‘Sometimes It’s Funny, Sometimes It’s Horrible’ – The Realities Of Being A Toilet Attendant In A Late Night Club

Ever wondered what the woman handing you tissue, and offering you perfume, is really thinking?Illustration Jack Taylor


by Clare Finney |
Published on

'It could be a good night. We can’t tell until the finish, but it could be,' ventures Janet, over the dull throb of Luvbug. I agree with her. It’s only midnight in Soho, central London, and the night is yet young. For the time being, I’m sat, sober, in the ladies loos watching a girl fish awkwardly in her purse for the measly tip on which Janet’s entire income depends. A toilet attendant in a nightclub, she gets no money – no wage at all – beyond that given her by ladies who use the perfume (mmm Versace Jeans), hair spray and hand towels. Some, I observe, just spray anyway. 'Excuse me, that’s not free you know. Ex-cuse-me!' she says tiredly as another girl, vodka cranberry in hand, spritzes and walks out. 'You can’t predict' Janet, says in a resigned monotone.

We’ve all been there – tired, half pissed and pissed off there’s even a toilet assistant in the first place. Why are they there We can wipe our own hands dry. We have our own perfume. It’s demeaning for us and them. The official line is that drug abuse at clubs is hard to police: the reality is far more prosaic. 'There aren’t really drugs here. It’s just when you are drunk, you often fall asleep or throw up,’ says Janet indisputably. 'If a girl has been in there for over ten minutes I ask if she is okay. If don’t hear anything back I call security' who help in return for a torrent of abuse directed almost overwhelmingly Janet’s way.

'Some people are rude. Some people are nice,' says Janet – and as if on cue, a young black girl burst into the toilets. 'Hi Auntie! How’s it going?' she chirrups as she dives into the loo. 'Is that your niece?' I exclaim, delighted at last that things are looking up. 'No no,' Janet laughs, 'She just knows I am older than her. Black people, when they see a lady older than they are, show respect by calling them auntie.' The girl remerges, pops a pound and a cigarette in the tray and shouts ‘See you later, Auntie!’ as she heads for the toilet door.

'Do you like this music?' I ask, baffled, as Usher pounds through the door’s stroboscopic opening. 'It’s the same every day. I don’t listen to it. I don’t even know what they’re saying' Janet shrugs. Her ‘niece’ laughs as she leaves. 'He’s saying,"'you’re a good girl", Auntie,' she sings delightedly, before plunging out into the fray. 'When my son is in secondary school, I will take him back to Nigeria to learn my culture,' Janet says, looking after her thoughtfully, then looking at a picture of her son on her phone. 'I want him to learn about my country and our culture of respect.'

Her son is eight years old. Janet has been in Britain 12 years, every one of which she’s spent in a club toilet. She works between 7pm and 3am, though she has no regular wage. Every toilet attendant is in the same situation, she tells me. 'When you see someone like me in the toilet, they are working on tips. Some times people can be good sometimes not so good….' She trails off. What’s the lowest you’ve ever received for an eight hour shift? I ask, appalled.

She holds up one finger silently. A giggle of girls barrel in, one of them declaring loudly she’s got a plane to catch. 'I’m going to Spain tomorrow,' she explains to Janet, instinctively including her in the chat. 'What time is your flight?' she asks kindly, and the girl grins. 'That’s just it! I’ve no bloody idea!' 'Have you got your tickets?' The girl thinks for a moment, then without warning plunges her hand down her bra and rummages around.

Her cleavage is considerable – and all the more enviable for producing two EasyJet tickets, complete with departure time. Looking on, Janet rolls her eyes and chuckles quietly. 'Now don’t get too drunk,' she warns, wagging her finger. The girl pays and dances out. 'Oh, I’ll try, I’ll try. Thank you!' The door swings behind her. 'Blimey,' I say: 'You must see some things.'

'Sometimes it is funny. Sometimes it is horrible – like on Tuesday, a whole group of girls came in and were so rude…' she trails off. What did they say to her? She looks dark. 'I don’t want to remember. The worst is the people ignoring, to be honest.' Crouched beside her, I experience first hand the sense of being invisible, as girl after girl tries not to look at us: rubbing their hands on their skirts and gazing intently at their own reflection in any attempt to avert their embarrassed eyes.

They'd do better to chat to her. Aside from the fact it's just manners, Janet is a gold mine of insight and funny/poignant anecdote. Every conversation you or I have ever had in the ladies' loo she has heard a hundred times. By this estimation, she says, only four in every 500 men are trustworthy. 'Working here, I hear and see a lot of different things. Girls dumped in a club after seven years, women out to cheat on their husbands with some guy, people sharing big secrets – 'I like your boyfriend’, ‘I fancy you’, ‘I’m pregnant and I don’t know who’, ‘.... Drunk people talk,' she exclaims. Does she drink herself? 'After this each day?!' - the sound of retching comes from the cubicle next to her, and she hands paper towels beneath the door. 'Of course not. There is enough drinking here.'

The married women upset Janet most. 'I've been with my husband 29 years. I don’t understand how even when people in this country are married, can have sex with a person they meet here,' she gestures to the vibrating door. 'I hear them say it is fun. But when you are looking for a man it’s not written on his head whether he is nice, or whether he is out just to sex with you – or whether he is dangerous.' She has, unsurprisingly, wiped the tears off those stories. She turns on me suddenly. 'When was the last time you had sex? Yesterday?' I should be so lucky, I reply, somewhat startled.

Does she feel like she sees the worst side of life sometimes? 'Of course. I work here.' I give her a hug, and a fiver and head off. Does she have any advice for me, I ask nervously as I leave? 'Sleep with a black man next time,' she grins. 'Everyone says they are the best. I agree with them. The best of all.'

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Illustration: Jack Taylor

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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