The Weasel

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The gaiety of our nation was eclipsed by the nigh-on unbearable news that, due to Gordon Brown's finagling of the tax regime, the Rolling Stones have chosen to postpone the UK leg of their Bridges to Babylon tour. For those who missed the wall-to-wall press coverage I should explain that fans of the antique foursome will now have to bide their time until the following fiscal year for a (I use the word a trifle loosely) "live" performance. But I was more intrigued by a subsidiary reason given for the cancellation of the "gigs" - the two broken ribs suffered by Keith Richards. It emerged that the injury was caused when the genial old gent plummeted from a set of library steps in his Connecticut mansion.

In case there are any doubters who might sniff at this explanation, I can confirm that the library is a favourite redoubt of the aging strummer. It is a slightly unexpected inclusion in a glossy volume from Thames & Hudson called At Home With Books (currently reprinting), devoted to the bibliotheques of various writers and other celebs. We learn that Mr Richards "oversaw every aspect of the library: its size, shelving, the kind of wood, the furnishings. He loves this place". Explained the great man: "I wanted a small room with high ceilings that would be all mine." The result is a "rich, dark space", described as "octagonal with mahogany trim", with seven tiers of shelves. In view of his subsequent mishap, it was possibly unwise for a chap no longer in the first flush of youth to have volumes so inaccessibly located.

But what can he have been reaching for in the uppermost regions of his eclectic collection? A photograph in the book reveals that the top shelf includes such saucy treats as The Decameron and Anais Nin's Delta of Venus. Equally, Mr Richards may have been smitten by a sudden urge to take a gander at Rushdie's Satanic Verses, Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War or Maclean's Where Eagles Dare. Non-literary items sharing the shelves include a hangman's noose, a skull wearing a jaunty naval cap, and a tell-tale bottle of HP Sauce. What a give-away. Though he may have overcome his penchant for heroin and curbed his taste for Jack Daniels, the star has never managed to kick his notorious addiction to this exotic Brummie fluid which mysteriously describes itself as "un melange de fruits orientaux". Judging by Keef's library tumble, it seems he's on the sauce again.

Crumbs! No time to waste in the mastication dept. Only one week remains of the tormentingly brief English asparagus season. I've never known a better year for this nonpareil of the vegetable kingdom. For the past few weeks, we have been making regular visits to a farm shop one hour from Weasel Villas, which has been selling preposterously priapic asparagus spears for just pounds l.50 a pound. Ironically enough, the same establishment is selling samphire, the "poor man's asparagus" which gets such a bad press in King Lear ("dreadful trade"), for pounds 3.50 a pound.

Though there are no end of recipes - Jane Grigson remarks on a joint in Dusseldorf which serves 209 different asparagus dishes - it seems insane not to eat this verdant treasure simply boiled and anointed with a generous slather of melted butter, possibly augmented by lemon juice and grated Parmesan. Aside from its phallic appearance, this aristocratic herb provides much entertainment by the traditional manner of consumption - held by the fingers at the cut end, while steadily chomping the spear from the pointy end. In his highly regarded cook book, Real Good Food, Nigel Slater dismisses the plant's reputation as an aphrodisiac ("increasing the seed and stirring up lust", claimed Culpeper). However Mr Slater admits he "would certainly agree that sitting opposite someone devouring a plate of asparagus in the traditional way, it would be easy for one's mind to wonder. At least, mine does." Whatever can he be alluding to? On the other hand, you will doubtless recall the passage in The Code of the Woosters where Gussie Fink-Nottle describes the spectacle of his arch-enemy Roderick Spode scoffing asparagus: "Revolting. It alters one's whole conception of Man as Nature's last word."

Another oddity is the unique way in which the plant reminds you of its consumption for some hours afterwards. Not to beat about the bush, it imparts a potent pungency to the urine. Apparently, an amino acid in asparagus prompts the secretion of an odoriferous compound called methyl mercaptan - much the same stuff is used as a "stanching agent" to make natural gas smelly when used for domestic consumption. At least in Weasel Villas, this curious aspect of asparagus is more than effective in countering any possible aphrodisiac effects.

The breakfast meeting I attended last week at the Spanish Embassy, in which the Tate Gallery Liverpool announced that it will be holding a Salvador Dali exhibition next autumn, had several surreal elements which would have delighted the old charlatan. Sultry-eyed retainers in high-buttoned tunics poured rivers of tea, and arty hacks and gallery big-wigs scoffed wedges of toast and luminous jam tarts on plates emblazoned with the Spanish coat of arms.

While I was waiting for proceedings to begin, an elderly party seated in front of me turned round and thrust in my face an invitation to the launch of a book called The Case of Salvador Dali. "Did you go to that?" he inquired. The party had been held in the Planetarium at 9.30pm on 6 May. "No, I didn't ..." I started to reply, before noticing that the invitation promised the presence of Dali himself.

"Which year did this happen?" I asked suspiciously.

"Oh," the codger scratched his nut, "I'm pretty sure it was 1958. I interviewed Dali in the middle of the night."

Though only Picasso is better known as an artist, Dali is regarded by most art critics as a thin talent, more showman than serious painter. Having hacked my way round the mountain of dross accumulated in the Dali museum at Figueres a few years ago, I'm inclined to agree. However, the exhibition organisers defended the moustachioed dauber. "Critics hate him, but the public loves him. We have a cultural conundrum here of the kind the Tate Gallery Liverpool loves," said Lewis Biggs, the gallery director. However, a slide show of the paintings to be exhibited - mainly bitty surreal landscapes - was unconvincing. One of the works being lent is a 1929 oil painting called Phantasmagoria from the collecton of Jack Nicholson ("a very fitting type to collect Dali"). Still, the show ended on a rather charming image - a hugely magnified self-portrait, with his wife/muse Gala lolling in the iris of the artist's eye.

"I notice the ends of Dali's moustache are pointing upwards in this painting," my pal from the row in front addressed the organisers. "But when I interviewed him, the ends were sticking down. I wonder if you could make any comment on this?" No, it transpired, they couldn't. Another cultural conundrum, I suppose

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