't go in to check, I'm pretty sure that the urinals of the boys' toilets were roofed and plumbed. We had to make do with guttering and open air. If the wind blew the wrong way during a peeing up the wall contest, it was advisable to approach the building wearing full wet weather gear.

A plumber with a hilarious sense of slapstick, or perhaps he simply didn't give a monkey's, had refitted some of the WCs with cisterns that were too big for them. Pull the chain in the unlit cowshed in which they were housed and you got a free footwash. Sinks, some with a block of soap the colour of a shriek, were in another building entirely.

Back in the present, I had a look out over the playground during a break in the "same course repeated three times" health and safety stint I was involved in that day. Not much had changed. Kids were still kicking balls, skipping, playing with hoops, chasing, boys annoying girls. Only the replacement of shorts by long trousers and collared shirts by eminently more sensible sweat tops seemed to be different.

Then I saw, scattered around the playground, a few children - I reckon they were about P4, but my eye is untrained - with litter grabbers. I watched them. The drill was to home in on a piece of paper. Try to pick it up. Fail. Approach it from a different angle. Fail again. Try more carefully, as if it was an anthrax sample or plutonium. Succeed. Hold the litter grabber triumphantly on an outstretched arm. Run triumphantly to the bin. Drop the paper into it. Dart around looking for another piece. Repeat.

Remarkably, this all seemed to be taken hugely seriously while still being fun. Those in the know tell me P4s are like that. Nobody had weaponised their litter grabber. I may be wrong, but I got the impression that it would be unthinkable to sabotage the litter-picking by gratuitously dropping a crisp poke. Such random musings were interrupted not by the bell ringing but by a shrill, electronic screech. Children headed back to class. I'm willing to bet that no boy stopped off to attempt to wee diagonally across the toilet block floor, swinging himself, as did a chap in my day, like a still-to-be-invented light sabre, producing a sinusoidal stream that sparkled in the sun. He was the first true piss artist I ever met. No, give people nice things and they are more likely to keep them nice.

Gregor Steele would like to point out that if you think he is being gratuitously vulgar then you weren't there.

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