Sigmund Freud said that the three greatest pleasures in this life are eating, orgasming and shitting. Clearly, Freud never had IBS.
As someone with undiagnosed IBS (it's just sexier that way), shitting is one of the great banes of my life. A simple cup of coffee could make me shit myself. Anti-smoking campaigns appeal to me not for their obvious pro-lung plus points, but because a tiny toke on a cigarette could leave me with shit in my pants. It's a tough, demoralising life, and it has forced me into situations that those with undisturbed bowels can only scoff at.
Shitting in public is terrible; everyone knows that. "Just going for a slash" is a perfectly acceptable thing to say, but, for some reason, "I'm going to void my bowels" is not. Shitting indicates something something illicit. It's seen as a disgustingly intimate purge – like wanking into a flannel. If you've ever walked out of a public toilet after spending over five minutes in it – the true walk of shame – there's no doubt you'll have felt all eyes on you.
But one good thing about (undiagnosed) IBS – if it is a good thing – is that I no longer feel shame. My bowels have forced me into situations, like having to rush into pub toilets without paying for a pint, with such frequency that I no longer feel any qualms about doing so. This girl doesn't go on pub crawls, she goes on poo crawls. And as a modern woman on the go, I need to know the places I can shit in public without having to pay.
Related: I scoured London’s establishments for free shitting opportunities so that you don’t have to. Here is my guide.
Walking the streets of London with a heavy gut and a hunger to do some Very Important Journalism, I spot a Holiday Inn. I'm in Mayfair, so this one’s a little fancier than usual. This one has those terrifying revolving doors, which generate all the adrenaline required to shift my stomach into emergency mode. I know it, the doorman knows it, the receptionist who silently watches me stride a clear path to the bathroom knows. I need to shit, and they're going to let me.
It feels wonderful. There's no one here, and it also doesn't seem like there's the threat of anyone walking in. Perfection.
A Slightly Upscale Pub
I'm feeling good, but I've still got – forgive me Father, for I'm about to sin – a bussy full o’beans, and my plan is to find a pub to take it to. Pub-based shitting and smashing (like dining and dashing, but for your bowels) can be unpredictable. In some pubs you're as free as a bird, in others you’ll be forced to neck half a pint. As I step into this one, I feel the bartender’s eyes leering. It's mid-afternoon in the midweek and I'm one of the only people here. There’s no way I can get to the toilet without confrontation. "Can I poo in your loo?" I ask. "Sure," says the barman. And I’m off!
Quiet, tranquil bliss. I’ve got the entire pub toilet to myself, and I am, as they say, living the life.
The Mayfair Hotel
Feeling half a stone lighter and like the world is on my side, I am confident enough to try my luck at a much more prestigious establishment. Around the corner, I spot The Mayfair Hotel, a high-pedigree, five-star spot. Could this be my poshest poo yet?
As I push open the hefty glass door, I'm eyeballed by a menagerie of businessmen in suits who clearly resent my presence. I’m approached almost immediately by a man wearing an earpiece, who asks me if I have a reservation. Clearly, I do not. "Can I use your toilet?" I ask, fearing the answer. "Sure." I’m somewhat dumbfounded.
I am quite literally laughing with hysteria as I shit in my small, four-walled palace, and when I emerge, I spot an actual chaise longue by the dryer. This hotel clearly anticipated my need to recover after such a strenuous and ecstatic movement.
Having now developed a taste for the extravagant, I head over to "Sexy Fish", a restaurant with a name so horrible only rich people could be seduced by it. Outside, there's a backdrop of flowers and angel wings – clear Instagram bait – which is where I get my second wind. I’m suddenly overcome with the need to drop my kids off, to the point where it feels like I’m having to contort my organs in order not to shit myself in front of the selfie backdrop. A passerby asks if I'm OK before I open the door to Sexy Fish, to which I reply, with grateful tears in my eyes: "Fine, thanks."
I hardly get one foot in the door before I'm very apprehended by a man, this time with two (!) ear pieces. "Please, please can I use your toilet?" I beg. He says the six words that make my heart drop every single time:
"Toilets are for customer use only."
"But please, sir, I need a poo," I say – but he doesn't take pity.
"There's a Starbucks across the road."
I don't have a good feeling about that "help". I've tried shitting in a Starbucks bathroom before, and it's difficult. Usually, you need to get a code for the toilet, which requires you ordering something, and there's usually a massive queue.
This Starbucks is different. The staff can see I'm in pain, so point me towards the bathroom. I'm in, and even if it's a downgrade from The Mayfair Hotel I feel relieved to be back in a bathroom with piss on the floor and walls.
The Ritz: Unsuccessful
I've always wanted to go to The Ritz. It’s just about the poshest hotel in London, and their afternoon tea looks absolutely banging. But I'm not here for scones and earl grey. I'm here because I just had a coffee at Starbucks, and now it’s go time.
I climb the steps and open the majestic doors that I assumed would have been manned by security. I get to enjoy about 20 seconds of it before a member of staff busts me. "Do you have a reservation?" he asks.
"No," I say, "just looking for the toilet."
"I'm afraid there’s a dress code here."
"What? Even for a poo?"
He doesn’t reply, nor does he offer me a Starbucks across the road. He simply points to the door, leaving me to shit on the street.
That’s when I realise: this is a free country, right? Why am I letting anyone police what I do with my body and where? Why don’t I just grow up, do the adult thing and shit myself? With that thought, I’m off to Buckingham Palace. I would rather not shit myself, but as I go to ask one of the beefeaters whether I could just use the loo, my butt gurgles. This game of Russian roulette did not go well.
I hurry away from the palace, shit in my pants. Horrified tourists who had travelled thousands of miles to be here are staring at me. This is low – really low – even for me. I make my way up to the fountain, where I try to clean myself off.
It's a humbling moment, and a welcome pause before I'm forced to walk to the tube station having soiled myself. The greatest lesson I’ve learned from this? Well, aside from now knowing that I can shit in The Mayfair Hotel whenever I want for free, I’ve learned that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you shit your pants.
Clean up on aisle me!
All photography by Chris Bethell.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.