Maintaining a good field of vision is an essential consideration for today's swimmer. Over the past few years, the coastal waters throughout Europe have become cluttered with all manner of high-speed craft, from dinghies to wind-surfers, from jet-skis to speed boats. Going for an extended swim today is like taking a stroll along the M25. Correct me if I'm mistaken, but the pilots of these contraptions do not have exclusive rights to the littoral - yet they churn through the waves like Miami drug- runners. For them, the notion of anyone swimming well out to sea is so bizarrely inconceivable that, when they spot one, they are inclined to circle the aquatic adventurer a few times in order to gawp, as if one were a manatee or grampus coming up for air. Usually, of course, these salty speed-freaks don't see you at all, being busily engaged in some heavy duty posing.
But it takes more than a few near-misses to put the Weasel off his stroke. My aquatic hero is a maths prof (British, of course) who, through careful study of local currents, has achieved the circumnavigation of several Greek islands. I also have a high regard for the brave souls who annually undertake a 35-mile slog in the less-than-pristine waters around Manhattan.
To be absolutely honest, I must admit that my extended disappearances into the wide blue yonder do not always equate with a large number of nautical miles. Mrs W, a dedicated non-swimmer, came to realise this during a Greek holiday a few years ago. Waiting for me on the beach, she became a touch concerned when I failed to return after an hour and gave me up for lost when two hours had passed. When I finally hove into view, almost three hours after I departed and smelling somewhat of brandy, she was not best pleased. In fact, I'd just swum round to a neighbouring bay (with a few drachma in a plastic bag) for a beer in a quiet bar, where the patron insisted on plying me with a glass or two of the spiritous beverage known to old Aegean hands as "Metaxa the Axer". Well, we long-distance swimmers have to keep our strength up - but my landlubberish spouse appeared singularly reluctant to acknowledge the fact.
Paula Yates, the peroxide harpy who devotes herself to the twin goals of publicity and procreation, garnered a vast acreage of newsprint as a result of the deeply daft name bestowed on the latest addition to her brood. I don't have the space to give the full, rambling nomenclature of her four (at least, that's the tally at time of writing) daughters. But you know the kind of thing. Tonibell Tangerine Tendinitis might be one example.
How the sob sisters and agony aunts of Fleet Street frothed and foamed. However, they seem to forget that the spawn of our asinine rockocracy are under no obligation to endure their ghastly monikers. Zowie Bowie now prefers to be known as Joe, while Keith Richards' daughter Dandelion has adopted the irreproachably untrendy name of Angela (she has a riding stable in Kent). Les Filles de Paula could find a convenient off-the-shelf solution to their mother's idiocy in the names of four other sisters - Jessica, Nancy, Deborah and Diana might fit the bill. Come to think of it, the bizarre menage of "Farve" and "Marve" Mitford bears more than a passing resemblance to the unorthodox parenting provided by Bob and Paula and Michael.
Once in a while, round about 3.30am, the nocturnal quiescence of Weasel Villas is broken by a series of cryptic announcements by Mrs W. "Zoroastrianism", she might blurt out, perhaps followed by "Semolina" and, after a while, something like "Torquemada". No, you need not be concerned that the old girl has been sniffing the Snopake. She is merely contributing a few answers to "Brain of Britain", which enters her cranial passages via an ear-piece. Repeats of the radio quiz, so eloquently hosted by Robert Robinson, regularly crop up in the English language broadcasts of the BBC World Service. This is used as a kind of aural in-fill while Radio 4 is off the air between 1am and 5.50am.
Mrs W claims that she was forced into this peculiar listening habit by my stentorian snores. (Complete nonsense, of course. Previous partners have complimented me on my tabby-like purrs.) The odd thing is that a surprising number of my friends are also addicted to the World Service as a form of in-sleep entertainment, wafting in and out of "Jazz for the Asking" or "Folk Routes" in between dreams. One of my more hidebound cronies surprised me by revealing an interest in thrash metal music, prompted by John Peel's cacophonous broadcasts to the anglophone world. Another pal, who customarily boasts of his scientific illiteracy, spouted knowledgably about the CERN particle accelerator, after hearing about it on Science in Action.
The fraternity of night owls in thrall to the outpourings of Bush House are not entirely uncritical. Some voice resentment that "World Radio Club", with its warning of sun-spot activity affecting reception in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, has been replaced by the more unbuttoned "Wavelength". Others lament the fact that The Merchant Navy Programme has sunk beneath the waves. But, in general, listeners lap it up. Mrs W once even expressed an inexplicable taste for A Jolly Good Show, a record request programme presented by Dave Lee Travis, who annoyingly refers to his employer as the "BBC Wild Service", when dishing out free T-shirts and playing Whitesnake waxings for popsters in Kuala Lumpur.
Yet it seems that the World Service is under threat, in particular its unrivalled current affairs output. Well, I, for one, would be willing to contribute a few bob to ensure that the BBC keeps on broadcasting to the world. Anything for a quiet night's sleep.
The news that Michel Mouillot, Mayor of Cannes, was arrested last week on extortion charges reminded me of the fact that Jacques Medecin, his opposite number in Nice, was also charged with corruption and is currently doing a stretch of porridge. An appropriate term, for M Medecin must be one of few gaolbirds to have penned a cookbook. For all his moral pliability, Cuisine Nicoise reveals the ex-Mayor to be a bit of a stickler in matters gastronomic. "Never, never, I beg you," he pleads, "include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your salad nicoise." Similarly, he notes that the ratatouille "commonly encountered outside the Comte de Nice bears no relation to the genuine traditional product". But am I being overfanciful in detecting a menacing overtone in a dish which he claims was invented by his maternal grandmother? Its local name, Lou Bistec a L'Espaventada translates as "Terror-Stricken" Beefsteak.