The Weasel: Pigeons, ice cream and a dodgy plinth

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For the first time in 40 years, I made my way to a patch of the metropolis which is constantly circumnavigated by Londoners but scarcely ever crossed. Stained with guano and ancient chewing gum, perfumed by exhaust fumes and frying onions, Trafalgar Square is a hellish repository for tourists and statues. It was, of course, the celebrated sculptural newcomer which drew me to this noisome spot. Filling the empty plinth in the north-west corner of the square has caused no end of a fuss, so it seems exceedingly strange that scarcely anybody has the faintest idea about the bronze residents of the other three corners.

Down in the south-western corner is General Sir Charles James Napier (1782-1853), the conqueror of Sind. Yes, he's the chap who inspired the Peccavi (I have sinned) gag trotted out by generations of Latin masters. Holding a sword in his left hand and what looks like a tabloid newspaper in his right, he looks down with understandable distaste on a van bearing the legend: "Super Soft Ices - Often Licked, Never Beaten".

The south-eastern corner is occupied by the pigeon-spattered figure of Major-General Henry Havelock (1795-1857), another doughty warrior in the sub-continent. However, his faith in the gratitude of posterity ("Soldiers! Your labours, your privations, your suffering and your valour will not be forgotten by a grateful country" is carved on the plinth) was somewhat misplaced. Sporting luxuriant Dundreary whiskers, the hero keeps a keen, soldierly eye on "London's one and only licensed birdseed seller. Only 25p per pot."

Skirting the sellers of gimcrack jewellery, the hot-dog merchants and henna tattooists, I crossed to the north-eastern corner, where George IV prances on a massive steed. Described in Chambers Biographical Dictionary as "an undutiful son, a bad husband and a callous father", he sounds par for the course among British monarchs. Judging by this likeness, he bore a marked resemblance to Michael Winner.

Finally there is the diminutive figure who appeared in the north-western corner last week. Entitled "Ecce Homo", this life-size statue of Christ in white resin is poised on the very edge of the monumental plinth. Unfortunately, the figure is so out of proportion to the rest of the square that he brings to mind Brian Phelps, Britain's erstwhile Olympian, contemplating a three- and-a-half somersault dive. For a 33-year-old, he appears exceptionally well preserved. His gold crown of thorns might be a fashion accessory from Versace. Still, the little fellow won't be there for long. In due course, he will be replaced by Rachel Whiteread's inverted cast of the plinth. What an ingenious solution to a problem that has been with us for 150 years - on one corner of the square, there will be a prince on a plinth, on the other, a plinth on a plinth. That will fox the foreigners.

The long-term occupant of the site is currently being decided by a committee of worthies headed by the excellent John Mortimer. There is, of course, one obvious candidate for this signal honour. Modesty forbids that I should go any further, except to point out that Nelson isn't the only one who looks good at the top of a column.

In my unremitting campaign to ensure that Weasel Villas is at the cutting edge of modern taste, I scrutinised a photo-spread in the Style section of last week's Sunday Times with great interest. It featured a flat in one of the Seventies high-rise blocks of the Barbican, which had been given a matching "contemporary" decor by its owner, a graphic designer called Ian Cartlidge. The spartan anonymity of the result - it resembles a set from 2001: A Space Odyssey - is helped no end by the fact that Mr Cartlidge appears only to own two books and two wineglasses.

In particular, my eye was taken by a photo of his kitchen cabinet, whose rigorous uniformity is in stark contrast to the overcrowded shelves of Weasel Villas. The sole occupants of the cupboard are two dozen small metal containers from Dean & Deluca, the fashionable SoHo food store. I should explain that the upper-case "H" in SoHo is deliberate, because Dean & Deluca is located in the district which takes its name from being South of Houston Street in New York. (Personally, I shop nowhere else.)

