The Weasel

On discovering that decadence is the new grey and Charles I was the shortest English monarch, I celebrate with an Alaskan red
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AS OFTEN seems to be the case, we find ourselves in a quandary about re-decorating Weasel Villas. We'd plumped for art gallery white in the dining room, but then Mrs W read somewhere that grey is all the rage this year. Unfortunately, the walls are already painted grey. Alternatively, we could take the plunge for something a bit bolder. Something historical perhaps, redolent of a time celebrated for artistic creativity but notorious for sexual experiment, a discordant, neurotic era teetering on the brink of totalitarianism. If this seems all a long way from slapping on the Dulux, you could be right, but it is what is being advocated in the pages of the current issue of The World of Interiors, which devotes 10 pages to the "Weimar Palette".

As far as I'm aware, it is the first time that an article on decoration has been inspired by an unstable German republic (1919-1933). The magazine suggests that we should draw "the decadent styles of Twenties Berlin into the new, naughty Nineties". In case you're wondering how to adopt the fashionable Weimar look, the photo spreads include: a gaunt young man holding a carnation; a pair of elderly bohos in a terminally frayed leather chair; an amaryllis in a bath-tub; a large lady in a red dress posing before a length of red fabric (a snip at pounds 345 per metre); and an octopus in a "uranium glass vase" (pounds 1,000).

It looks just the ticket for Weasel Villas (particularly the octopus). Mind you, to get the full flavour of Weimar edginess, we'll probably need to invest in one or two accessories. Getting six million unemployed into Weasel Villas may be a bit ambitious, but it should not be too hard to get Mrs W to plaster down her hair and wear a monocle. Eventually, I can see us both drinking schnapps and bellowing an off-key Kurt Weill number: "Show me the way to the next whisky bar..." All very jolly. The only slight complication with such a daring makeover is: what comes after Weimar?

IS THERE no limit to Rupert Murdoch's hypocritical prudery? The shame- faced hacks of the Murdoch empire are obliged to insert a generous helping of asterisks when using even moderately rude words. A classic example occurred in last week's Sunday Times Book Section, where Harvey Porlock's survey of book reviews quoted Will Self's view that "to a writer, literary biography is flat-out porn. W**k material".

Somehow, I find it unlikely that the acid-tongued Mr Self, who was writing in the New Statesman, incorporated this brace of stars in his original copy. Yet, in order to avert a fit of the vapours in the maiden aunts who read the Sunday Times, the offending epithet was ruthlessly emasculated. It is, of course, a pretty obvious irony that "W**k material" features on a daily basis in the Sunday Times' sister paper, The Sun.

It is just as well that the publishers of Jonathon Green's acclaimed Dictionary of Slang (Cassell, pounds 25) do not take a Murdochian line with scatology. Otherwise, this 1,300-page tome, which provides 797 alternatives for masturbation, would contain whole galaxies of asterisks. Personally, I'm drawn to Mr Green's more genteel inclusions, such as "Cor! Chase me round the gasworks!" (defined as "general excl. of astonishment"). But it turns out that even such Bunteresque expressions as "Crikey!", "Cripes!", and "Crumbs!" are euphemisms for "Christ!". To spare the blushes of delicate souls, they will doubtless appear as C***ey!, C***es! and C***bs! in Rupert's rags.

IT TURNS out that the small display in the Banqueting House, which I mentioned last week, is not the sole event that commemorates the execution of Charles I. A much larger exhibition devoted to the unfortunate sovereign has opened in the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace. With unexpected black humour, the title of the show is The King's Head. Treasures on show range from van Dyck's stunning triple portrait of the melancholy monarch to a post-mortem miniature said to be embroidered with the king's own hair. I had to go after reading a review by John Russell Taylor, intrigued in particular by his assertion that "Charles I was the shortest English monarch (while his son Charles II was, oddly, the tallest)".

This was puzzling because I read somewhere that Edward I aka "Longshanks", the black-hearted villain of Braveheart (hiss, boo!), was the tallest royal. My researches revealed that Charles II's reputation as a giant stems from a "wanted" poster during the Civil War, which described him as "a tall, dark man above two yards high". However, there are one or two bits of evidence which suggest we should knock a few inches off this estimate. According to one reference work, the Merry Monarch "rode several winners at Newmarket". When did you last see a jockey who topped 6ft? A more substantial indication of his true stature appears in a 1661 portrait by John Michael Wright, which portrays the king wearing a pair of rather tarty doeskin boots with approximately three-inch heels.

The shortness of his dad is less in question - not that you would guess he was a half-pint from the noble portraits currently on display in Buck House. (An instructive parallel may be drawn with images of the less-than- towering House of Windsor.) Though one of the works is titled The High and Mighty Monarch Charles, the exhibition catalogue reveals that he was "no more than 5ft 4in". Still, this doesn't necessarily make him the shortest English monarch. I shouldn't have thought that Queen Victoria or, indeed, the present incumbent would have to bend too much to negotiate a lintel at that height. Of course, it should be borne in mind that Charles I's dimensions changed following his appointment with the axeman on 30 January 1649. After that, his claim to the title of shortest monarch is incontestable.

I SOMEHOW found time in my crowded schedule to see my old pals at the Old Royal Observatory for a sampling of its Greenwich Meridian 2000 range of wines and spirits, soon appearing at a supermarket near you. Though the two dozen wines were initially intended to represent each of the international time-zones, this proved a little tricky. The only land mass on zone 10, for example, is a chunk of Greenland, scarcely renowned for the finesse of its vintages, while zone 2 is Alaska.

By my estimation, the Greenwich grog covers only seven time-zones, but it has the compensation of being eminently quaffable (particularly the Scotch). It is, however, to be hoped that our official clock-watchers don't get too much of a taste for the official millennium hooch. After 75 years, the time signal wouldn't sound the same as: Pip, pip, pip, pip, hick!