“Mosquitoes” were designed to annoy all under 25-year-olds. It’s time to ban them

Photo: Mike Baird via Creative Commons

There’s a particular shopping area just off the Canterbury ring-road that I can’t help but associate with headaches. Attached to one of the buildings for a long time was a bit of kit called a Mosquito, which, like its natural namesake, had the sole purpose of annoying people. But not everyone. Just those who happened to be under 25.

Like something out of the fevered dreams of a youth-hating Frankenstein, the Mosquito creates a high-pitched irritating sound that takes advantage of the natural decline in humans’ hearing. If you’re under 25 then the only thing you can think about is getting out of the area. If you’re older, then you can carry on with your day oblivious to the auditory apocalypse that all the young people in the vicinity are being subject to.

As the product’s website tells us, the device is pitched at business owners looking to stop young people “hanging around in rowdy groups, littering, smoking and drinking, playing music and generally preventing you from enjoying your home or business.” Which, to be honest, sounds like an understanding of young people derived solely from reading the Daily Express. But sound, unlike the Express, doesn’t discriminate. Everyone under the age of 25 is affected, from choral students to Brownies. 

Compound Security Services, the Welsh company that makes the Mosquito, proudly boasts that the device is 100 per cent legal, yet serious concerns have been raised about the human rights implications of this blanket approach to deterrence. Liberty, the human rights advocacy group, argues that the devices violate the European Convention on Human Rights, most notably Article 14, which prohibits discrimination.


Usage is hotly debated on a local level as well. A testimony on the Compound Security Services website from a member of Sheffield City Council Licensing Board, describes how in certain situations, the installation of such a device might be a mandatory condition of an alcohol licensing application. Yet in 2011, a 17-year-old led a successful campaign to get the device banned from council buildings

Councillors in Kent also banned the use of the devices on council buildings after talking to their youth members. A branch of Co-op in Lancashire similarly got rid of the Mosquito on their property following a campaign by a 19-year-old autistic man. People with autism can be hypersensitive to noise and the National Autistic Society cited numerous reports of autistic people complaining of particularly adverse effects from the devices. Due to the over-25s’ immunity to the sound, the issue isn’t even on the radar of most people – and fighting it is left to those affected.

Now I wasn’t particularly affected by Canterbury’s Mosquito since it was protecting a Waitrose – which is a shop you only start to find interesting in your late twenties anyway. But the ethics of the devices remain highly dubious regardless of what they’re guarding, especially when those most affected are those often without much in terms of political clout. As it stands, anyone can buy them online and so they can be abused, like the couple in Suffolk who wanted to stop their neighbour’s children from playing in the garden.

In Ireland they’ve recently declared the devices a form of assault. The UK should follow suit. As Baroness Chakrabarti, who directed Liberty for many years, said: “What type of society uses a low-level sonic weapon on its children?” If you put it like that, banning it seems the obvious choice.

 
 
 
 

What’s behind the rise of the ornamental restaurant toilet?

Toilets at Sketch restaurant, London. Image: Nik Stanbridge/Flickr.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the toilets of a zeitgeisty new Italian restaurant in east London called Gloria. As with so many contemporary restaurant toilets, those in question were an aesthetic extension of the establishment’s soul. The inventive menu was matched by two-way mirrored toilet doors.

The setup was this: cubicle occupants could see out while the unisex crowd milling around the taps could check their outfits on the exterior mirrors. All fun and games, I thought. But then I found myself mid toilet with a guy peering into my door to change his contact lens. Either he had spectacularly bad manners or he was unaware of the two-way door thing. (Let’s hope it’s the latter.)

Gloria’s toilets aren’t unique in their attempt to be distinctive. The loos at nearby Mr Fogg’s Maritime Club & Distillery are adorned with specimen boards of dead spiders. Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s The Sun Inn invites patrons to pee in buckets, and trumpets double as urinals in The Bell Inn in East Sussex. Men can wee into the vista if they’re dining in the Shard. And Sketch’s ovum shaped loos are the stuff of urban legend.

Further afield, transparent doors become frosted only after they’re locked at Brussels’ Belga Queen. In Otto’s Bierhalle in Toronto, diners can press a button to activate their own private rave. And the toilets in Robot Restaurant in Tokyo have gold-plated interiors and dancing robots.

What’s behind this trend? Are quirky toilets just a bit of fun – or an unnecessary complication to the simple act of going for a wee and checking you don’t have tomato sauce on your chin?

Yotam Ottolenghi’s London flagship restaurant Nopi crops up often in conversations about restaurant bathrooms. A hall of mirrors glitters enticingly ahead of loo-bound diners. “The bathroom needs to be the nicest part [of] the whole place because that’s where you’re on your own,” says Alex Meitlis, the designer behind the space.

But no one is truly alone in 2019. If surveys are to be believed, nearly 65 per cent of millennials take their phone to the bathroom with them. Mike Gibson, who edits the London food and drink magazine Foodism agrees that the bathroom selfie – searches for which, incidentally, yield over 1.5m results on Instagram – is part of the reason that contemporary lavatory design is so attention seeking.


“Any new venue that's opening will be super aware that there's probably not an inch of their restaurant that won't be photographed or filmed at some point”, he says. But bathrooms like Nopi’s predate this trend. Indeed, Meitlis believes he has created a haven from the smartphone obsession; Nopi’s mirrors are angled in such a way that means you have to seek out your reflection. “You can choose whether to look for yourself in the mirror or not.”

Another driving force is the increasingly competitive restaurant landscape. “It’s almost like there’s some sort of ever-escalating competition going on amongst new openings, which makes every visit a faintly terrifying experience”, says food writer and New Statesman contributor Felicity Cloake. Gibson agrees. “Restaurants want an edge wherever possible, and design definitely comes into that.”

So novelty bathrooms get you noticed, promote social media engagement and entertain diners who are momentarily without the distraction of company. (Although, it must be said, quirky bathrooms tend to make the loo trip a more sociable experience; a Gloria spokesperson described the restaurant’s toilets as somewhere you can “have a good laugh and meet people along the way.”)

Nevertheless, I’m not the only one who finds bathroom surprises disconcerting.  One TripAdvisor user thought the Belga Queen loos were “scary”. And a friend reports that her wonderment at the Nopi bathroom was laced with mirror maze induced nausea – and mild panic when she realised she didn’t know the way out. Should restaurants save the thrills for the food?

“I think it's important not to be too snarky about these things – restaurants are meant to playful,” says Gibson. Cloake agrees that novelty is fine, but adds: “my favourite are places like Zelman Meats in Soho that have somewhere in the dining room where you can easily wash your hands before sitting down and tucking in.”

So perhaps we should leave toilets unadorned and instead ramp up the ornamentation elsewhere. Until then, I’ll be erecting a makeshift curtain in all mirrored toilets I encounter in future. An extreme reaction, you might say. But, as I wish I could have told the rogue contact lens inserter, it’s not nice to pry into someone else’s business.