The Weasel

Our briny neighbour, which only yesterday provided a congenial swimming pool, had undergone a malignant change of character
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The Weasel family enjoyed its customary meteorological luck during a seaside sojourn last month. Our three days at Whitstable coincided with the worst August storms for a decade. Staying in a picturesque but leaky house on the seafront, we awoke after a ragged, clamorous night to find the kitchen floor awash with rainwater. While Mrs W baled frantically, I devoted myself to the serious, manly task of making tea and toast and staring out to sea. Torn and chaotic, it was the grey-brown hue of Gentleman's Relish, as if all the shades in a paint-box had been swirled together in an infantile temper tantrum.

Our briny neighbour, which only yesterday provided a congenial swimming pool - a bit nippy, but with the signal advantage of being free - had undergone a malignant change of character. Instead of keeping its distance in traditional English fashion, the sea displayed a yobbish inclination to sit in our chairs, poke around the cupboards and, given half a chance, redecorate our front room in its own grungy colours.

Poring over the tide tables, I discovered that the high water, due in under an hour, was predicted to be one of the highest of the year. "Not to worry," trilled Mrs W, as she distributed an armada of pans and bowls to catch the drips cascading from the ceiling, "there's a sea-wall between us and the waves". I drew her attention to the fact that the grouting in this low obstacle had deteriorated to the point of non-existence. Every few feet, there was a one-inch gap in the wall. Even the doughty Mrs W could not take on the North Sea.

Meanwhile, the liverish tide continued to encroach, burrowing out a pool on the beach. Waves exploded against the breakwaters before ballooning ghost-like in the air. Tethered boats yawed and pitched insanely. Looking out of a landward window, I was slightly astonished to discover that the populace of Whitstable was not collectively hypnotised by the tumultuous eminence grise on their doorstep. Buses trundled by, people hauled reluctant dogs through the gale. Inside our holiday cottage, rain drummed against the windows in impenetrable Morse and spat through the ancient, contorted frames. Drips from the ceiling continued to ping into the assemblage of receptacles. Thankfully, however, it steadily became evident that we were not about to be invaded by saltwater along with the fresh variety.

"I'm fed up of this. Let's go to the pictures," proposed my sensible spouse. Inevitably, the cinema, only 50 yards away on the seafront, was showing Twister. It proved something of a busman's holiday, but we were able to cast a professional eye over the computer-generated special effects. When we emerged, the tide had retreated - its distant waves still full of venom, like a schoolboy pulling faces. A few feet from our front window, there remained a tangled line of seaweed. The sea had put its marker down.

The storm-tossed fisherfolk of Whitstable may be encouraged by an Irish innovation which promises to restore the oyster to a level of popularity it has not enjoyed since the 19th century. Having perfected a technique for freezing the raw bivalve on the half-shell, a Bantry Bay company insists that the succulent mollusc may once again become a popular pub snack. According to one report, the flavour is "almost indistinguishable from the newly opened animal". While infinitely preferring half a dozen Crassostrea gigas to a packet of prawn cocktail crisps, I can see one problem with frozen oysters. They won't be able to whistle.

Let me explain. In 1840, when the consumption of oysters was at its peak, a talented bivalve transformed the fortune of a shellfish emporium in the redolently named enclave of Vinegar Court, near Drury Lane. I'll let a reporter from the Daily Telegraph take up the story: "The proprietor heard a strange and unusual sound proceeding from one of the tubs on which the shellfish lay piled in layers. Mr Pearkes, the landlord, listened, hardly first believing his ears. There was, however, no doubt about the matter. One of the oysters was distinctly whistling or, at any rate, producing a sort of 'sifflement' with its shell. The news spread throughout the town, and for some days, the fortunate Mr Pearkes found his house besieged by curious crowds."

Among those drawn by the sibilant shellfish were Dickens and Thackeray, who reported that an American spectator was unimpressed: "It was nothing to an oyster he knew in Massachusetts, which whistled 'Yankee Doodle' right through, and followed its master about the house like a dog." Others noted that the oyster kept up its daily pipings for a suspiciously long time, considering the brief shelf-life of the shellfish. After the creature's overdue demise, the hostelry changed its name to the Whistling Oyster. The gimmick would work just as well today (a melodious mollusc would be a godsend to Sir Terence Conran, the Mr Pearkes de nos jours). But you won't get a toot from a frozen oyster.

According to the Sunday Times, the works of Enid Blyton are about to be relaunched following a pounds 13m rights purchase by the Trocadero company. However the report warns, "We aren't likely to see a reissue of The Gay Story Book". Following a surreptitious rummage on Mrs W's bookshelf, I can reveal exclusively that this forbidden volume contains such saucy titles as The Three Sailors and Dame Poke-Around. Sadly, the contents do not match the tantalising titles - a common failing with the more racy type of publication.

The Three Sailors concerns the adventures of Tom, Joan and Eric, who are unaccountably swept off to sea on a table top. Their Daddy, quite sensibly, refuses to rescue them: "I'm not going to wet my nice white trousers." The eponymous protagonist of Dame Poke-Around, as her name suggests, is a prying old biddy who is obliged to move in with Dame Flip- Flap when her house burns down. Nothing too risque there, unless you are of a particularly salacious disposition.

Some may experience a frisson from Pippitty's Joke which concerns a pixie who is spanked so hard by Mother Go-Along "that he cried a whole bucket of tears". Others may perceive dark Freudian overtones in Let's Play Worms, in which a group of animated toys cause mayhem by squeezing tubes of paint: "Look at my worm, everybody" said the bear. "It's a good wriggler."

If I were the Trocadero company, I'd be more concerned about The Bad- Tempered Doll, which includes a character called Donald Duck who is threatened by the grumpy anti-heroine: "I'll press your quack till it breaks." I dread to think what the Walt Disney Co would have to say about that.

As you might imagine, the arts reviewers of the Catholic weekly The Tablet exhibit a distinctly spiritual slant in their choice of subjects. Occasionally, however, one can detect a slight desperation in their efforts to secure a theological link. In last week's issue, for example, the magazine's fine art man took a gander at the work of painter Craigie Aitchison - "The distinguishing themes of Aitchison's work are his dogs (Bedlington terriers) and crucifixion scenes" - and its film critic was scathing about The Last Supper, which turned out to be a satirical comedy about murder in Iowa. The TV reviewer devoted most of her space to a programme about Mount Everest and an attempt by a "genial and distinctly rotund actor" to climb "the mountaineer's holy of holies". The thesp's name is Brian Blessed. Of course

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