John Walsh on Monday: I was mere putty in her soft embrace

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THIS MAY take a little explaining, but I seem to have fallen in love with a chair. It is not any old chair, you understand, but a fantastically sexy model, lithe and bendy and curvaceous and frankly gagging to wrap you in its sinuous embrace. You may look at a photograph of my ravishing discovery (see below right), provided you treat it with respect and decorum, and do not make insulting jokes about its enormous hips. I clapped eyes on this beautiful thing in a design outlet in Islington and we bonded at once; now I am buying six of its gorgeous siblings in different colours, to transform my elderly, humidor-scented, oak-panelled dining room into a super-modern harem of leggy pulchritude.

You may think me perverse. You may be right. It has happened before. Three years ago I fell for a wardrobe. Called a Gentleman's Compacton, it was six feet tall, 70 years old and full of tiny compartments and I used to rest my cheek against its polished mahogany and whisper to it passionately. I ached to climb inside it and file myself away among the gentlemen's plus-fours or the tie stiffeners.

I am not alone in having a secret sexual orientation that is shamelessly furniture-driven. When Christine Keeler was photographed sitting naked astride a severe little black modernist seat, you could tell it was not the first time they had met. And Victorian parlour verse is full of saucy little rhymes in which a desperate old lecher expresses his jealousy ("Oh, most fortunate throne ...") for the rush-bottomed chair upon which his lady love has recently parked her capacious bustle.

This new chair, I learnt, is the Fantastic Plastic Elastic Chair and is designed by Ron Arad and when I rang to check when it was going to be available, they said: "Mr Arad will be signing copies of his chair at the launch." Well, I'll be damned. Is this the first sighting of the design object being marketed with the same hoo-hah that attends the launch of a book, a movie, a couture-house collection?

If Philip Treacy can launch his new line of hats along a catwalk, can Arad spring his bendy chairs on the trendy world along a catwalk? If everyone from Edward Heath to Monica Lewinsky can sign copies of their breathless memoirs, why should Arad not sign the seats of his new production? Perhaps we will see the new profession of Chair and Table Reviewer in the design pages of the national press.

"There's a big furniture fair in Milan next month," Arad told me, "which is just like Fashion Week. We used to throw a party to go with the exhibition, but we'd get 7,000 people coming, and there was so much squeezing and pushing, you could only see the backs of people's necks. We had to pay fines every year when the traffic got blocked outside the front door ..."

Well well. Plastic furniture - it's the new rock'n'roll.

WHAT ON earth is happening to The Archers? Everyone is behaving as if they were in EastEnders. Argue argue, bitch bitch, complain complain. I have tuned in and out of the Brummie-rustics drama several thousand times in the past 20 years, but often by accident and rarely with much enthusiasm. Mostly I have been perplexed by the swapping of agricultural jargon about organic loam and enervated by the way the cast spend so much time a) sighing, b) conversing in cliches and c) making each other pots of tea.

Now everything has changed. The action has toughened up. The characters have discovered their dark sides. Pat has turned into an imperious termagant, a cross between Betty Boothroyd and Kathy Bates in Misery. She bawled out Clarrie Grundy for putting the wrong date-stamp on her eggs. She tore strips off her son Tommy for making organic sausages on the sly. She has just had a violent row with her daughter about the reputation of the farm. The signs are all too clear - the seething, the sick headaches and that tell-tale mantra of "Could you please just drop it?" If I am any judge of soap operas, she is about to have a nervous breakdown - although a noisy suicide with a shotgun or silage-flail, should such a thing exist, cannot be ruled out.

But everyone seems to be yelling at each other at the moment, from Home Farm to Grey Gables. David bawled out poor Bert Whatshisname for dropping a blender scoop on to a mixer truck, or vice versa, and smashing it to bits. Neil, the posh-sounding contract labourer, vituperated at David for dumping him. William, the feckless bird-lover, was ticked off by his dad for wanting to give up gamekeeping and become an international ballet dancer or something (details were hazy through all that arguing). And Sid Perks, the barman with the dubious fitness regimen, yelled at everyone when he dropped a Bullworker on his toe.

