As an original Devonian now living in Berkshire, I am well-versed in the twists, turns, incongruous chevrons and traffic blackspots *COUGHBristolCOUGH* of the M4 and M5. My daughter, now one, has also become familiar with the route to and from Nana’s house – as well as its menagerie of service stations. As my partner rarely has holiday allowance to spare, my daughter and I often make the four to five hour drive alone. I don’t mind the journey. I don’t even particularly mind the screaming fits from the overly bored child around hour 2.5 when both socks have been sucked dry of any flavour and all wriggling has rendered her STILL in the bloody car seat. What I do mind is not being able to empty my bladder without fear of child abduction. What I do mind is the prospect of changing a tampon with the toilet cubicle door wedged open.
Many of the services available on this particular route boast beautiful baby changing facilities. Leigh Delamere even has the very latest, safest straps on their changing tables so your baby is as safe as can be while you change their nappy – and for this I am certainly not ungrateful, as many mothers of wriggly rollers will agree. The baby change room is spacious, airy, nicely decorated, and there’s even a separate room for breastfeeders and a little toilet cubicle for older siblings. This type of facility is one I’ve come across many times, I believe Gordano has a similar one. However, what bothers me is that there is no room in the toilet cubicle for a pushchair. If the lone parent traveller wants to use the toilet, they must either leave their child locked outside the cubicle, leave the cubicle door open, leave the buggy outside and bring the child in (and sit them on the floor. Of the public toilet. Next to the sanitary bin which they will inevitably then attempt to upend) or try and hold the child out of germs’ way whilst they perform some sort of impossible circus act of toiletry.
Why? Why spend so many hundreds of pounds on these wonderful, state of the art facilities with state of the art straps and harnesses and change tables and fail to provide the most basic thing – the thing all bladder-sloshing mothers and fathers’ eyes will desperately comb the surroundings for the minute they enter the room – a toilet cubicle big enough to fit a pushchair inside?
On the way down to Devon a few weeks ago I stopped off at Sedgemoor. There weren’t quite the baby changing facilities of Leigh Delamere, but there was a change table in a private room which did us nicely. No toilet for me though. I traipsed through the rest of the Ladies’, finding a whole new wing of toilet cubicles all clean and gleaming, but not a single larger cubicle fit for the accommodation of Mama + Pram. Incredibly frustrated, I ended up ignoring the sign on the disabled toilet expressly forbidding use by ANYONE able-bodied, with particular emphasis on baby change facilities being elsewhere. I’m just glad, for their sake, no one told me off because they would have received an earful in response. What else could I do? Wedge the buggy in the door of a cubicle at the end of the row and get down to business only to hear, on the point of no return, the inevitable doom-filled sound of a coach-load of teenagers flooding into the room?
Although I am more familiar with the services along this particular route, I know this problem is by no means limited to the South – when my partner and I took our baby up to Cumbria in March, I faced the same problem. My partner was most bemused to see me almost limping as I emerged from changing the baby, practically throwing her at him as I ducked back into the Ladies’ without a word.
I think one of the reasons it bothers me so much is because other businesses have managed to get it right, seamlessly. John Lewis in Reading, for example, has changing mats out and a ‘family toilet’ room. People don’t stop at John Lewis to go to the toilet, and yet they’ve made these facilities everything a lone parent shopper would want. Service stations are places people stop, often for the SPECIFIC PURPOSE of using the toilets and yet they are failing to provide this basic service for a huge proportion of their customers. Do they think lone parent travellers do not possess bladders and bowels? Do they think we are so dedicated to our children that we will simply hold it in until we reach our destination? Or maybe they just assume that people travelling with children never do so without another person who can watch the child while the parent uses the toilet.
Whatever the reason, it just staggers me that it remains an issue. Somehow these people have thought of straps that are 100% impossible for babies to wriggle out of while having their nappy changed, hand dryers that kill 99.9% of germs, wall-mounted toys to keep older siblings amused, even bloody bottle warmers in some places – and yet the simple extra square feet so desperately sought after by the fidgeting, bladder-heavy mummy travelling alone with her child is just too much to ask.