The Weasel: Secrets of the gourmand's diet revealed

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The canapes went down with dangerous ease. Yes, I could manage another curried shrimp and avocado. Salmon mousse with caviare? Well, I've already had three, but why not? Lobster en gelee? I think I could find room. At this point, I should make clear that I was not merely indulging my hoggish greed. Not at all. I was nourishing my mind, body and soul. For I was in Champneys, Piccadilly, located in the roomy basement of Le Meridien Hotel, for the launch of Champneys Cookbook by Adam Palmer (Ward Lock, pounds 18.99).

"You'd never know you were eating healthy food," declared the engaging Mr Palmer, who is executive chef at the health club's HQ in Tring, Herts. "I think my favourite is fillet of beef with Thai green risotto. It goes down a stonker." Not the least of his achievements is a diminution in the waistline of Champneys' MD, Viscount Thurso. "For me, meeting Adam has been a godsend," the peer writes in the book's introduction. "Between the kitchen and the gym, I have lost three-and-a-half stone."

With recipes including roasted corn and sweet potato soup, rabbit with Parma ham, and chocolate and Cointreau mousse, it certainly sounds my sort of diet. "Champneys is about relaxation and re-education of lifestyle," said the miracle-working Mr Palmer. "There are three essential words: variety, moderation and balance. And you have to do a bit of exercise."

Ah, yes, the e-word. I'd almost forgotten where I was. "Mind. Body. Soul. Everything we do is related round these three things," announced a slender Champneys exec, as she took me on a tour of the club's serpentine premises, located far below the clamour of Piccadilly. "This is the fitness area for heart and lungs." She indicated a line of members purring away on exercise bikes. "Tucked out of sight are toning machines for dealing with wobbly bits. We have quite a lot of high-profile members who prefer to do this kind of thing in private."

My guide noted that the club has "four different changing-rooms". And these were for? "Men and women." And the other two? "Those are for men and women as well," she added, a trifle disappointingly. Rock music pulsed and disco lights flashed in a room where an instructor hollered at a group of people on top-of-the-range exercise bikes. This turned out to be something called "Spinning", mysteriously described in a brochure as "a super-aerobic workout combining high-cadence riding with an aerobic class-like environment".

There's also "Power Walking", in fact a supervised walk in the park, like a high-speed nature ramble. More to my taste was Champneys' sublime swimming-pool. At 7pm it contained three languid bathers. Nearby was the Relaxation Room. The latter proved to be a murky den containing a large tank of stripy fish and a row of Star Trek-style loungers. Apart from the bubbling of the tank, the only sound was a soft snoring coming from the sole human occupant.

Such pampering does not come without cost. "Annual membership - around pounds 2,500," the manager breezed. "Oh, it's not all that much." There's also a joining fee of pounds 500, not to mention a host of optional extras, ranging from the Caci Facial ("re-educates the muscles to lengthen or shorten") at pounds 495 for a course of 10, to Marinalogues ("designed to combat the orange- peel problem, which mainly affects the buttocks and thighs") at pounds 380 for 10.

But there is no reason why you can't achieve the same effect at home. By purchasing Mr Palmer's book, an exercise bike and a tank of fish, you'd have change from the joining-fee alone. Granted, you would be missing the Champneys philosophy. Fortunately, this deep thinking is expounded in a brochure: "Thought is a physical process. Constricted, it cries out for space to grow. Exercised, it takes flight." All clear now? You've just saved yourself pounds 2,500 per year. What could be better for mind, body and soul?

Hot under the collar? I'm not surprised if you happen to be one of the fan club whose interest was aroused by the Taifun - an Indian-made electric fan from Ikea - following my lavish plug in last week's column. You may recall that I was so pleased with my purchase of one of these gadgets for pounds 19 (they sell for pounds 119 in certain high-style outlets in the West End), that I went back and snapped up another. Unfortunately, this example proved to be slightly less satisfactory. It was reluctant to oscillate and lacked a large wing-nut that served some important if unfathomable function.

