The Weasel

The presence of a mobile canteen and the pervasive odour of frying food explained everything. London was once again providing the back-drop for a movie
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The Independent Culture
On a summer afternoon a few years ago, I was surprised to encounter a snowdrift in Malet Street, Bloomsbury. On the snow-caked pavement, a fair-sized crowd was trudging around in a peculiarly self-conscious way. Despite the blue skies and mild temperature, they were shrouded in hats, scarves and thick, if threadbare, overcoats. However, few passers-by stopped to view this bizarre tableau. The presence of a mobile canteen and the pervasive odour of frying food explained everything. London was once again providing the back-drop for a movie - the British film industry is fuelled by a ceaseless intake of bacon rolls. Assisted by a sign in Cyrillic script and a few hundredweight of salt spread on the ground, London University's Senate House, a monolithic essay in Thirties brutalism, was standing in for Moscow. When Alan Bennett's television film An Englishman Abroad, an account of Guy Burgess in exile, appeared a few months later, this synthetic snowscape occupied no more than a few seconds. I am unable to account for such cutting-room butchery. You might think that the presence of an impressively fur-coated figure would have added greatly to the verisimilitude of the scene. Maybe I should have restrained my waving at the camera.

This recollection of an unseasonal frost in WC1 was prompted by a new exhibition in the Museum of London devoted to film making in the metropolis. It reminds us that in the past London has also impersonated colonial Africa - Sanders of the River was filmed on Shepperton Lake - and war-ravaged southeast Asia. The deeply odd director Stanley Kubrick, who refuses to leave the shores of mainland Britain, filmed his Vietnamese epic Full Metal Jacket in the Royal Docks, which were exotically transformed with the aid of a few judiciously placed palm trees. Sometimes in filmic London, one district stands in for another. The eerie west London park which features prominently in Antonioni's Blow-Up is actually located in Woolwich. The visionary Italian demanded that the footpaths and tennis court should be painted black for the occasion.

Though impressive in its compass, I was sorry that the museum's assemblage of stills, film clips and artifacts failed to include some of my favourite cinematic representations of the capital where something goes slightly awry. Such as the enjoyably maladroit thriller Brannigan, in which veteran US cop John Wayne, partnered by starchy CID man Richard Attenborough, discovers a hitherto unknown turning off Piccadilly Circus leading directly to Tower Bridge. Or the Man From UNCLE episode set in London, where Napoleon Solo pursues a THRUSH agent down a street furnished with American fire hydrants. But my favourite visual misconception occurs in a biopic about Sarah Bernhardt starring Glenda Jackson. A lavish scene recording her tumultuous reception in the capital is marred only by the fact that, instead of pulling into Charing Cross or Victoria, her train arrives at a platform which is unambiguously signed london.

I was intrigued to hear that miscreants on the receiving end of the CS spray canisters now carried by 2,000 police officers will also receive a small leaflet explaining what has happened to them and what any side effects are likely to be. The only slight defect with this kind thought is that the sprayee won't be able to read it for an hour or so. Nevertheless, it is a fine example of the growing violence of our society and its increasing concern with health issues going together hand-in-hand.

The idea of the leaflet is distinctly transatlantic - it is hard to imagine an old-time copper handing over a printed notice after biffing you on the head with his truncheon: "You may find an egg-shaped protrusion occurring in the area of impact. A vinegar-and-brown-paper poultice should prove efficacious."

Our American cousins may consider extending the use of explanatory hand- outs to other areas of law enforcement. "A slight tingling sensation is normal in cases of electrocution. The feeling normally passes off quite quickly."

I don't know if the same thing has happened to you. ker-chunk. But virtually every side street round here ker-plump has suddenly become infested with sleeping policemen. ker-wump. It means you really have to rushyoursentencesbefore thenext ker-chump interruption.

Over the past two months, the formerly silk-smooth thoroughfares of Dulwich have been converted into macadamised versions of the Roaring Forties, partly through the installation of traditional, semi-cylindrical sleeping policemen, but mainly as a result of raised rectangular blocks in the middle of each traffic lane. Constructed at a cost of about pounds 1,000 a bump, these obstructions seem to have only a slight effect on the suburban Schumachers they are intended to retard. Instead, they are treated as a series of chicanes to be negotiated with much flashy steering and gear changing, but little perceptible diminution in speed.

One vehicle they do affect, however, is the Weaselmobile. The shortest journey in our locality induces a greenish tinge in the Weaslets, while Mrs W mutters about getting "one of her heads". Even the captain of this noble barque, like Horatio Nelson, is not immune to feelings of queasiness. How very odd that these peaks and troughs, so painstakingly introduced and so painful in their consequences, should be described as "traffic- calming measures". Pass me the Kwells.

On this first holiday of the year, the roads will be heaving as we all rush to escape from the madding crowd. But when, frayed and battered, we eventually make it to the lonely countryside, we are irresistibly drawn towards signs of humanity. At the peak of Ben Nevis, we're photographed beside a rock cairn. On the blasted heath of the North York Moors, we stop to admire the strange pyramidal forms of the Fylingdales Early Warning Station (still unrecorded on the Ordnance Survey map). Exploring the dank fens of East Anglia, we're thrilled to spot the stone finger of Boston Stump in the distance.

This deep-seated instinct to seek out the imprint of the human hand is nowhere better exemplified than at Erfjord, in Rogaland, southern Norway. This is a classic Norwegian fjord, with verdant walls falling precipitously into a natural deep-water harbour. But it is not the beauty of the landscape which has drawn an influx of tourists to Erfjord - one thing Norway has no shortage of is photogenic sea inlets. Even the most dedicated sightseer can get a little bjored of fjords.

The feature which acts as such a lure to this isolated spot is Brent Spar, the painfully inconvenient offshore oil structure which caused such anguish to Shell last year. Towed to Erfjord in July, the 14,500-tonne storage tank has proved a boon to the local economy. Only 30-odd metres stick out of the sea, leaving another 100 descending into the depths of the fjord, but that is enough to merite un detour for photographic purposes. Ironically, it seems that Germans - who made the biggest stink about Shell's original disposal plan - are Brent Spar's keenest visitors. The company is currently seeking an alternative method of getting rid of the thing, but the local residents who are benefiting from the tourist invasion see no pushing need to lose their floating focal point. Of course, the pounds 20,000 a week the community receives from Shell doesn't hurt much either