The Weasel

The back gardens of North London offer an alternative to the glitz of the Chelsea Flower Show, while a new scent just doesn't add up
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The Independent Culture
Inexplicably, my tickets for the press day of the Chelsea Flower Show failed to arrive, but I was blase. Who wants to see such trumpery as Sir "Tel" Conran's garden for an imaginary cook who lives in an imaginary penthouse? In any case, I had a far more important preview to attend. Along with the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury, my pal Monica opened her estate for charity as part of the National Gardens Scheme. Before the public arrived last Sunday, the Weasel was given a personal tour of the grounds. It didn't take quite so long as Sandringham or Lambeth Palace, since Monica happens to live in a terraced house in Walthamstow, London E17. However, her garden is a wonderland. A clump of arum lilies pouted salaciously as we made our way down a meandering path. Purple globes of allium encircled us like a mysterious orrery.

Passing through a rosy arch, Monica revealed a tiny Victorian greenhouse which was the very image of Mr McGregor's glassy retreat in Peter Rabbit. Any chiffon-scarfed garden designer would be simply itching to hoick it out by the roots to add atmosphere to a retro show garden at Chelsea. Inside, a murky pond held a hidden surprise which surely surpassed any of the gaudy water features in SW3 this year. "Don't put your hand in!" Monica warned. "Albert will take your finger off. He's a red-eared turtle, big as a dinner-plate." Back in the house, Monica's chums were deliberating on the prices of comestibles. "How about 50p for a cake and a cup of tea?" "Perhaps it should be 70p for a large slice?" Beat that, Chelsea!

Next door to Monica, Christina's garden was also open. Beneath the water- buttercups in the pond, a swarm of tadpoles whirled like animated punctuation marks. Mrs Weasel enviously eyed the vast green bough of an angelica plant that was big enough to decorate a Moonie wedding cake. Fragments of horticultural chat floated across the gardens like dandelion seeds. "Fennel is very greedy. You have to water, feed, water, feed..." "That purply-blue flower? Forget its name - it's what you stuff in a Pimm's..." But Monica was stumped by an unexpected question from a woman who had just emerged after a call of nature: "How do you keep your bath so clean?" I bet the Queen doesn't get asked that one.

The Weasel has a fondness for perfumes - or at least the pungent publicity material that accompanies these pricey whiffs. The latest to waft my way is a gents' scent from Givenchy with the enigmatic title , otherwise pi or 3.14159265358... (someone has worked it out to the next 50 billion places, if you really want to know). "How many brilliant minds must have tried in vain to perform the famous squaring of the circle?" asks Givenchy, its fragrant mind going faint at the very thought. "And all of them in vain."

Apparently, , which you'll doubtless recall is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, symbolises "the eternal masculine" for the perfume house: "If is the story of a long struggle to achieve the unattainable, it is also a portrait of the fabled conqueror in search of knowledge." Crumbs, makes you think, eh? But there's more: " speaks of men, of all men, of their scientific genius... eludes and fascinates us. Are these not the qualities of the greatest seducers?" Though not entirely averse to the idea of being south London's answer to Don Juan, does not speak for me. I was fogged in my fleeting encounter with at school and I can't say that the mists have cleared much in the intervening 30 years.

It seems more likely that the type Givenchy has in mind is the mathematical genius Paul Erdos (1913-1996), who published 1,475 academic papers. In a new biography, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers (Fourth Estate, pounds 7.99), Paul Hoffman writes: "In mathematics, Erdos's style was one of intense curiosity, a style he brought to everything else he confronted." That sounds like the man, doesn't it? Unfortunately for Givenchy, Erdos was also an amphetamine addict, who kept his possessions in a carrier bag. He didn't like people touching him, and would wash 50 times a day. Oh, and he was also a life-long celibate.

I would never dream of correcting my columnar colleague Philip Hensher if it did not concern a matter of the utmost importance. However, I have no alternative but to murmur a few words of reproof concerning his review of a book called The London Rich in last week's Spectator. Remarking on the tendency of Londoners to stick to their customary paths, Mr Hensher alleges that Bertie Wooster "had never been east of Leicester Square".

Tut, tut, Philip, do you not recall the episode in Carry On, Jeeves, when Bertie waded "through a top-dressing of old cabbages and tomatoes" in Covent Garden to deliver an article ("a piece, we old hands call it") on "What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing" to his Aunt Dahlia's journal, Milady's Boudoir? In Very Good, Jeeves!, the sublime Bertram wandered even further from his customary Mayfair purlieu, when he performed "Sonny Boy" before a critical audience of "costermongers and whelk-stallers" in Bermondsey East.

Perhaps Mr Hensher was mistaking Bertie for Mycroft Holmes, who, as we learn in The Greek Interpreter, "lodges in Pall Mall and walks round the corner into Whitehall every morning and back every evening. From year's end to year's end, he takes no other exercise." Aside from their circumscribed lives, the two fictional figures had little in common. Sherlock Holmes insists that his elder brother is "my superior in observation and deduction", while B Wooster is described by his celebrated manservant as "an amiable young gentleman, but mentally quite negligible".

Nosing round the posh galleries off Bond Street the other day, my eye was taken by a number of gigantic landscapes by an artist called Clive Head. He works in the photo-realist style, and his subjects tend to be rather glamorous city vistas - the le St Louis in Paris, Manhattan from the Empire State Building, the Rhine in Cologne. But another of his works struck a more homely note. Peering at the fabulous detail on the canvas, I emitted a squawk of surprise: "I once bought an iron in that Comet shop." The subject so luminously portrayed was the Valley Bridge, Scarborough.

The exhibition (at Blains Fine Art until 12 June) includes several other sumptuous views of the resort. It is pleasing to see deceptively brilliant works of modern art with titles such as Promenade and Esplanade. A snowy view of the station is so chillingly realistic that it makes you shiver. It turns out that the talented Mr Head is an art lecturer in Scarborough. "Being hilly, the town presents some very interesting visual problems," he told me. "There are potentially hundreds of possibilities for paintings." Having attracted a latter-day Ben Jonson in Alan Ayckbourn, it seems that Scarborough has now found its own Canaletto.

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