The Weasel

Having discovered a new lingua franca for Europe, I am practising for my role as sultan in the case of Weasel Villas becoming a harem
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I was intrigued by the revelation that Sir Tufton Beamish attempted to lure the concert pianist Moura Lympany into matrimony with Edward Heath during his brief spell at No.10. The latter was thought to appear standoffish, perish the thought. Despite the honeyed words of this Tory cupid ("Ted must get married, will you marry him?"), wedding bells did not chime. In later years, bachelorhood did not prevent Sir Edward from becoming Father of the House.

Some time ago, however, Mrs W and I discovered the names of Sir Edward and Miss Lympany linked in an unexpected way. Touring the south-west of France, we visited the cave co-operative in the tiny village of Rasigueres near Carcassonne. It turned out that local vignerons had produced two special wines that year to celebrate the community's music festival. The robust Cuvee Edward Heath (quite unpronounceable by locals) and the elegant Cuvee Moura Lympany both proved to be most acceptable, though I doubt if they would have blended.

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IN COMMON with a large chunk of the population, Mrs Weasel is deeply addicted to Changing Rooms, a voyeuristic re-invention of the DIY programme from the Bazalgette telly production line. If you've somehow managed to avoid it so far, you can forget all thoughts of Barry Bucknall. This is the format: deeply domestic couple, consisting of eager woman and traumatised man, agree to undertake radical makeover of room in neighbouring house, while neighbours do same to them. Each couple is assigned flamboyantly telegenic designer - soigne young man or Titian-haired beauty (often one and the same) - to mastermind metamorphosis. Giddy, maniacally smiling mini-celeb acts as referee. The working class is represented in the form of one Handy Andy, a maestro of the jig-saw, who, Mrs W informs me, has recently issued his collected pensees in book form.

It is in the nature of long-running TV series that a modest idea is inflated way beyond its viable limits in order to keep the ratings up. With Changing Rooms, the wilder inspirations of the chiffon-scarved creative types have been given free rein, usually with disastrous results. A humble attic is transformed into a gauze-swathed seraglio, where a suburban sultan may loll on a mountain of satin cushions. An innocent dining room is unhappily re-born as the galley of a deep-sea trawler with portholes and imaginative assemblages of old rope. At the dread moment when the changes are revealed, most recipients evince a display of delight, slightly hysterical or dumb- struck according to sex. But on one infamous occasion, the gimcrack alterations were not welcomed. Frankly, the lady of the house was incandescent.

Entertaining enough, I suppose, but Mrs W makes greater claims for this bubble-headed divertissement. "It's very good for ideas," she says breezily. Doubtless this is also the reason for the tidal bore of journals, devoted to domestic decoration, which flows into Weasel Villas. They contain an abundance of fruitful notions. The Javanese opium bed which fills most of a Hammersmith drawing room featured in Homes and Gardens will surely have readers instantly booking tickets for Jakarta. Similarly, the "pair of 18th century Venetian mirrors, said to be from the Vatican", which adorn a Palm Beach mansion in The World of Interiors, is bound to prompt a flood of visitors bearing shopping lists to Vatican City. Meanwhile, the star attraction in House & Garden is a Parisian apartment stuffed with Swedish antiques from the era of Gustavus Adolphus.

You will be amazed to learn, however, that this flood of inspiration has failed to make much of a mark on Weasel Villas. Perhaps a pot stuffed with stems of dried lavender owes something to Country Living. Judging by the crumbling mountains of books, limitless strata of unironed laundry, the petrified forest of wine bottles and the dramatic lava eruptions of unpaid bills, bank statements etc. threatening to engulf Weasel Villas, the most influential publication is the National Geographic.

When we returned from our unexpectedly prolonged northern break the other day, Mrs W determined to do something about this clutter which has built up over limitless aeons of geological time. Bearing some resemblance to Delacroix's Liberty Guiding the People (though maintaining a more respectable decolletage), she flung herself into battle. And what, you might enquire, was the master of the household doing to assist on this domestic D-day? Unfortunately, I am under strict doctor's orders to rest my recently infected leg. Never mind, I am determined to do my part. Should Mrs W choose to pursue the Byzantine motif suggested on Changing Rooms, she need look no further for a lolling sultan.

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THOUGH THE European Central Bank has taken the decision to decapitate the Queen on euro banknotes because "11 varieties of note would promote confusion", a far worse source of Euro-confusion remains unaddressed: the host of different languages babbling unchecked across the continent. It is high time that the European Parliament instituted a single language so that John Bull can swap recipes with Jean Dupont, and Jan van Rental can talk footie with Georgios Unscrupulos.

English would be the obvious choice, but for some inexplicable reason the French refuse to accept it as a lingua franca. However, I believe I have found the solution in a book called Rapid Method of Neo: The International Language, published in Brussels in 1965. The author, one Artuo Alfandari, presciently notes that Neo "aspires to be used for communication when the two mother languages differ too greatly for mutual comprehension".

A host of phrases in the book appear tailor-made for EU officials: It is small of him to bargain so long (Il meskina presyecande tan long); When pigs have wings (Van bovos or alos); You are making a mountain out of a molehill (Vu far un mont da un talpayo); He has had his chips (Il kaput); In that country you can get anything by greasing the official's palm (Yenlande vu par obteni kelo tipyonande lo funser).

Mr Alfandari also caters admirably for the rugged conditions which our Euro servants are obliged to endure: I want a first-class ticket for...(Mi nesar un primklasa tikel po...); We will begin with some oysters, washed down with some good white wine (Nos ensor pe ostros, arozat pe un bon alba vin).

Evidently a man of the world, Mr Afandari does not omit other appetites: I always had a liking for "weaker vessels" (Mi sem ir libol pol sex debla); Here all girls are unsophisticated (Ik tot felos nosofistikat).

But he includes valuable expressions for all occasions: Our house was levelled by the hurricane (Na dom sir razat pel uragan); Wave my hair with the curling tongs (Me fiu un fir-ondulazo); I need a coal scuttle (Mi nesar un karbosekyo); Many a mickle makes a muckle (Mul petrulos far un muk).

And most useful of all: It's all Greek to me! (Eto po mi Sanskrit!)

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