By squinting at the page, it was possible to read the labels of these trendy tins. I was surprised to find that they contained those dreariest of kitchen items: dried herbs - thyme, rosemary and basil. Has Mr Cartlidge been too busy jetting over to the Big Apple to realise that infinitely superior fresh herbs are now available in every British supermarket? Dried basil, in particular, is a deeply inadequate substitute for the real thing. Admittedly, a pot of fresh basil on the windowsill would spoil the pure lines of Mr Cartlidge's 34th-floor apartment.

I was nonplussed to read a report in this newspaper which declared that "French pop is cool". Surely, it is one of the more admirable aspects of France that it has never produced a rock culture. It is a mystery to me why our stylish neighbours should ever want to be gauche pop stars. This thought was underlined by a visit to the Icons of Pop exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

With one or two exceptions, the carefully-posed shots of 50-odd British pop stars from the past four decades are the ne plus ultra of naffness. Photographed in flowing silks in 1975, Rod Stewart looks like a welder dressed as Nijinsky. In retrospect, George Michael's Princess Di fringe (1982) gives a prescient hint of the surprise which he unleashed on the world in a Los Angeles lavatory a decade and a half later. As for Adam and the Ants' lack of restraint with the lip-gloss in 1981... well, perhaps we had better draw a veil there.

Lifting the tacky tone are Lennox and Stewart of Eurythmics, stately as the statues on Mount Rushmore in 1983. An overhead shot of The Who, alongside some propane barrels in 1965, has become a classic image - though personally I wouldn't have brought Keith Moon within a dozen miles of propane. Anyone who fancies lashing out pounds 350 can acquire "archive quality prints" of Marianne Faithfull gazing dreamily in 1965, or Jarvis Cocker contorting like a Hieronymous Bosch grotesque in 1995.

It was a relief to escape the oppressive, airless world of pop stardom. The first portrait which greets you outside is Lord Home of the Hirschel, fishing rod in hand, painted by Suzi Malin in 1980. What could be further from the Icons of Pop? Except that nearby is a study of Elton John, from 1978, against a glowing gold background. The creator of this icon: Suzi Malin.

There is an unexpected appearance by one of the greatest of all pop icons on the cover of Men's Health magazine this month. Rather than giving pride of place to some pec-laden hunk, it was a smart move by the editor of this lad's rag to put the spooky visage of Keith Richards on the cover. Though an unlikely symbol of healthy living, the 55-year-old strummer has always vaunted his ability to overcome any problems thrown up by the occasional excesses of his lifestyle. "Even when I was a junkie," I recall him saying a few years ago, "I could still beat Mick Jagger at tennis."

Unfortunately, the accompanying article about "growing old gracefully" is bizarrely at odds with the ageing cover-boy. Mr Richards is perhaps the last person in the world who springs to mind as an adherent of the magazine's injunctions to "stop smoking", "get rid of the wrinkles", "stand up straight" and "stop drinking". It is a moot point whether he concurs with the mag's tip to "let your hair go the way it wants to". When I saw the great man on TV a few weeks ago, he had a large number of bolts, cogs and washers plaited into his barnet.

As usual, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster hits the nail on the head. In "The Great Sermon Handicap", he sagely opines: "There's no doubt that London's not at its best in August, and rather tends to give me the pip and makes me think of popping down into the country till things have bucked up a trifle." Same here, Bertie, old son. London is simply not suited to high summer - it's as if the whole place has turned feverish and alien. The centre fills with bewildered tourists, while outlying districts become strangely deserted. A suburban station where my train stopped on the way into town the other day was as empty as Edward Thomas's Adlestrop: "No one left and no one came/On the bare platform."

So, Mrs W and I are decamping to Weasel Villas North for the next month. London's loss will certainly be Yorkshire's gain - just like last year. But not precisely like last year, I hope.

On my first day in the north, I was bitten on the leg by some noxious bug and spent the next fortnight lying flat on my back in Scarborough General Hospital being pumped full of antibiotics.

My God, how I wished I was back in London.

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