Brian Viner: Confessions of a true romantic

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For the average couple, romance starts seeping out of marriage just 14 months after the exchange of vows, according to a survey commissioned – you're going to like this – by Better-Bathrooms.com.

Not surprisingly, bathrooms and toilets loom large in the survey's findings. At first, husbands tend to keep the door closed when they go to the loo, but following that 14-month watershed (how satisfying to unite watersheds and water closets), they throw privacy to the winds, while also tending to shave less often, and – horror of horrors – openly burping. Their wives, meanwhile, become less scrupulous about applying make-up and spend longer in unflattering dressing-gowns.

All this, of course, is called intimacy. It comes, whether after 14 days, months or years, with being comfortable in your partner's company, and it doesn't preclude romance at all, indeed one could argue that romantic gestures are all the more meaningful once the loo door has opened on a relationship.

Besides, problems are only likely to arise in a marriage if opinions differ on the definition of being comfortable in each other's company. Some years ago a friend of mine, raised in a lively working-class household in the north of England, and newly-married to a privately-educated girl from an affluent Home Counties family, sat on the marital sofa picking and then chewing his toenails. "That's so inconsiderate of you," said his appalled wife. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said. "Would you like one?"

Happily, she laughed. And four children later, they're still very cheerfully together. In my own 18-year marriage – in which time, like the toilet seat, we've had our ups and downs – the ability to make each other laugh remains paramount. But folk have different ways of helping relationships endure.

Charla Muller from North Carolina, for example, having realised one day, after two children and eight years together, that she had become an expert at avoiding sexual contact with her husband Brad, decided to give him an unusual 40th birthday present: sex every day for 12 months. And then, inevitably, she wrote a book about it. The book is called 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy, and I'm afraid we all have to wait until April to get our hands on it. Or to avoid it like the plague.

Personally, I'm not at all interested in reading Charla's book, but I wouldn't mind hearing her on Radio 4's Woman's Hour, being interviewed by the redoubtable Jenni Murray, who once described marriage as legalised prostitution.

And quite aside from matters of sexual politics, why just nights? Isn't a healthy sex life about variety, perhaps the odd bit of love in the afternoon? As for the intimacy bit of the title, give me open toilet doors and shabby dressing-gowns any time. I'm all for regular sex, but a daily dose doesn't strike me as much of a birthday present. I'd rather have a nice cardigan.

Who can help rescue a long neglected author?

Most of us grow up being told, and in turn telling our children, not to talk to strangers. Yet talking to strangers can be one of life's pleasures. The last stranger I talked to at length on a train turned out to be writing a biography of John Venn, the 19th century logician who invented the Venn Diagram. I have always loved Venn Diagrams. It was just about the only thing that ever interested me in grammar school maths lessons. But it had never occurred to me to wonder who Mr Venn was, and rather unexpectedly I got my answer on the Arriva Trains Wales service from Cardiff to Manchester.

This week, something similar happened. I got chatting to a fellow in my local pub, who, it transpired, is researching the life of Percy F Westerman. I'd never heard of him, either, but between 1900 and his death in 1959 he wrote more than 170 ripping yarns for boys, selling well over 1.5 million copies, yet died virtually a pauper.

That alone would make him interesting, but it is also this fellow's contention that old Percy exerted an enormous and hitherto barely recognised influence over generations of schoolboys, no less than, in fact arguably more than, his near-contemporary Baden-Powell.

More interestingly still, the influence was not a positive one. Through his stories, Westerman encouraged the view that all Anglo-Saxons were strong of principle and square of jaw, while all foreigners were dodgy blighters.

Anyway, I ended up having lunch with my new friend. His name is Derek Brown, and he's a former foreign correspondent for The Guardian. He's hoping to write a book about Westerman, and needs a publisher.

How pleasing it would be if a chance encounter with a stranger in a Herefordshire pub helps him to get one.

A week that showed football at its best

Despite, or more likely because of, the vast acreage of space it gets in our media, not to mention the own goals it regularly hammers into the top of the net, football is routinely sneered at as a sport for overpaid, stupid thugs (the players) and undiscerning fools (the fans).

The other day, in this very space, my colleague Susie Rushton put an elegant boot in, suggesting that Wayne Rooney's astonishing bicycle kick last Saturday was a rare example of footballing athleticism.

Yet the winning goals scored this week by Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, in their respective Champions League matches against Milan and Barcelona, were nothing if not supreme examples of athleticism by exceptionally talented athletes, and a timely reminder that there is still beauty in the Beautiful Game.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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