Brian Viner: 'A surprising number of good stories come out of railway lavatories'

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The discredited former Royal Bank of Scotland chief Sir Fred Goodwin probably never thought that he would one day have cause to be grateful to a skunk-smoking youth, but the Julie/Jake/Jonathan Myerson affair has rather eclipsed the Goodwin brouhaha as the scandale du jour. I was beginning to feel almost sorry for Sir Fred and Lady G, imagining them turning on the radio or television for the weather forecast, but instead alighting on yet another hurrumphing backbencher, telling them to give their money back. Yet for the last week or so the chattering classes have had drugs and recalcitrant children on their minds, not £700,000 pensions.

The protagonists in the Myerson imbroglio are much more worthy of sympathy than the Goodwins, although I write with a degree of bias as someone who has never knowingly avoided giving my wife or kids a mention in pursuit of a better column. This has not always met with their wholehearted approval, indeed my 15-year-old daughter Eleanor was downright cross when a few weeks ago in this space I mentioned her sixth-former friend Chris, who drives, and whose motoring skills I felt inclined to test with an emergency stop and perhaps a couple of hill starts before I let Eleanor into his passenger seat.

Still, she then found out that Chris was quite chuffed to have his name in print, so all was well, at least until I wrote a week or two later about an episode when she was a baby, when I called her, as was my wont at the time, "Little Sausage". It seemed like a story worth telling, but the result was that Eleanor found herself addressed at school the next day as "Little Sausage". It hasn't caused Myerson-scale ructions, but like young Jake, she too might have something to say about the pitfalls of being parented by writers.

On the positive side, though, that story, which took place in a lavatory cubicle in a motorway service station, elicited a nice response from Luke Barclay, who compiled the book A Loo With A View that had got me on to lavatorial matters in the first place. He wrote to say that he had once been in a cubicle at King's Cross station when his father rang him on his mobile phone. "Hi dad," he said, only to hear a plaintive voice from the neighbouring cubicle. "Dad ... I wish I had a dad."

A surprising number of good stories come out of railway lavatories. About five years ago I wrote about the immaculately-kept loos at Reading station, a subject which most gratifyingly unleashed a positive torrent of correspondence, including a letter from a man whose uncle once arrived at Waterloo on a packed commuter train, having been desperate since Farnham for what we at Home and Away will politely call a number two. At Waterloo he scurried to the gents, locked himself in a cubicle, but in the unseemly haste to pull his trousers down, a load of coins and other metal objects fell out of his pockets and clattered on the stone floor, fleetingly causing a right old racket followed by a resounding silence, which in turn was broken by an exceedingly posh voice issuing from the next cubicle. "Good heavens, man! What have you been eating?"

If I might just stick a little longer with the indelicate subject of number twos, I heard the other day about a genteel woman – inevitably the friend of a friend, although I'm assured this really happened – who was stuck in a traffic jam on the M5, the like of which is familiar only to those of us who used to drive to Cornwall at the start of every school summer holiday. She too was in a state of desperation, but refused to get out of the car and seek the sanctuary of a hedge in full view of everyone else sitting in the tailback. Instead, she found a large yellow tub that had been full of grapes for the children on the back seat, but was now empty, and ... I'll spare you the details, but apparently she completed the operation successfully, if rather whiffily, and when they reached the next service station she very gingerly carried the tub to a rubbish bin and noticed just as she was jettisoning it, to her slightly hysterical mirth, what kind of tub it was: I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.

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