The Weasel

After negotiating some well-endowed ladies of the art world, I was surprised to observe mass hanky panky in a Scarborough car park
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The Independent Culture
HOW I wish the National Gallery would abandon the audio guides it provides for special exhibitions. Negotiating the throng at the deservedly popular Ingres show is tough enough without the additional hazard of plugged- in spectators obeying the commands of their earpieces. With whirling CDs bizarrely dangling over their hearts, these sad souls resemble the robots in the movie Metropolis. Deprived of free will, they barge like dodgems into anyone in their path. When going to view the works of Ingres, a close encounter with well-endowed ladies is only to be expected, but it's a bit much when this takes the form of the balcon formidable of a middle- aged art-lover.

The aristos and haute bourgeoisie portrayed by Ingres have attained a sort of immortality through the brush and pencil of the master, but there is a price to be paid. It is doubtful if his subjects would be entirely pleased with the captions which accompany their portraits. We learn a contemporary opinion of the rather dopey-looking Lady Bentinck: "What a good natured, potato-headed woman she is." Similarly, the note accompanying the daunting Countess de Tournon points out: "Her plain features are in no way idealised, indeed recent conservation has uncovered a mole on the bridge of her nose which an earlier restorer had touched out." However, no caption is required to draw attention to the whiskers of Madame Genevieve Bertin (the drawing appears in the catalogue but not the exhibition). As if appended by a particularly talented graffiti artist, her moustache is plain for all to see.

But how wonderfully the world of art has advanced in the 131 years since Ingres passed on to the heavenly academy. This was forcibly impressed on me by an item in a magazine last week which offered "Five artists to invest in". These artistic naps include a "high conceptualist" called Martin Creed, described as "an oasis of purity in a messy world". The work we are urged to buy is entitled A Sheet of A4 Paper Crumpled into a Ball (pounds 150). I, in fact, have some empathy with this masterpiece. Before I invested in a computer 15 years ago, I produced numerous examples of a similar nature, often accompanied by an outpouring of profanities (the indubitable hallmark of a great creator). But since becoming adept with the "delete" key, I fear I have lost the art.

I AM loathe to query such a doughty defender of civil liberties as Geoffrey Robertson QC, but I was stopped in my tracks by a statement in his memoir, The Justice Game. After recalling the manifold absurdities of the Oz trial, Mr Robertson harks back to another foray against the monstrous forces of oppression: his successful defence of the Sex Pistols against a charge of indecency concerning the title of their hit waxing, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Mr Robertson recalls how he was "enlisted to defend a particularly polite and studious young university graduate who sung under the sobriquet of `Johnny Rotten'".

It is not the description of Mr Rotten as "polite and studious" which raised my eyebrows, for he always strikes me as being a sensible, if pungently opinionated chap when I see him on the box. However, the idea of him being anything so staid as a university graduate will surely prompt many an ageing punk to shake their thinning mohicans in shocked disillusion.

They needn't worry. In his own memoir, No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, Mr Rotten describes how he dropped out of the education system prior to A levels, despite a fondness for English literature, in particular the works of Ted Hughes, Wilde and Shakespeare. Probably it's as well that Mr R packed in his studies, otherwise academic pedantry might have constrained his memorable rhyming of "the Queen" with "fascist regime".

DISPLAYING THE customary American knowledge of the world beyond the continental US, a leading stateside movie website offers the following synopsis of Little Voice: "An otherwise mute Londoner becomes an overnight sensation with her gift for vocal mimicry." Of course, this enjoyable film is very much set in Scarborough. Though Brenda Blethyn richly deserves her Oscar nomination for her furious portrayal of Jane Horrocks' uniquely horrible mum, I think it's a pity that the great Yorkshire resort didn't also receive a nomination. Admittedly, I may be a trifle biased because Weasel Villas North is just 10 miles away.

Mrs Weasel and I kept nudging each other throughout the film as we spotted familiar sights. There was Michael Caine driving his lipstick-red gas- guzzler past the Futurist Theatre where I forced Mrs W to see Ken Dodd last year. The exterior of Jim Broadbent's sleazy nightclub turned out to be at Cayton Bay, where Charlotte Bronte once romped before it became a caravan camp.

But the most outstanding scene utilised the car park at Scarborough's fish dock, where Mr Caine and Ms Blethyn tested the suspension of his vehicle with a spot of extra-mural coupling. ("Under the bloody stars," as Ms Blethyn poetically describes it.) In fact, the film revealed a whole row of cars bouncing and creaking in this romantic milieu. It came as a surprise to me. Though this is the spot where I park when purchasing stocks of crustacea from the shellfish stalls near by, there's always been more haddock than hanky-panky whenever I've been there.

AS YOU read this, Mrs W and self should be enjoying a weekend in Lille. "A busy textile town in the 19th century," my Hachette guide informs me, "with an urban proletariat whose wretched conditions were immortalised by Victor Hugo." Tempting, eh? We were prompted to hop across to northern France by the pounds 99-for-two special offer currently being advertised by Eurostar. A rare coup for the Weasels, I gloated, until I hacked my way through the thicket of small print at the bottom of the offer. Sure, it's pounds 99 unless you want to come back on a Sunday, in which case the price is jacked up to pounds 119. Grrr!

However, I bucked up after reading a line of even smaller print which pointed out that this increase applies only to cosmopolitan types returning from the fleshpots of Paris and Brussels. Hayseeds who venture no further than Lille still only cough up pounds 99 when returning on Sundays. Hurray! Bless you, Eurostar. Except, a further infinitesimal proviso caught my eye. The offer didn't apply from 12-14 February, which is when we had to travel. "The cheapest you can do it this weekend is pounds 152.40 for two," trilled a Eurostar salesperson. Grrr!

On receiving the tickets, I discovered that this includes pounds 14.40 insurance, which I didn't ask for, but it would be tempting fate to cancel. All aboard for the sucker's special!