I hope this answers the complaints of certain readers that the genial and breezy tone of this column fails to reflect the behaviour of a creature defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "a carnivorous animal ... remarkable for its ferocity and bloodthirstiness". Still, the bespectacled character so brilliantly limned by my colleague Lucinda Rogers makes a distinctive figurehead for this page. I have also found the appurtenances of this column - a fur coat and a set of whiskers - to be a quite congenial, if occasionally itchy, disguise. But imagine the jolt I felt when I looked up "weasel" in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and discovered that, as used in the nursery rhyme, the word does not refer to an animal but a household appliance. If pedantry held sway at the Independent, Ms Rogers would be obliged to draw a domestic iron every week at the top of this page. For it was this item that the tailors of the City Road pawned, or "popped", in order to have the wherewithall to slake their thirst at The Eagle. It's not very flattering to be named after a lump of hot metal - still, I suppose it's not inappropriate for a member of the press.
Of course, the ideal location for a rock performance is a dark, sweaty cellar rather than an open-air location fringed by ancient, fragile architecture. I'm sure that the first to agree on this point would be a certain wealthy pop star, famous for his support of environmental causes. So it came as a surprise last year when my way was barred to the famous Roman amphitheatre at Ephesus by a guide who explained: "Blame your Mr Sting. The theatre is no longer safe since he gave a concert here." Although it had accommodated audiences of up to 24,000 since the time of Claudius, the auditorium was closed for the first time in its history. Staring at the tiers of stone seats rising high into the Turkish hillside, where audiences had once thrilled to gladiatorial contests and Dionysian ceremonies, the fact slowly sank in: the amphitheatre had been broken by an over-amplified rendition of "Message in a Bottle".
Not only was the battered haddock on my plate the best I had ever consumed - gleaming white, with the hint of milky moisture between the flakes that is a guarantee of absolute freshness - but it was also the biggest. The plump, glorious fillet overlapped my plate by about two inches on both sides. I suppose you'll want to know where I purchased this astonishing belt-strainer at a very modest price last Monday. If you promise not a word to another soul, I'll whisper: the Magpie Cafe, overlooking Whitby harbour. With gleaming brasswork and rosy-cheeked, invariably rotund diners, it is a fragment of Yorkshire heaven. The only jarring note is a large, framed photo of a famous customer - Michael Winner - who leers down on the fish-chomping clientele, looking not uncodlike himself.
In all honesty, my haddock would have furnished three generous portions for a London restaurant. But tykes are made of sterner stuff. The Magpie's menu pointed out that if its average-sized fish was insufficient to requirements, diners could order large or even extra-large versions. Since I could scarcely move after battling my way through a "standard" portion, I can only imagine that the effect of devouring one of these Goliaths of the piscine world would be near-fatal. You don't suppose Mr Winner had visited the Magpie in order to research a new cinematic project called Deathfish?
In the course of an interview with France-Soir to publicise her new volume of memoirs, Brigitte Bardot announced her impending move to Italy because she is so fed up with France: "It has lost its charm. Things have become ugly, there is no feeling any more. In Italy, I sense that there is still joy, people play the mandolin, make pasta."
Though BB is indubitably correct about pasta - which, in my view, is quite sufficient reason for flitting to the warm south - I have certain doubts about her belief in the widespread incidence of mandolin-playing in Italy. A few years ago, this might have been the case. The instrument is celebrated in Louis de Berniere's recently acclaimed novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Since it is set during World War II, the eponymous Italian hero cannot be thinking of the young Ms Bardot when he muses: "How like a woman is a mandolin, how gracious and how lovely."
Until relatively recently, rock'n'roll remained unappreciated in Italy and, I suppose, the sweet chirruping of the mandolin might have been heard rather than the strident blast of the electric guitar. Sometime around 1972, I remember trying to impress a gorgeous blonde student with the music of Van Morrison. I doubt if this cacophonous scat had emerged from the Dansette for 30 seconds before my companion gave a scream of distaste. She was only placated when "Ciao Ciao Bambina", or possibly "Volare", commenced its wobbly rotation on the turntable.
Such charming innocence could not last long in the modern world. A decade later, all had changed utterly. It was in Florence's Uffizi Gallery, of all places, where I realised the extent to which Italy had clasped rock music to its generous bosom. I'd just joined a group of fellow shellfish fans for a squint at Botticelli's Birth of Venus when I heard an explosion of discords from the piazza outside. Peering out of a window, I saw that a punk band was languidly strumming on a temporary stage. Inevitably, they were English. "Can't you make it a bit louder?" one of them yelled in a Scouse accent. It proved a little hard to concentrate on Parmigianino's Madonna of the Long Neck while Echo and the Bunnymen continued with their lengthy, pre-concert sound-check. But if, as Ms Bardot claims, the Italian air is now filled with the sensuous rhythm of the mandolin, I might conclude my noisily interrupted tour of the Uffizi.
The news that British Airways is to spend millions replacing its logo with one that looks virtually the same should surprise no one. It is simply the kind of thing that companies feel the urge to do every so often - but, being deeply conservative by nature, the changes they institute are all but undetectable to the untrained eye. A few years ago, British Petroleum did the same thing, again at appalling expense. The sole change was that the lettering became slightly slanted.
With its limitless wealth, British Telecom is particularly prone to such tinkering. Soon after being privatised, it spent a king's ransom on its ridiculous "man drinking a yard of ale" logo. Sometime afterwards, it decided to shorten its name to BT. Just an attempt to be snappy and user-friendly, you might think - but with characteristic perverseness, the company continues to demand that customer cheques be made out to: "British Telecommunications plc."Reuse content