The Weasel: Dry times at Weasel villas mean temptation beyond whisker's endurance when invited to sample some passable eau de vie

What a tremendous publicity coup for Ikea that the company's "Tullsta" chairs (pounds 149) and "Lack" tables (pounds 9) were given such a prominent position at the Conservative Party Conference. It was a particular treat to see Sir Edward Heath, looking as if he was wedged in a stalled dodgem, directing a laser-like glare at the back of Lady Thatcher's coiffure. In the first exchange between these panjandrums for 20 years, Lady T asked Sir Ted what he thought of the chairs. "Very comfortable," growled the Father of the House. Ikea has since been awash with orders.

"Tullsta have been selling like hot cakes," a spokeswoman at Ikea's PR agency told me. "The chairs have been walking out of the store." (A spectacle which, if true, sounds considerably more interesting than the Tory conference.) She fumed at the suggestion by The Mirror that Ikea was now linked in the public mind with the rapidly disintegrating Tory party. "Ikea produces democratic designs for everyone," she seethed. "They don't align themselves with any political party."

Nevertheless, the Swedish names of these products have uncanny political associations. Tullsta is the name of a Swedish village which translates as "a place where taxes are imposed". Lack is more simple. It just means "varnish".

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HAVING SUCCESSFULLY stayed on the wagon since the start of August (a fortnight in hospital helped to steady my resolve), I was perhaps pushing my luck when I accepted an invitation to a press lunch with Jean-Marc Olivier, an impossibly charmant oenologist who is Master Blender for Courvoisier cognac. We met at a louche Curzon Street eatery called Les Sauveurs, where the culinary star Jean-Christophe Novelli wields the skillet.

At first I thought it might be possible merely to talk about cognac. "One of our biggest markets is in the Far East where a lot of people think it is an aphrodisiac," shrugged M Olivier. "Chinese people are very interested in sexual performance." Unfortunately, the economic downturn has had a detumescent effect on sales in the Far East.

I found my perch on the wagon becoming somewhat more precarious when six balloon glasses containing six progressively more stupendous cognacs were placed before me. I merely wet my lips with Courvoisier VS. "Nice fresh oak-like nose, like when you're sawing a piece of wood," noted the expert. "Very full-bodied, strong character and short aftertaste." It turned out that even this foot-soldier of the Courvoisier range will set you back pounds 17.99.

I admit that I took on board a larger toot of VSOP (pounds 25). "A touch of vanilla, green almonds, maybe even prunes. Very elegant and complex." Then followed a smallish slurp of a new blend called Millennium (pounds 30). "An exotic and fantastic aroma." By this stage, it seemed downright ungracious not to have a decent glug of Napoleon. "A matured smoky aroma, as when you open a box of cigars," mused M Olivier. "The taste is totally exploding in your mouth. Again, it's a little bit more expensive."(pounds 45.)

After expounding on XO Imperial (pounds 60) - "Chocolate, exotic and spicy. Smooth but with great complexity" - the expert waxed philosophical. "Sometimes I like to compare cognac with women. VS is like a young woman at the beginning of her development. Napoleon is very much a classic, elegant beauty. XO is more like Marilyn Monroe."

I was so taken aback by this open expression of analogies pretty much forbidden on this side of the Channel that I accidentally took a great gulp of our final sample, a mind-blowing potion called Initiale Extra (so astronomically pricey that you can't even buy it by the bottle). "The first approach is the fruitiness - like opening an oven when you're cooking fruit cake." M Olivier mimed opening an oven door. "It's a very complex blend of 48 brandies. The oldest comes from 1904. I can tell that it was very good weather that year." Out on Curzon Street, with the sun of 1904 still warming my belly, I started the long dreary walk back to the wagon.

u

ALWAYS PARTIAL to a fun night out, the Weasel family popped along to the Royal Festival Hall last Saturday for an evening of avant-garde music. First on the bill was a trio of earnest young men in black called LaBradford. The programme notes described their style as "dark ambience merged with a touch of brooding Krautrock, all wrapped in an atmosphere of maximum disturbance". Yummy. In fact, their opening number was a cross between Duane "Mr Twang" Eddy and Terry "Rainbow in Curved Air" Riley. Pleasant enough, if not exactly a foot-tapper.

Following this amuse-bouche, things got rather more Spartan. The lengthy finale included lots of feedback combined with a badly tuned radio. Eventually, LaBradford mooched off, leaving a machine that emitted electronic coughs and splutters. Into the pause someone familiar with the work of this ensemble yelled an ecstatic "Yes!" and the hall filled with applause.

Post-interval - we fans of the avant-garde like a vanilla ice at half- time - it was time for the highlight of the evening. An American combo called Bang on a Can was recreating Brian Eno's classic waxing "Music for Airports". His original version, on Mr Eno's own Ambient label, has pride of place in the Weasel household's eclectic record collection.

Though airports have not exactly been beating a path to Brian Eno's door, the repetitive plunking of his masterpiece would be ideal for countering the stressed, kerosene-rich atmosphere of Heathrow or JFK.

Reversing the pattern of most classical music, which involves lots of notes at great speed, "Music for Airports" involves very few notes at very slow speed. Bang on a Can premiered their version of this meisterwerk at Stansted Airport. Their rendition on the South Bank was faultless, though sadly lacking in passenger announcements. By way of compensation, the unpleasantly cramped seats of the Royal Festival Hall provided a close simulacrum of air travel.

u

HOW APPROPRIATE that John Pawson's masterwork Minimum, described as "a visual essay embodying the ideas of austerity, reduction and simplicity" is shortly to appear in the form of a "mini-edition" (Phaidon, pounds 12).

Even so, my preview copy came as something of a surprise. After a dozen or so stimulating photographs, including ones of the blank wall of a house, a bothy in the Outer Hebrides and Jodrell Bank (no jokes please), the remaining pages of the book, perhaps 200 in number, were completely blank.

Had this influential designer taken the chance further to refine his magnum opus, ruthlessly excising all surplus elements so that spiritual emptiness should prevail? "No," replied a spokeswoman for the publisher, perhaps a trifle curtly. "We sent you a dummy edition." Still, it could confuse a stupid person, don't you think?

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