The Weasel

As any parent knows, today's children, trained from birth to be demanding consumers, don't want just any old Indian girl or lion cub. They want the one in the film
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A slight chill has descended on the previously warm relationship between those two international cultural heroes, Mickey Mouse and St Michael.

This will not be immediately apparent to visitors to the nation's Marks & Spencer stores, where a plethora of Pocahontas-related merchandising, all bearing the Walt Disney copyright notice, is immediately apparent. Socks, pyjamas, track-suits and many other garments unknown to Native American society are all available for Christmas.

A visit to the food department reveals more of the same, at least on the face of it. "Oh look, Mummy," shrieked a couple of small children in my local store, "a Pocahontas cake!" Well, yes and no. The cake in question does indeed feature a young squaw, complete with wigwam. But it is not a Pocahontas cake. It is a "Little Indian Girl Cake".

Its arrival in M&S stores at precisely the same time as the Disney film's publicity blitz is an odd coincidence. As is the passing resemblance between the cake's chisel-jawed, high-cheekboned, post-pubescent Red Indian lovely and the star of Walt's environmentally-conscious movie.

Still, no one has to buy the Poca... sorry, Little Indian Girl cake. You could spend your pounds 8.99 on something called a "Lion Cake", which comes in a box featuring a delightful little yellow cub with a perky expression that makes him look exactly like the one featured in the well-known animated cartoon... But at this point I feel a tap on my shoulder from The Independent's legal department.

As any parent knows, today's children, trained from birth to be demanding consumers, don't want just any old Indian girl or lion cub. They want the one in the film. How thoughtful, then, of M&S to produce cakes that come so close.

You might have thought, however, that people at Walt Disney might be a bit disturbed about this. In the US their ferocity in defending their trademarks has given rise to that well-known maxim "Don't **** with the Mouse". But it seems the problem is between Nestle UK, which has the licence to produce Pocahontas and Lion King cakes, and M&S, which won't buy them because of a dispute about the way the product is "branded". St Michael doesn't normally share billing in its own stores. And the argument they've come up with is ingenuity itself. M&S argue that the future Mrs John Smith was a historical character rather than Disney's own invention. And it is, of course, the purest coincidence that they've decided to memorialise her this autumn.

Disney and Nestle have spent 18 months wrangling with M&S over all this, with no real result. "We find it disappointing that they have chosen to go that route," says a Disney spokesman, with restraint. There will be no legal action, however. Both sides agree that nothing underhand has gone on. "There is no dispute between us and Disney," says M&S. "When we produced the Little Indian Girl cake we asked them in and showed them the packaging and they were very happy with it."

I wonder, however, what would happen to the store if it were rash enough to start producing edible tributes to, say, a certain cartoon mouse (the St Mickey brand?). Memo to the confectionery trade: there's always the Weasel cake...

One thing about Pocahontas that confirms her status as a human and not a fiction, is her habit of talking to a tree. Not just any old tree but a gnarled crone called Widow Willow, with a face like Hermione Gingold, who dishes out advice to our heroine about men, destiny, romance, self-improvement and (I'm guessing here) the efficacy of step-aerobics, although this is not actually shown. What audiences, as they sit marvelling at Indian girls' visionary gifts, may not twig is that, according to a new Mori poll, 14 per cent of British adults have confessed that they, too, talk to trees. They're not to be confused with the tree huggers, a tribe of enthusiasts from the other end of the funny farm - the dendrophiliacs identified in the poll are otherwise sane, rational and rather posh grown- ups who in normal society wouldn't be found chatting to a twiglet. "The higher your social class, the more likely you are to talk to trees," said the lady from Mori with a reasonable air. "Unfortunately, we did not find out what people said to them."

I think I can help, in at least one case. Somewhere near Kensington Palace, I was forced to hide behind a sycamore as a skinny beauty in jeans, boots, designer jacket and baseball cap attempted to bully it. "Nobody holds out on me, yah?" she said imperiously. "You've got to tell me, OK? What's he been saying about me now?"

There has been a lot of unnecessary belly-aching about the Northamptonshire hospital that decided the best way to deal with a 67-year-old man's broken arm was to roll up a magazine and use it as a splint.

What is the problem? The uses to which a good magazine can be put are manifold. Enhanced newsprint publications of the type you are reading here make first-class linings for birdcages. More glossy publications make excellent heat-absorbent knee protectors for those enjoying a "TV dinner". Trade magazines, dampened, make sound compost.

But it seems perverse that Kettering General Hospital, where the magazine was expertly fitted (and left in place for two whole days), is apparently unable to record which publication was used. In clinical matters, accurate prescribing is crucial. Attempting to strap a copy of one of those telephone- directory-style computer magazines to someone's broken limb could cause serious injury, not least to the nurse trying to bend it into an appropriately splint-like shape. Wrapping a 300-page issue of Marie Claire, face-down, round the wound will endanger the patient's blood pressure (all those saucy I-can-only-achieve-orgasm- by-thinking-of-Rabbi-Hugo-Gryn cover lines). Make a splint from a copy of Q, the trendy organ of rock 'n' roll trade, and you'll get a free CD of redundant hip-hop outtakes from 1981 awkwardly impacted in your radius-and-ulna. And anyone trying to deal with a fracture by applying a copy of the Spectator risks finding themselves poisoned by the current level of editorial venom.

Of course, many magazines also make excellent anaesthetics. But that's another story.

The world is full of people who will tell you that national characters remain the same for centuries. But a recent visit to Paris has convinced the Weasel that something odd has been going on.

Anyone who went to France in the Sixties was inclined to come back to Britain and moan about how filthy the local populace were, with their unendearing habit of throwing litter around. Now, though, Paris is clean. Go to the Tuileries, for instance, and amuse yourself by trying to spot a sweet wrapper. You could eat your dinner off the pavements (it's more affordable that way, too). The high point of this new-found national spotlessness, though, was when we spotted a brief parade of exquisitely-uniformed guards on horseback. Throughout the ceremonial march, a pair of the city's street-sweeping trucks crawled along, inches behind the animal's intriguingly-barbered derrieres, hoovering up the evidence of their presence before it had time to settle.

Then you return to Waterloo and find yourself at the centre of a swirling torrent of urban flotsam and jetsam, much of it stamped with the logos of various fast-food chains. Has something happened to them? Or has something happened to us?