Thursday 21 October 2010
Brian Viner: This throne is the greatest leveller
On Monday it will be 250 years since King George II died on the toilet. It is not what he would have wished to be remembered for a quarter of a millennium after his death, for he also spoke six languages, and was the last British monarch to lead his troops into battle. That was during the War of the Austrian Succession, at Dettingen in Bavaria in 1743, an eventful year for the king. A few months earlier he had been present at the inaugural London performance of Handel's Messiah.
His was an indubitably interesting and accomplished life, and yet I prefer to celebrate his memory for the rather undignified way it ended. When I pull the other kind of handle on Monday morning, he will be in my thoughts, because he reminds us that toilets are a great leveller. After all, another king, Elvis Presley, also died on the loo. He was actually found on the floor, but in the curiously old-fashioned phrasing of one of his biographers, Peter Guralnick, "It was certainly possible that he had been taken while straining at stool".
Whatever, it is easy to understand why the image of someone on the toilet is often deployed to diffuse anxiety before an encounter with someone forbidding. How many people, stricken with nerves, have been sent off to a meeting or interview with the reminder that, "he goes to the toilet just like you do"?
In the United States, this brand of encouragement would be framed differently. Nobody goes to the toilet there, only to "the bathroom". Maybe that's why Guralnick was so sensitive with the details of Elvis's untimely passing, but we British are a less fastidious lot, and of course we have a famously lavatorial sense of humour.
I know an English family with a rambling house in France that has five toilets, and they duly named the place St Cloud. A toilet-themed pun that also pokes gentle fun at the French language, it is practically the definitive British joke.
Toilets, though, deserve our esteem as well as our humour, as a fellow called Luke Barclay well knows. He has just compiled a book called Good Loo Hunting, the splendid sequel to his 2008 masterpiece A Loo With A View, which featured marvellously appointed lavs from around the world. And I'm sure he was as intrigued as I was to read the news earlier this week that there is to be no Glastonbury Festival the year after next, for the simple reason that the cost of portable toilets will be prohibitive. Michael Eavis, the Somerset farmer who founded the festival, has realised that the Olympics will make 2012 a bumper year for toilet-suppliers, who are certain to jack up rental prices. As poor old King George II found, spending a penny can be a terribly costly business.
Acts of selflessness are arare thing in Wayne's world
Job remuneration is what it is, and in a way it is pointless to measure salaries in one sphere of employment with those in another, but everyone does it, and of all people it was Kevin Keegan who once said to me that, "I find it incredible that a doctor can train for eight years to earn in a year half of what a footballer earns in a week".
There's no arguing with that, and if it is true that Wayne Rooney wants to leave Manchester United because he doesn't consider £150,000 a week to be a fair reflection of his worth, then old football men should weep for what the game has become.
This is also the week, however, in which Gordon Strachan resigned as manager of the Championship club Middlesbrough by tearing up his contract, and renouncing his right to a pay-off he felt he didn't deserve, and knew the club couldn't really afford. Examples of such nobility are scarcely more common in modern football than snowdrifts in the desert, but when they do happen they make the heart sing, as in 2002 when the Irishman Niall Quinn, recognising the absurdity of a millionaire footballer being granted a money-raising testimonial match, gave the proceeds of his to charity.
As for Rooney, he could now do something extraordinary, something that would raise his standing in football, and football's standing in the public eye. He could buy out his own contract and join Everton, the club he grew up supporting and claims to love still. He knows they need a striker, and he also knows that they couldn't afford to pay him much more than a pittance, about £50,000 a week. But what respect he would earn. It's a pleasing fantasy, and not just because I'm an Evertonian.
How to get by in France
Speaking of strikers, I recently went to France to conduct a sports interview. I flew to Nice then had to get to Monte Carlo, which was rendered much trickier than it should have been because of a rail strike. My flight back to Birmingham was then imperilled by striking French air traffic controllers, who were responsible a week later for my daughter's school trip to Spain being cancelled, although not before she had spent two hours getting to Bristol Airport. Now it is industrial unrest at oil refineries that is crippling France. As a boy the two most important words of French I knew were "en garde", the preface to any mock sword fight. Now, I know them to be "en greve" – on strike.
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