It is all getting very Quentin Tarantino. Violence, conflict, families torn asunder, crashing machinery, broken limbs, existential despair and gratuitous organic sausages - just look what has become of the sleepy Midlands countryside. Next thing you know, there will be an outbreak of ethnic cleansing.

Should you be planning a trip to Birmingham, I would steer clear, just for now, of the dangerous territory known as Former Ambridge.

ACCORDING TO the results of a Gallup poll out this week, the British are getting seriously keen on clubs. The poll, commissioned by the Britannia Building Society, discovered that being in a club was the "number one pastime" for 21 million people in the United Kingdom.

Clubs once meant associations of like-minded people. Then it came to mean places called Boodles or Pratts, having proposers and seconders, wearing biliously coloured ties and taking snuff. When that became too elitist for modern tastes, the only clubs you could be part of were declasse ones (thus Tony Blair's Who's Who entry lists, under Clubs, "Trimdon Colliery and Deaf Hill Working Men's" and "Fishburn Working Men's").

Then it became attached to up-market wine bars in Soho full of resting scriptwriters. Then "clubbing" meant turning up around midnight at a nasty- looking disco off the Charring Cross Road and begging a grumpy macrocephaloid in a shiny tuxedo to let you go in and spend pounds 60 on dancing, drinking and ingesting something that turned out, on sober inspection, to be French chalk. Now the word has been reclaimed and clubs are once again convocations of enthusiasts, exclusive gatherings of people with a shared interest in string.

It seems the Internet is responsible. Once a hundred people have checked into the website devoted to the films of Virginia Mayo, what could be more natural than to meet to compare stills? Activities that were once the province of the anorak and the saddle (dowsing, collecting empty sugar- cube boxes, recreating the English Civil War) now each has an Information Exchange and a club of no-longer-furtive zealots. There are frogman clubs, make-your-own-rocket clubs, Peter Mandelson appreciation clubs.

Which leaves me with only one concern. The poll's secondary finding is that the average Briton joins six clubs in a lifetime. Right then. Chess Club at school, Arts Club and Guitar Club at university (the latter only briefly: I couldn't do the "Layla" riff in under seven seconds), then Groucho's and the Chelsea Arts - that means I've got just one to go. What will it be? The Ron Arad Chair Appreciation Society? But what would we all do once we had sat down?

THE QUEEN ran into a colleague of mine last week in the interval at Oklahoma! "Not bad is it?" she said, cheerily, humming a few bars of "Oh what a Beautiful Mornin'," "though, at the end of the day, I preferred whatshisname, Gordon Macrae in the movie. Fancy a gee-an'-tee?"

No, okay, it did not happen quite like that but he did meet Her Madge last week and has become immensely pleased with himself. She was, he said, a vision in white with lilac splodges (he is not on the fashion desk, luckily) as she greeted seven London drama critics, Nicholas De Jongh and Charles Spencer and Benedict Nightingale among them, in the temporarily closed-off royal circle bar of the Lyceum. "How nice for you all to have the evening orf," she said.

The assembled drama-crit Olympians shuffled and jostled and tried to remember the Palace dictats about saying "Ma'am as in Pam, not Ma'arm as in farm", and not asking her questions or trying to hog the conversation. Sheridan Morley boldly name-dropped the Prince of Wales ("I was just in New York with your son" - they'd been to the unveiling of a statue to Noel Coward) and Michael Coveney risked being jumped on by royal minders for asking - he just came straight out with it, without so much as a by- your-leave - "Have you enjoyed your day, Ma'am?"

Well, had she enjoyed this public relations-directed excursion to the heart of theatreland? Was it very different from her visits to civic centres in the Midlands? "No," said HM to the crestfallen hacks, "it's just like going to Birmingham - except you get a show at the end of it."

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