I have had a few rotten jobs
in my time, like cleaning up catsick, or being slowly lowered into
ice-cold sea in Cornwall with all my clothes on, but probably none
that would qualify for Tony Robinson’s programme about the worst jobs
in history (xxx, yyy, zzz).
The legendary prototype of all
rotten jobs went to the Corinthian trickster Sisyphus, who when he
reached Hades was given the task of rolling a huge stone up a hill. He
slowly staggered and gasped his way up, but as he reached the top the
stone slipped, and rolled down, and he had to start again. And again,
and again, for ever. No doubt it was a descendant of his who drew the
short straw and was appointed painter of the Forth Rail Bridge; every
time he gets to the other end he has to start again at the beginning.
Tony Robinson’s talking about
the Stuarts, but I reckon they could have learned a thing or two from
the Tudors. In 1539 Henry VIII’s Groom of the Stool reported that at
two o’clock one morning ‘His Grace rose to go on his stool, which,
with the working of the pills and the enema, had a very fair siege.’
Even though the stool was a commode upholstered in black velvet and
decorated with 2000 gold pins, the job of Groom of the Stool, always
given to a high-ranking courtier, must have been a bummer.
Nevertheless, I would rather
have been a Groom of the Stool for Henry VIII than a test-pilot for
the Chinese Emperor Kao Yang, a thousand years earlier. As part of his
conversion to Buddhism, he had to release all creatures, and in
addition to caged birds and tethered animals he decided to release
human beings. This sounds ok, but he was not a kind man. His idea of
releasing prisoners was to give them a pair of primitive bamboo wings,
then make them climb to the top of The Tower of the Golden Phoenix,
and jump off - to see who could fly the furthest. He laughed with joy
when they crashed to the ground.
One man, Yuang Huang-Thou,
managed to glide for a mile and a half and survived. This may well
have been the first ever flight by a human being, but even that was
not enough for the Emperor, who had him starved to death.