Our host attempted to dispel the suburban ambience by comparing our itinenerary to the river voyage in `Apocalypse Now': `We run into Marlon Brando at Shiplake,' he said

While it's odd for a weasel to prosecute a python, I believe I could mulct Terry Jones of substantial damages as a result of the gross libel directed at my species in his new film The Wind in the Willows. I decided to investigate the setting for this grotesque calumny at first hand and took up the kind invitation of some friends to explore a stretch of the upper Thames in their motor cruiser. Aptly, I joined them at Marlow, near the original "wild wood" of Kenneth Grahame's book.

It rapidly became evident that, far from being a haven of ease, the river is a place of feverish activity. While far from being obsessively house- proud at home, my chums were applying Brasso as if their lives depended on it. After an eternity of buffing and stowing, we were at last able to embark. Happy as a grig, our hostess (the boat's owner) rapidly attained the statutory maximum of 3mph. Her partner, less entranced by life afloat, reached for the corkscrew. "For the comfort and safety of passengers," he announced, "we recommend you get lightly drunk."

Approximately two seconds later, he hopped over the side. It turned out to be our first lock and he had to do a spot of tying-up. A gallery of genial observers peered down at us from the riverbank. Back on board, our host murmured that I should not be taken in by their apparent bonhomie. "The technical term for the ghouls who gather at locks is `gongoozlers'. We try not to disappoint them - both our children have fallen in once." After only 30 minutes or so, we continued our snail's pace. Various exciting sights were pointed out - a new set of ruched curtains here, a floral wheelbarrow there. Our host attempted to dispel the suburban ambience by comparing our itinerary to the river voyage in Apocalypse Now: "If Marlow is the place where that bloke has an arrow through his neck, Henley is where everyone is taking LSD. We run into Marlon Brando at Shiplake."

The boat had been fitted with a host of accessories by the previous owner, though my friends have rarely used the electronic navigator since they've never ventured further seawards than Teddington. Similarly, the full set of signal flags have proved a trifle redundant - not knowing the codes, my pals are wary of accidentally declaring themselves to be a plague ship, with every tar convulsed by yellow jack.

After almost three hours on the water, which included four locks, we pulled in for lunch near Henley. A sign on a nearby road revealed that Marlow was just eight miles away. Never one to miss the chance of a dip, I gingerly inched through the mud and launched myself among the lampreys and gudgeon in the glacial water. I did not stay in long - it is disconcerting to be looked down on by a swan. Our host was amazed by my amphibious behaviour: "Are you OK? We never even put the anchor down here because it gets too dirty."

The houses along this stretch tend to be on the grand side - more like Toad Hall than Mr Rat's humble residence. My friend proved his intimate knowledge of the river by pointing out the homes of various celebs. "That was Robert Morley's place - at least I think so," he said, "but the real treat's coming up." A mile or two further, he pointed it out: "There, that's where Danny La Rue lives." I checked with a lock-keeper: "No, Mr La Rue left about seven years ago," he reflected, "but we've still got Raymond Baxter." There was no sign of the great man, but my friend was touchingly gratified. "Now, that really is something to look out for next time."

A story told by former marijuana magnate Howard Marks in his new autobiography, Mr Nice, rang a bell. He and his wife found themselves skint in a Swiss resort. Suddenly, Mrs Marks pointed at a bank. "Howard," she announced, "I'm pretty sure I opened an account there." Within half an hour, the couple were richer to the tune of pounds 20,000. A memorable anecdote, if from a rather dubious source - except that a girlfriend of mine, who was involved on the fringe of Marks's drug empire, told me something similar 15 years ago. Her yarn concerned a new car with a bootful of money that has been abandoned in a long-stay car-park in Stockholm. For all I know, it's still there - though it's a moot point whether the hidden cash will cover the parking fees.

Oddly enough, I also had a distant brush with the late Lord Moynihan, the no-goodnik who betrayed Marks to the US Drug Enforcement Agency. His obituary revealed that for a brief period in a career for which the word "chequered" scarcely does justice, he ran a coffee bar in Beckenham, Kent. I'm almost certain that I used to patronise this bohemian joint - it had a theatrical theme - in the mid-Seventies. While the owner might have been a bad egg, he did a decent bacon sandwich.

I was pleased as Punch at the sight of 16 tiny proscenium stages lined up in Covent Garden market last week. One bore the legend Sic Est Faciendum ("That's the way to do it").

Unfortunately, since the market authorities had forgotten about the 16th Punch & Judy Fellowship Festival, the "professors" - surely they are the only people who should use this faintly ridiculous title - had to perform their time-honoured act against a hugely amplified rockabilly band. I doubt if this was a problem faced by the first recorded Punch and Judy act, seen performing at the same site by Sam Pepys on 9 May 1662. While I admit that that Mr Punch is a far from ideal role-model for the young and would, indeed, be the neighbour from hell - most of the act consists of what police refer to as "a domestic" - he makes me laugh like a drain. I particularly relish the wheedling charm he uses to lull opponents into a false sense of security before batting them over the head. "People love him 'cos he takes the piss out of the establishment," explained Prof Bob Sacco, secretary of the Punch & Judy Fellowship. "He even hangs the hangman."

The men inside the little theatres or "set-ups" turned out to be amiable showmen, displaying scant sign of Hancockian melancholy. Surrounded by the surreal tools of his trade - a ghost, a crocodile, a devil, and a string of cloth sausages - Brian Clarke, who performs as "Prof Jingles" at Lowestoft, explained that adult shows are growing in vogue. They enable him to use the rarely seen, but traditional, figure of Pretty Polly. "I like the idea of Mr Punch having a girlfriend. She's very, er, forward. The best thing is her catch-phrase. Can't you guess? `That's the way to screw it.'"

As an erstwhile companion of Sir Ranulph Fiennes, I wish him godspeed on his solo Antarctic crossing. Perhaps I've never told you of the time I spent with the great explorer. Admittedly our adventure took place in somewhat more congenial circumstances than the earth's polar extremities - but I'm pleased to say I acquitted myself with honour, bringing no blot to the Weasel escutcheon. Given a little grit and determination, I'm sure almost anyone could have slogged their way through it. You ask what did we do exactly? Well, to be honest, we spent an afternoon drinking brandy in the Savoy Hotel. At the time, Ran (as I was chummily calling my new friend by the end of our session) was acting as a public relations man for Occidental, Armand Hammer's oil company. His time there should stand him in good stead for his new challenge. For anyone who survived the horrendous Hammer, traversing Antarctica should be a doddle

Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?