Just like the Inuit supposedly have 200-odd words for snow, Londoners have innumerable expressions for everyday functions, such as going to the toilet. A few variations include: when nature calls; studying some porcelain; splashing your boots; and visiting the little boy's (or girl's) room. The trouble today is that the actual number of public places to spend the proverbial penny is dwindling rapidly. No longer legally obliged to provide public loos, councils are closing toilet blocks at an alarming rate, prompting the likes of architect associations and even pensioner groups to start campaigns to save them. Older people, pensioner groups say, live on 'a bladder leash', visiting only places where they know amenities exist. Others point out that with a lack of loos, the alternative (taking a leak on the street, especially at night after the pubs have closed) is giving London a bad name - not to mention a bad smell. The Greater London Assembly, the capital's local parliament, estimates that there are just 400 public toilets left, 40 per cent fewer than five years ago. Time Out magazine says this equates to one per 18,000 Londoners, or one for 67,000 tourists. If everyone decided to go at once, those at the back would have to wait for up to a year! Budget cuts are to blame for the closures. Forces of profit are clearly as powerful as the force of nature, and local authorities are keen to sell off the toilet buildings to eager private developers for use as flats, cafes or nightclubs. In Spitalfields, east London, the Victorian public toilets have been snapped up and are earmarked to become a nightclub; in Shepherd's Bush, west London, toilets have been turned into comedy clubs; while in Kentish Town, north London, plans are afoot to transform one block into a beauty salon. In trendy Talbot Road, Notting Hill, abandoned facilities are slated to become a cafe, despite protests from locals who point out that there are only four public toilets left in the area, compared with 16 other coffee shops just along the same road. Besides, isn't coffee a diuretic? The Green Party's local-election campaign platform included toilet issues, and the Camden branch was particularly vocal, given that it was trying to save public toilets in Highgate Village earmarked for closure. More militant groups want private businesses such as pubs, cafes and restaurants - particularly the international fast-food chains - to take the strain. Some are lobbying punters to use the facilities in McDonald's without buying anything, all in a misguided drive to dent the vilified corporation's profit margins. But, let's be fair, who hasn't already done this, anyway?