When I rang our local Ikea about getting a replacement, I received an alarming response: "The Taifun has been withdrawn from sale." This injunction must have been issued late in the day, for it turned out that the store had only three left in stock. Four days earlier, two great stacks of these breeze-machines were on display. Oscillating more than somewhat myself, I whizzed round to the superstore for a third time, bearing my faulty instrument.

As I waited in the "customer returns" section, I spotted someone else enter with a cardboard box marked Taifun. Then yet another disgruntled Taifun owner came in. Like pet-owners in a vet's waiting-room, we sat with our fans on our knees and compared symptoms. "Mine refuses to turn from side to side," said a woman. "Mine makes a loud noise," commiserated a man. "Mine's lost its nut," I tutted.

When finally summoned to the counter, I asked how many fans had been brought back. "Oh, lots and lots," Ikea's complaints man cheerfully admitted.


"No, not as many as that," he chortled. "Nearly a hundred, I'd say." It seems that the main complaint was noise. "Well, you can't expect them to be as quiet as a modern fan," shrugged the Ikea man, as he swiftly dealt with my problem by unscrewing a wing-nut from one of the returned fans. Inside the store, I made my way to the spot where I had acquired my Taifuns. Instead of the gleaming black Indian jobs, there was a display of modern Chinese fans. Costing pounds 12 apiece, they were made of white plastic. Despite their gimcrack appearance, the fans oscillated in perfect sequence, like a Busby Berkeley chorus line. The euphonious name of these items is "Pust". Yep, that's right. Rhymes with bust.

I hesitated about going to the two new, wildly disparate shows at the Hayward Gallery. I'd already seen the exhibition of Chuck Close's portraits at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and I was familiar with Full Moon (a selection of new prints from the Apollo lunar exhibitions) in book form. However, I'm glad I made the effort. I don't think I've ever seen the much-derided Hayward looking better. Its warehouse-like acreage is perfectly suited to Close's titanic studies - particularly the first two works you encounter. From three decades ago, they are an iconic self- portrait - the artist staring through the smoke of his cigarette - and a Byronic study of Philip Glass, when the Minimalist composer was still making ends meet by cab-driving.

None of the portraits was commissioned. As the amiable Mr Close pointed out: "You'd have to be pretty weird to want a 9ft image of yourself." In fact, the paintings are the reverse of egotistical. Snaggle teeth, erratic hair growth, eruptive skin: every blemish is writ large. The early works, before the artist began his brilliant experiments with technique, could even be used for medical diagnosis.

Upstairs in the Hayward, the tremendous moonscapes, reproduced in giant, pin-sharp enlargements, are equally transfixing. Even when the astronauts used colour film, the results are virtually monochrome. Though the aridity of the Moon might have been a disappointment at the time, its muted grey tones are now the height of fashion. In this alien territory, the homely values we apply to photographs are suddenly skewed; a small hill turns out to be a 15,000-ft mountain. And yet there was something familiar about the astonishing aerial shots of our captive satellite, with its ravaged, pitted complexion. Now, where had I seen that before?

Simplicity (Penguin, pounds 7.99), the 56th book from the great lateral thinker Edward de Bono, is an assault on the complexities of life. Take the words "simplify" and "simplification", which Dr de Bono notes are "a bit of a mouthful". His solution is to "reduce all variations to the term `simp'", as in "This is very simp" or "Can you simp this?" This major contribution to linguistic clarity is sure to catch on. In order to promote the cause of simplicity, Dr de Bono suggests a worldwide programme modestly entitled "The Edward de Bono Simplicity Campaign". As he astutely notes, "the name has a certain marketing and credibility value at this time".

But perhaps the greatest lesson is to be found in the format of his book. You're the author of 55 books with such titles as Po: Beyond Yes and No and How to be More Interesting. You want to publish another title, but you have only enough material for a slender 150 pages. How do you make it bigger? The solution is to have one or two sentences in very large type on every left-hand page. For example, this brilliant aphorism occupies page 106: "Cooking is made up of ways of cooking." The result: a book of 305 pages. What could be more simp?