The Weasel: 'Coral calcium costs pounds 29.50 for six weeks' supply, but some people swear by it.' The same, of course, can be said for drinking one's own urine - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

The Weasel: 'Coral calcium costs pounds 29.50 for six weeks' supply, but some people swear by it.' The same, of course, can be said for drinking one's own urine

Contrary to appearances, the Weasel is not on holiday. You see me hacking out a new career for myself, as a provider of patent medicines.

According to a window-display at my local chemist, "coral calcium", a mineral culled from reefs found only around the Japanese islands of Okinawa and Tokunoshima, performs wonders. Arthritis, osteoporosis and ulcers all quail before its "astonishing healing powers", as do nasty headaches.

There's more. An article from the Daily Mail confirms that it "is being said to possess amazing healing properties". Apparently "enthusiasts say it protects and strengthens the immune system, reducing the risk of chronic complaints such as heart disease, arthritis and multiple sclerosis." For some reason, the words "Believe it or not!" have been omitted.

Of course, every miracle has a price. "It's pounds 29.50 for six weeks' supply," warned the white-coated assistant, who was strangely unwilling to vouch for its efficacy. "Some people swear by it," she said. The same, of course, can be said for drinking one's own urine, but I took away a leaflet.

The gritty elixir comes as a kind of tea bag. You need two a day, each dunked in one-and-a-half litres of delicious tap-water. However, "a further one or two Coral bags should be used in all liquids during the day, for example, tea, coffee, alcohol, fruit juice and even soup!"

When it is not purifying your bodily fluids, the stuff even does wonders for supermarket wine: "It actually improves the quality and dramatically reduces the after-effects!" The pounds 29.50 pack lasts six weeks, but only if you only take the minimum two bags a day. If you are also putting at least one bag into everything you drink, as recommended, you could easily be doing ten a day. Which means your six-week pack would last eight-and-a-half days.

In a year, you'd need 42 such packs, costing more than pounds 1,200 in total, although no doubt you could get a quantity discount. For that, you could get a rather nice snorkelling holiday in Japan, should you feel so inclined, where you could hack away at your own reef.

Not that such vandalism is encouraged. This "coral calcium" makes itself available by dropping to the ocean floor, where cheerful Japanese workers gently gather it. But will that be enough? The health faddists of Britain know no restraint. The world is already being stripped of every last Evening Primrose, and the Morning Primroses and Mid-Afternoon Primroses will surely follow. As for Royal Jelly, I suspect we may soon be down to Minor Aristocratic Jelly.

But if the world wants coral, that is what it shall have. As the inventor of "The Secret of Vigour, Tono-Bungay" puts it, in H G Wells's remarkably prescient novel, "After all, there's no harm in the stuff - and it may do good." And so it may.

A friend of the Weasel's was recently invited to take part in a charity quiz competition, as part of a small but perfectly balanced team of fact enthusiasts.

Unfortunately, between receiving the call and actually attending the event, things had gone badly wrong. The couple who formed the nucleus of the team had split up.

And what was the purpose of the charity in question? To provide relationship advice.

Life as a former spy has its indignities. Consider the case of Oleg Gordievski.

Once he was a top man in the KGB (or was he?). Then he experienced a profound disillusionment with the Soviet system (or did he?). Next he started working for us (or did he?), popping up with a warning to the West to tone down the anti-Soviet rhetoric because the Kremlin was convinced we were about to nuke them, when we weren't (or were we?). And then he arrived in Britain to enjoy a well-earned retirement (or was it?).

Unfortunately, an espionage pension only goes so far, and that means the old spook has been popping up on chat shows to promote his extremely imaginative autobiography. Recently he appeared as unwitting straight man for Frank Skinner.

According to the Weasel's own spies, not all of this epoch-making encounter made it on to the screen. The KGB man was asked for a joke, and duly obliged. An American agent in the Soviet Union is having trouble finding anything out, and consults one of his Russian helpers for advice. "I speak perfect Russian, don't I?" he asks. "Yes," comes the reply. "I go where Russians go, don't I?" "Yes." "And I live the Russian way, don't I?" "Yes, of course." "So why can't I get anyone to talk to me?" he asked. "Because you're black."

Sadly, this entirely accurate account of Russian prejudice was not deemed suitable for the sensitive souls who watch BBC2. It seems Gordievsky still has one or two things to learn about the West.

Is there anything more jolly than an English village en fete? Only an inner-city suburb breaking into joyous celebrations.

Come with me to the ancient township of Lewisham, situated at the confluence of the Ravensbourne and Quaggy rivers, where the old Dover Road crosses the high road to Bromley, as mentioned in the television version of Pride & Prejudice.

Here the civic authorities have spent most of the decade enhancing the area's heritage of loveliness by building outside the bunker-like shopping centre the largest and least interesting urban piazza since the invention of the paving stone. Around this masterpiece runs a miniature motorway.

To show their human side, however, the planners have moved the town's one landmark, a clock tower, to a new position of prominence (outside the Early Learning Centre) and invested in a popular artwork: an enormous wedge of white rocks, dumped in the middle of a new roundabout.

So baffling is this edifice, a sort of custom-built prehistoric relic in Portland stone, that the council has had to issue a leaflet to explain it. Sadly, this may prove a rather forlorn hope. "The triangular 'ends' of the work are aligned to True North," says a handout. "The Eastern end (nearest to the library) indicates the highest angle of the sun. Whereas the Western end reflects the Winter Solstice." And so on, all of it good news for lost druids, but less appealing in a borough which has been closing playschemes to save money.

Recently these improvements were marked by "Coming Alive!", a week-long outbreak of spontaneous inner-city joy that must have been months in the planning.

All races, creeds, colours, sexes, ages, degrees of talent and sexual orientations were provided, including several Christmas fairies in heavy stubble, leather caps and the kind of moustaches favoured in Old Compton Street.

Sadly, the council had not quite managed to ensure that the work was actually finished, leaving steel bands, Morris dancers, aliens on stilts and eastern European folk ensembles and the rest to perform amidst the rubble. As soon as they were gone, the builders began again. The scheme is called "Lewisham 2000", which must have seemed pleasantly remote when it began, back in the mists of time. Perhaps "Lewisham 2010" might have been more prudent

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