I RECENTLY listed the things I’ve missed during the lockdown. There was one serious omission – the availability of public toilets. For men of a certain age, this is more than a passing inconvenience. Coffee intake is severely restricted if planning a stroll along Aberdeen’s promenade, now devoid of public loos. The recent scenes on Bournemouth beach provoked some envious curiosity. Has Bournemouth, unlike Aberdeen, kept its beachfront toilets open? I may be plumbing the depths, but where are the lager-swilling hordes answering the calls of nature? No, don’t get in touch, I’ve worked it out for myself.

It’s said a country can be judged by its prisons. That may be true, but how about adding its public conveniences? Their availability is also a barometer of civilisation. Regrettably, long before Covid, they were sitting ducks for councils caught short with their budgets. The British Toilet Association, no, me neither, estimates councils have closed or disposed of around a third of their toilets. One in London’s Spitalfields was converted into a wine bar and sold for a million. I’ll pause while you write your own joke.

READ MORE: Visitors use Balmoral Estate 'as an outdoor toilet' as rangers find human waste and discarded wipes

Some parts of Scotland have become toilet-free zones. In response, some communities have assumed responsibility for managing and maintaining their local loos. For example, the folk of Aberlour should take a bow for the pristine condition of their community-run cludgie.

There’s every possibility that the coming economic crisis will result in more permanent closures. Councils won’t be flush with cash and they have no statutory obligation to provide public toilets. Vandalism is a further drain on resources but there’s no prospect of the reinstatement of watchful custodians. When one long-serving attendant retired, he bemoaned how his facility had become the focus of the local sex and drug trades, adding wistfully, “When someone comes in for a s***e, it’s like a breath of fresh air”.

READ MORE: ‘Emergency’ restrictions at Finnich Glen after influx of visitors causes safety concern

For some, the shortage of public toilets even in normal times, is no joking matter. Crohn’s sufferers are just one group whose medical condition prevents them going out if public facilities are not available. Easing the lockdown can only increase the problem. It’s absolutely essential that reopening and improving toilet facilities are in step with reopening beer gardens and beauty spots. In the post-Covid world, we need to re-think the importance of public loos in ensuring community health and hygiene. As part of its health strategy, the Government must ensure that councils have the resources, ring fenced if necessary, to provide and maintain hygienic public facilities. In the great scheme of things, this might seem a wee problem, but if tackled successfully, will be a great relief to us all.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.