Conversely, if you desire to drop a line to the German town of Ingolstadt, where Mary Shelley set the re-animation of this grisly creation, it would be most economic to buy the 26p stamp featuring the Romanian bloodsucker. Not that the real-life Dracula went in for blood-sucking. As everyone knows, the speciality of this 15th-century tyrant was impalement, which he tackled wholesale and inventively ("There were various forms of impalement depending on age, rank or sex"). But sometimes he would merely settle for nailing turbans to their wearers' heads "with short iron nails". I learned these jolly details from an encyclopaedic volume called In Search of Dracula by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu, re-issued to celebrate the centenary of Stoker's horror story. Along with pursuing every detail of the "true" Dracula story - including the insistence by "a gypsy called Tinka" that the undead are alive and well in the Transylvanian mountains today - the authors provide a comprehensive survey of the monster's fictional rebirth in modern times. Their 50-page filmography includes such masterpieces of the genre as Dracula Blows His Cool (1983) and Transylvania 6-5000 (1985), which stars Geena Davis as a "nymphomaniac vampiress". The book concludes with a proposed itinerary for the Drac claque. Cheerfully melding fact and fiction, the tour skips from Whitby ("from the West Cliff above Pier Road, one can see most of the Dracula sights") to Transylvania: "At Brasov... visit Timpa Hill where Dracula impaled hundreds of local merchants and then dined amid his victims." After this, it is a little unfortunate that the authors also suggest a visit to Bistritz, "where (in the Dracula novel) Jonathan Harker dined off robber steak - bits of bacon and beef roasted like shish-kebab". Obviously, Transylvanians are addicted to skewers.
Where Red Ken was once a big fish, the red-bellied piranha now rules the waves. Housed in the bowels of County Hall, the Thameside pile formerly occupied by the GLC, the new pounds 25 million London Aquarium is an ichthyological paradise. It seems to be modelled on the mammoth Monterey Bay Aquarium, which Mrs W and I once came across by accident at the end of the real- life Cannery Row on the Californian coast. To create something similar in the heart of the city, with three-storey-high, glass-walled tanks reproducing oceanic environments, is a real accomplishment. Yet I wonder how many visitors will be able to peer at this alien world without thinking of tartare sauce?
The display devoted to species of the Pacific is a sort of fishy city. Most of the finny denizens circulate in steady silver shoals, like aircraft in a holding pattern. But the brown sharks, the BMW drivers of the piscine world, have more urgent business. With narky button-eyes and gill flaps opening and closing like louvre blinds, these snappy predators are a spit for Grouty in Porridge. Fat, black conger eels undulate through the water like animated drain-pipes. The sting-rays are in charge of the bargain basement. Resting doormat-like on the sandy bottom, they flap sand over themselves as though nestling under a duvet.
Though a mind-blowing spectacle, it was evident that gastronomic considerations were intruding into the minds of many observers. It was rather like being in one of those fancy fish restaurants where your future dinner looks reproachfully back at you from a tank. Squinting at a pool of giant carp, their scales handsomely patterned with harlequin diamonds, a visitor from the Far East smacked his lips and made unambiguous chopping gestures in the air. A Scandinavian tourist gestured at the reservoir devoted to Atlantic sea-life: "All that cod - and no chips!" Mrs Weasel stared hungrily at a spider crab, a species which we were recently devouring in profusion across the Channel. Understandably alarmed, the knobbly-shelled crustacean took refuge under a rock. We emerged ravenous. Though the gift shop was cluttered with cuddly toy whales, clockwork octopuses and similar gew gews, the aquarium cafe was sadly lacking in fish dishes. In my opinion, a plate of gratin de langoustines followed, perhaps, by red snapper Creole would give visitors a fuller appreciation of the riches of the piscine world. Sadly, however, the cafe ventured no further than a tuna salad sandwich. Mind you, not everyone in this establishment is sustained by such meagre fare. Earlier, I enviously saw a school of piranha being fed with juicy lumps of squid. Despite being described as "not as aggressive as popularly believed", judging by the way they reduced their afternoon snack to a few powdery specks in seconds, I doubt if they'd be keen on sharing.
Though an infrequent visitor to the Design Museum (chairman: Sir Tel Conran), I was keen to sharpen my appreciation of aesthetics by attending the opening of its new exhibition. The fact the show is called "The Power of Erotic Design" is neither here nor there. It is sponsored by Mezzo restaurant (prop: Sir Tel Conran), which boasts a mural by Allen Jones, the British maitre of erotica. For the launch party, Mezzo supplied both a "sexy cigarette girl" and its appallingly acidic house wine, which is more emetic than erotic. Later, while touring the exhibition, I spotted the sleek figure of Sir Tel himself, beaming genially amid the pudenda and phalluses - but sadly he lacked his trademark cigar, which would have been a fitting accoutrement.
A notice at the entrance oddly admits that "each choice in this exhibition may be contested". Items range from a laboratory designed for Einstein in 1921 (described as "being suggestive of both male and female genitalia") to a proposal for a new Thames crossing "in the form of a giant phallus". It is not made clear whether this will rise in the manner of Tower Bridge. Dali's surrealist icon Lobster Telephone bears a caption pointing out that "placing a telephone receiver to the lips is an intimate, personal and potentially erotic experience", which is worth bearing in mind next time you call an emergency plumber. Though visitors willingly obeyed the "Do not touch" signs surrounding Allen Jones's infamous "coffee table" and "hat stand", which take the provocative form of scantily clad female mannequins, there was one item which proved irresistible to some. Ignoring the signs, a trio of males were overcome with desire. They stroked the sensual lines of the object and openly fondled its gentle curves. Seduced by the Aprilla RS 250 motorbike, they were gonersReuse content