A wry view of life for the world-weary

What A Way To Go – Part Twenty Two


There is something intrinsically demeaning (and humorous, which is where this series comes in) about being found dead on the karsey. Of course you’ve got to go sometime and as we spend a bit of our time each day attending to our excretory functions it is probable that some people will pop their clogs there.

I was thinking about this subject yesterday when I realised it will soon be the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death – a fate mirrored by that of Gigi Cestone in an episode of the Sopranos – he had a heart attack while straining to defecate – and possibly by Tory politician, Christopher Shale, who was found dead in a portable loo at Glasto in 2011.

I had little joy in an admittedly cursory internet search in determining the probability of dying on the bog but I did unearth some interesting cases which I will share with you.

Showing that fate has a delicious sense of irony consider the demise of convicted murderer, Michael Anderson Godwin. Spared an appointment with the electric chair and facing a long stretch inside, he decided to make life bearable by repairing a television. Alas, he bit into one of the electric wires which was live whilst sitting on the metal toilet in his cell. Result – he was electrocuted, a fate he shared with another murderer, Laurence Baker. Baker was electrocuted whilst listening to the television through a pair of home-made earphones whilst sitting on his metal throne.

Comedian, Lenny Bruce was found dead on the toilet on August 3rd 1966. A heroin overdose did for him and his arm was still strapped with a tourniquet when he was discovered.

Game of Thrones addicts will know that much of George R.R Martin’s plot is drawn from English mediaeval history. It will come as no surprise then to learn that Tywin Lannister’s demise whilst on the metaphorical throne has echoes in the demise of an 11th century king, Edmund Ironside, who was involved in a dust-up with Cnut. Not content with being given Yorkshire, Cnut wanted to be rid of his rival and so hatched a fiendish assassination plot.

Assassins crept into the king’s chamber and hid themselves in the dung pit underneath the king’s privy, long sword at the ready. When Edmund, who could have done with an iron bottom, crouched to do his business, the assassin thrust the sword up his exposed fundament, slicing most of his internal organs and killing him. Some historians dispute this, some saying it was a pike – the long, sharp thing; not the fish – and others that it was a cross-bow which was rigged up on a trip wire.

As an aside, there seems to have been a real problem with early English monarchs and their bowels. Alfred the Great is said to have bled to death from a condition exacerbated by severe haemorrhoids, a fate he shared with Eadred and Harold Harefoot. Violent dysentery did for Kings John, Edward I, Henry V and James I.

The introduction of the inside lavvy was a great boon in Victorian times but in the early days if you weren’t too careful it could also be a great boom. Toilets had a habit of exploding spontaneously, probably as a result of a build-up of flammable gases such as methane and hydrogen sulphide which then came into contact with something like a naked flame. The humble U-bend greatly alleviated the problem.

To be continued…


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