If naked beer bellies and three-quarter length trousering make you feel less than flushed, pull this chain of advice and discover how to survive the coming season
At last, the seasons have changed. Nature has shed her grey mantle for green, and the pale sun streams though my window. Outside in the garden, the birds, having cleared their throats at dawn, are giving voice at full throttle; the trees and shrubs are acquiring buds faster than a teenager gets spots; and the first bumblebee has toppled drunkenly from the window sill into the shrubbery beneath. God is in his heaven, and all is right with the world.
And yet… more than 2000 years ago the Roman Epicurean poet Lucretius sighed deeply and wrote: “Medio de fonte leporum surgit amari aliquid in ipsus floribus angat”. Loosely translated, that means “From the heart of this fountain of delicious joys wells up some bitter venom to choke them even among the flowers”. Or as we say today: “Into every ointment a fly must fall.”
We cannot know what upset Lucretius. Had Mrs Lucretius caught him dallying behind the Forum with a lapsed Vestal Virgin? Had he been fined for filing his tax assessment late? Had the dormouse he ate the previous night interfered with his digestive system? We can but speculate. It is safe to assume, however, that it was not the subject of trousers that had turned his thoughts to melancholy. I wish I could say the same. For even as the heart gladdens at the onset of spring, the head cannot rid itself of the despondent vision of men in three-quarter length trousering.
For all the joy that gilded summer brings cannot quite compensate for the revulsion, whose power does not diminish with repetition, occasioned by the sight of a modern Briton attired in his fine-weather garb. This is nature turned on its head. Some animals put on weight during the summer months to prepare them for the privations of winter. The British male does the opposite. Through the long nights of the football season he stretches languorous and inert before the telly, moving only to reach for another can of lager or to dip a podgy hand into a bucket of takeaway chicken. Come the vernal equinox and he is globular. Come the longest day and he is out and about revealing more of his body than the sensitive onlooker can take without recoiling in abhorrence.
This summer promises to be worse than most. Not because the weather will be exceptionally hot – though it might be – but because this is a World Cup year. And so football followers will be visible in far greater quantity and density than is usual. We must prepare ourselves not merely for a sustained display of sickening patriotic fervour – flags of St George will be everywhere – but also for a sustained display of fat bellies and short, bowed legs. Oh, to be on Mars now that summer football is here.
But enough of this gloom. Every cloud has a silver lining, every puff of wind blows someone some good, and are we not urged to gather rosebuds while we may? So, although what I have to offer may be as far removed from a nosegay as one might imagine, I invite you to share my pleasure at the news that the sewers at the new Wembley stadium have buckled and broken, putting the whole wretched project still further behind schedule.
If that does not tickle your fancy, perhaps the prospect of making some money might. For buried among the gladsome tidings of Wembley’s ruptured sewers is the nugget that the new stadium will have 2,600 lavatories, or approximately one for every 35 spectators when the ground is filled to capacity. I suppose some actuary specialising in the urinary and colonic frequency indices among football supporters did his sums, and calculated that at any one time during the course of a match 2.8% of those present would need to relieve themselves. The true figure might be higher, depending on the alcohol intake, but one must also take into account that, among the average football crowd, some 3% or so are wont to dispense with lavatories in favour of walls, pillars, trees and so on. At any rate, 2,600 lavatories is a substantial sum.
Now, cast your mind further ahead to 2012 and the dread prospect of the London Olympics. Quite apart from the drug addicts, riff-raff and misfits gathered from the four corners of the world to compete in the various events, there will be hundreds of thousands of spectators and media commentators, each and every one of whom will have a bladder and bowels, albeit functioning with varying degrees of efficiency. Just imagine how much porcelain will be needed to meet their requirements. Though this is not a share-tipping column, my advice is to go long on lavatories, so to speak.