'Our ley-line runs from the top of Glastonbury Tor through our garden and my bed'

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Dulwich Art Gallery has pulled off a coup in getting those two legal eagles and bosom buddies, Cherie Blair and Hillary Clinton, to be joint Honorary Patrons of the first-ever exhibition devoted to the works of 17th-century Dutch artist Pieter de Hooch. An innovatory painter of interiors, de Hooch has long been overshadowed by his great contemporary, Vermeer, and fully merits this review, which will travel to Connecticut after the Dulwich show in the autumn. I wonder, however, if America's First Lady is aware that de Hooch's subject matter is somewhat racier than his irreproachably worthy colleague? As one study of his work notes: "He turned to genre paintings showing young men and women ... flirting in well-appointed interiors." Female figures appear in more than 25 of the 40 paintings due to be shown. If Hillary manages to drag Bill along from his onerous duties in the Oval Office, the Presidential couple would be well advised to avoid being photographed next to A Soldier Offering a Glass of Wine to a Seated Woman. Perhaps A Woman Delousing a Child's Hair might be more appropriate.

Not a dry eye in the house, as they say. In fact, there wasn't a dry anything in the house when half the Atlantic swept through the cinema towards the end of Titanic's three-and-a-bit hours. This $200-million divertissement (all hacks are required by law to mention this sum when writing about the film) is the cinematic equivalent of one of those great social panoramas by the Victorian artist W P Frith. Obviously, the film- makers spared no expense in their effort to recreate the Edwardian microcosm which populated the ill-fated liner. Only the most nit-picking of pedants would feel obliged to remark that very few genteel young ladies in 1912 were equipped with tattoos, as displayed on Kate Winslet's arm (a small crescent). Nor, if my memory of the works of Henry James serves correctly, were society beauties prone to giving the finger, even in situations of extremis.

However, there is one aspect of this entertaining hokum (I liked the rats) which sticks in my craw and that concerns the grub - or, rather, the lack of it. Though the Edwardians were dedicated trenchermen, the leading characters in Titanic are whip-thin. The total extent of their on-screen consumption is to sniff at a pot of caviar and absorb a grape. Admittedly, at one point the villain, played by Billy Zane (boo, hiss), tells a waiter: "We'll both have lamb, very rare with very little mint sauce" - but we see no sign of it. In fact, as the singular cook-book Last Dinner on the Titanic (Weidenfeld, pounds 9.99) informs us, the menu in the First Class Dining Saloon on the fateful night of 14 April, 1912, ran to a dozen courses. Mr Zane and Ms Winslet would have chomped through four substantial dishes even before they reached the lamb.

By the time she scoffed her way through to coffee and liqueurs, it is doubtful if our heroine would have been in any state for high jinks below decks. The American authors of Last Dinner on the Titanic suggest that it is possible to re-create this blow-out "without committing gastronomic suicide", by serving small portions. So Mr Zane was quite right to request a modicum of mint sauce. Not a bad bloke after all. Incidentally, the book reproduces a restaurant card which records a passenger's order for iced water. Well, he certainly got that.

Looking for a break with a difference? Perhaps I may direct your attention to The Good Retreat Guide by Stafford Whiteaker, which assesses over 400 spiritual hideyholes. Though most of the entries offer little in the way of razzmatazz - they tend to stress treats such as "silent prayer," "peaceful atmosphere" and the less-than-appealing "traditional food of a simple and very plain kind" - Mr Whiteaker singles out the Shambala Centre for Spiritual Growth and Healing, in Glastonbury ("Highly Recommended"), run by a couple called Isis and Argon. Not only does it attract a variety of believers - "perhaps their concern is reincarnation, the lost civilisation of Atlantis or the counselling that comes through channelling with your guardian angel" - but its facilities include sauna, Jacuzzi, healing massage room and ley-line.

That's certainly one-up on accommodation offering such humdrum attractions as "en suite" or "TV all rooms". The ley-line, I discovered, is to be found under Isis's bed. "Ley-lines are normally about 3.4 feet wide and they flow like electrical impulses across the land," she told me. "You can feel them with your bare feet or measure them with a dowsing rod. This ley-line runs from the top of Glastonbury Tor through our garden and my bed to Karnak in Egypt, which we visit often so we can send love both up and down the line. It's like you're tapping into the earth's energy."

However, Isis stressed that having a ley-line on your property isn't all beer and skittles. "It's a bit of a responsibility," she sighed. "Lines can get dammed up like a stream. You get all sorts of dross in it. If the power is diverted, it will weaken the line. It is our intention to keep the line clear and we do it with love." On the plus-side, ley-lines offer an ideal venue for spotting extraterrestrials. "UFOs always follow ley-lines - that's why they don't wiggle about," Isis said. "Glastonbury Tor is famous for seeing ships at night. I'm used to feeling their vibrations, but I've never seen one here. Honestly, I'm not really looking for them."

Browsing through White Mischief, James Fox's classic account of Kenya's notorious Happy Valley set, I was intrigued to read one recollection: "Cocaine was taken like snuff and certainly didn't do anybody any good." The only trouble with this analogy is that while jazz talc is now the drug de choix in ritzy circles, snuff has become a rarity. (The obits remarked on Frank Muir's partiality for it.) Somehow, it seems unlikely that snuff will follow cigars back into fashion, perhaps because a user's hankie comes to resemble a work by Jackson Pollock.

"There's still a call for snuff, but the market's not growing that much," admitted Tyrone Black, manager of Smith's Snuff Shop on Charing Cross Road. Established in 1869, it is the sole entry under "Snuff" in the London Yellow Pages. "We have our regulars, including quite a few lady snuff- takers. It's not an expensive habit, though we have some customers who get through eight large tins (equivalent to about 4oz) a month."

Smith's list 24 different types of snuff, ranging from High Dry Toast ("a strange nutty flavour") and Dr James Robertson Justice ("dark, moist and full-hearted") to Cafe Royale ("reputed to be the most expensive snuff in the world"). I invested in 75 pence-worth of Attar of Roses ("a perfect after-dinner snuff") and, despite a few suspicious looks, gave it a test- run in a nearby pub. It was a strange experience, like a nasal Dynorod. My head reconstituted itself after an hour or so. Though Attar is great for catarrh, I think one tiny tin will suffice for a lifetime's supply