The Weasel

We did the mutual-staring-and-looking-away thing, like the Groucho and Harpo mirror routine in 'Duck Soup', until it became clear that the fox was not just unafraid of strangers, it was convinced it had the upper hand
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The Independent Culture
Ask anyone on the Weasel Rotarian circuit and they'll tell you I am not a prey to irrational fancies. Paranoia, mysticism, anthropomorphic fixation, they're just not my style. I do not regale my cronies with tales of friendly clouds waving at me, or of how dogs understand everything I say. So I assure you it is with extreme caution and embarrassment that I tell you I'm being stalked by a fox.

The other night, driving home from some civic reception in my new hometown of Dulwich (few holds are barred in SE21, as readers of this issue will soon learn), I slowed to let a cat cross the road. As it reached the pavement, I saw with astonishment that it was a full-grown fox: clever face, black nose, sleek body, tawny and amazingly long, its brushy tail sticking out with erectile hauteur and ending in a chic little cone of brilliant white. I slowed to a stop to get a better look, expecting the beast to vamoose at the mere sight (eek! rumbled!) of a local citizen. But instead, it turned its head and looked straight at me. It was weird. There we were, two yards apart, Weasel and fox, eyes locked on each other as though debating free will or falling in love. I admit I cracked first and looked away, but I could see, peripherally, the fox had also shifted, as if about to depart. So I turned my head back - and so did the fox, impatiently, as if to say, "What? Is it the paws?"

We did the mutual-staring-and-looking-away thing a few more times, like the Groucho and Harpo mirror routine in Duck Soup, until it became clear that the fox was not just unafraid of strangers, it was convinced it had the upper hand. And then the oddest thing of all - I realised it had not the faintest intention of leaving until I'd gone. The fox was trying it on, territorially. It wanted me out of there. If it had begun to whistle show tunes, or examined its wristwatch or asked, "You still 'ere?", I wouldn't have been surprised.

Four days later, I was at The Independent offices, handing in my column to the usual screams of delight. To reach the car park in the futuristic, Blade-Runner-meets-Neasden complex that is Canary Wharf, you have to negotiate a long raised walkway over a patch of wasteland. As I strode along, there was a sudden graceful movement at the far edge of the rubble 20 feet below. I took in the black nose, the long, bony frame, the white tip of the stiffened tail... it was the same fox, my fox, coolly nosing around builders' merchants' catalogues like a sniffer dog. But of course it was only pretending to scavenge; once it saw me, it looked away as before, then executed a perfect double-take and regarded me over its shoulder, its sneaky little face as treacherous as a masked murderer at a Venetian carnival.

Then I knew I was in trouble. The fox has clearly been following me for weeks, hanging round my home and place of work, plotting to remove me from my job and ingratiate itself with the editor, to usurp my place by the family hearth and bank my salary. You think me paranoid? I'll get proof. One day I'll find a telltale speck of brushy ginger fur trapped in the stays of Mrs W's chain-mail foundation garment, and the jig will be up.

Beyond encountering it as a word in Scrabble, most of us have had little to do with bruxism, the compulsive grinding of the teeth during sleep. Lucky us. The Americans, however, seem to be suffering an epidemic of it.

American dentists have apparently discovered that one in five of their patients is a regular night-time grinder. And it is no laughing matter. The pressure exerted is up to 250lb per square inch, ten times that normally encountered in chewing, and attacks can go on all night. Teeth are cracked or worn down to the gum. Hair-line fractures develop. The dentists say they have no idea why this weird complaint should suddenly be taking off.

Every year, Americans buy 3.6 million protective "nightguards", rubber contraptions which protect the teeth, at around $275 each. That makes a market getting on for $1 billion. Each guard has to be supplied and fitted by a dentist. And the curious thing about bruxing is that, because it happens in your sleep, you have no way of knowing you're doing it or not.

Until, that is, you go to the dentist.

Holy cow! I think I've just made a medical breakthrough!

What news of metrication? You will recall that, at the beginning of October, pounds and ounces disappeared from our supermarket shelves for good (although, mysteriously, pints were allowed to stay). For a time, the air was thick with threats of defiance but since then, not a word.

Can we safely assume that everything's going swimmingly? Not in the Weasel's local Sainsbury's, I'm afraid. The other day I found myself behind a middle-aged couple engaged in the previously uncontroversial pursuit of buying a pint of milk. The woman picked up one of those unopenable plastic pint bottles that has replaced the unopenable tetra-pack. The man shrank back in horror, as if his wife had gone mad and decided to exchange the family's intake of nourishing semi-skimmed for a bottle of Paraquat. "No, no, no!" he shouted "It looks like a litre!"

There was worse going on in the meat department. A bunch of suspicious pensioners had gathered round a shrink-wrapped package of chicken pieces. The multiplicity of labels on the film-wrapping had got them in something of a tizz. Eventually, one veteran of the decimalisation war in '69 took charge. "It's 99p," she said, pointing at the lower of the two figures displayed on a big red and white label. "Reduced from pounds 2.18." Everyone nodded sagely.

Being a public-spirited sort, I was unable to let this pass. Price-cutting does go on in supermarkets, but it's still rare for popular foodstuffs to be reduced to less than half their original price. "Let me explain," I offered. The label, I said, indicated the metric and imperial equivalents, pounds 2.18 a kilo being the same as 99p a pound. Simple. "So how much is it?" asked the original purchaser. Frantically, I searched the package, finding a figure in grammes that put the calculation well beyond mental arithmetic. Luckily, a price was nearby. "Er, 99p," I said. "So, I was right all the time," trumpeted the crone, marching away.

Think of the world's raciest nightspots: Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, Rio de Janeiro - and now Park Royal. Some optimist has decided that the London industrial district, best-known for the Guinness factory and The World Of Leather, is the right place to introduce table dancing to Britain.

Don't say you don't know what this is: it is rare for a documentary crew to travel to the US without coming back with footage of sad men slavering around a table where some semi-naked dancer is gyrating, crisp large-denomination notes tucked into her garter. The thing about table dancing is that, for a mere pounds 5 extra, she will dance topless just for yoo-hoo, and for a further pounds 5 she will throw away all decorum and remove her Sloggis. All well and good; but the Park Royal managers have excelled themselves by providing a set of rules for the customers: "Other than the initial introduction (handshake) or when placing a tip in a dancer's hand or garter, no physical contact is allowed between the customer and dancer... Other than arrival, departure, visiting the cloakroom, or tipping a girl dancing on stage, customers are required to remain seated at all times ..."

I think I'll stick to shove-ha'penny

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