Brian Viner: ‘I don’t know why reading on the loo is a solely male practice, but it is’

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Awhile ago in this space I related the marvellous and true story of a literate, middle-class audience settling down to watch a performance of Equus, featuring the Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe, in the West End. Apparently there was a palpable satisfaction among those present that the prospect of seeing Radcliffe naked did not appear to have attracted people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre – but then, just before the curtain rose, three young women made their way into their seats in the upper circle and one was heard to complain vehemently, “How are we going to see his todger from here?”

Anyway, I credited this anecdote to an illustrious writer, mistakenly thinking that I’d heard it on a television chat show, only to receive an email pointing out that actually I had inadvertently lifted it from a |letter written by a Mr Luke Barclay and published in this very newspaper. The email came from his father, Paul Barclay, who had also been at Equus that evening and could verify the “todger” complaint.

He added that Luke would be |flattered to be called an illustrious writer, a description which wasn’t wholly merited, although he had written a well-received book, published in 2008, called A Loo with A View. Mr Barclay Snr said he’d send me a copy, and I’m pleased to report that A Loo With A View is now a firm family favourite in the lavatorial browsing department. With me and my sons, anyway. I don’t know why reading on the loo is overwhelmingly a male practice, but it is. Once, during a discussion between my wife, Jane, and her friends Liz and Ali about multi-tasking, Ali ventured the opinion that men can’t do two things at the same time. “Yes they can, they can poo and read,” said Liz waspishly, giving vent to years of pent-up irritation.

Whatever, A Loo With A View is a splendid little book, featuring lavs around the world that are blessed with spectacular outlooks, from the top of the Alcatraz guard tower overlooking San Francisco Bay, to a bamboo hut said to be the best place to enjoy the sunrise over Mount Sinai. It’s nice to think that there might still be tablets at the top of Mount Sinai, albeit bearing the words Neutradol Toilet Cleaner, rather than the Ten |Commandments.

Mr Barclay Jnr, I hasten to add, has not visited each of the 40 panoramic loos pictured in the book, but he’s been to quite a few of them, and suggests in his introduction that it’s a miracle he hasn’t ended up in prison, considering how much loitering he’s done in and around conveniences wielding a camera. Even if that had happened, however, I could still give him a run for his money in the area of lavatorial misunderstandings. When my daughter Eleanor was only a few weeks old, I carried her in her |car-seat into a cubicle at a service station on the M6. She was fast asleep, but as I sat there, gazing |lovingly at her, she began to open her eyes. “Hello little sausage, have you woken up?” I cooed, and only later realised why the person in the cubicle next to mine seemed to leave in such an unseemly rush.

The little sausage described above is now a whopping 15-year-old frankfurter, who on Tuesday night had seven schoolfriends to stay following a party at the village hall. Three of these friends were boys, which meant a rolling of the eyes when Jane insisted that the boys, while welcome to stay, would not be permitted to doss down in Eleanor’s room. As parents we are stumbling through the dreaded teenage years making rules up as we go along, and trying to navigate a course between unreasonable firmness and excessive liberalism. Yesterday morning, Eleanor’s friend Chris, a lad in the upper-sixth, arrived to give her and two of her mates a lift into Hereford, 15 miles away. I discussed with Jane whether I should have a little chat with him about safety on the roads, teenage accident statistics being rather horrifyingly high round here. In the end we decided I shouldn’t, and Eleanor assures us that Chris is a highly responsible fellow, but all the same, I was sorely tempted to subject him to a 30-minute private driving test before my daughter stepped into his car. She wouldn’t have spoken to me until next Tuesday, but it would have been worth it.