The Weasel

Dotted around the first-class lounge, lava lamps ooze suggestively
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Now known as "The Boardroom", the newly refurbished First Class lounge at Euston Station has more than a touch of an upmarket bordello in its decadent decor of cardinal red and papal purple. Dotted around the lounge, lava lamps ooze suggestively. Swagged with velvet curtains, the phone booth equipped with old-fashioned barber's chair might have come from a dominatrix's dungeon. A large writing desk filling one side of the room flips over speakeasy-style so that captains of industry and other big cheeses may recharge their batteries with a session of Subuteo or Scalextric. But the changes at Euston are not limited to this boudoir for bosses. Boarding a Virgin train, I was intrigued to discover that the First Class carriages have been renamed "The Golden Zone", which sounds distressingly like a Californian cult's euphemism for death.

You might reasonably enquire, what is such an acknowledged homme du peuple as the Weasel doing in such sybaritic surroundings? The answer is to be found in a familiar, handsomely tanned figure, the very personification of droll lugubriousness, who installed himself in the seat facing me. "It's a brave man who lends his name to rail food," intoned Sir Clement Freud by way of introduction. Despite such misgivings, the former parliamentarian appended his signature to Railfare sandwiches a few years ago. A glutton for punishment, his name now adorns the new Virgin Trains menu which was having its press launch on the 11am service to Manchester Piccadilly.

"I tried to create a menu that was difficult to get wrong," rumbled Sir Clement - before adding, with uncharacteristic infelicity, "I've included items which, if cooked under poor conditions, are likely to throw up a decent meal." I rather warmed to his view that "rail catering should be 80 years out of date".

Before getting down to the knightly nosh, we were given a sampling of five of the wines on sale. When a claret called Chateau de Terrefort Quancard was given a thumbs-down by our table, Sir Clement issued a disclaimer: "If you can't pronounce it and you can't drink it, then why have it?" But a Chilean merlot was pronounced a resounding success (so it should be at pounds 21.50 a bot). Passengers joining the train at Milton Keynes stared with some interest at the forest of bottles filling the tables in the Golden Zone.

Following the example of the menu's inventor, I plumped for a starter of three skewered tiger prawns. They weren't at all bad, but Sir Clement must have lost his taste for this maritime treat during pre-launch trials, for he only consumed half of a single crustacean. "As you can image, I've done this journey quite a lot," he murmured. "The trick is to jump out at Nuneaton and you can just catch a London train."

For my main course, I went for "traditional English fishcakes", which he assured me were "85 per cent fish - half fresh, half smoked haddock". Something must have gone awry with the ingredients, because the dried- up objects palely loitering on my plate tasted as if they were 100 per cent cardboard. Fortunately, Sir Clement had joined another table by this stage, and I exercised the reviewer's droit de seigneur by demanding sirloin steak (most acceptable).

Returning to our table, the legendary gourmet was shocked to hear that the treacle tart, described in publicity as "Freud's own favourite", was served cold to a young woman from Caterer & Hotelkeeper. Without a word, our steely-eyed hero stalked towards the train's galley, where a chef viewed his approach with an apprehensive gaze. "It's going to be warm from now on - and better!" the knight assured us as the train pulled into Manchester. The treacle tart could have no braver champion.

Do you notice an additional pizzazz in this week's Weasel? Does the syntax display an exceptionally inventive zing? Are the metaphors more inventive than usual? Is the vocabulary more recherche? Are the commas curlier?

Such dazzling enhancements should be much in evidence because the words you're reading are being written under the influence of something called an IntellectTM bar. Described as a "unique brain-food bar that combines active ingredients based on traditional global wisdoms", it is produced by the Aveda institute, an American-based concern dedicated to "developing extraordinary products made from plants".

To be honest, I can't say that my noggin feels much improved by the combination of gingko biloba ("a herb used by the ancients, that may enhance mental clarity and memory"), gotu kola ("long thought to promote longevity, in addition to fuelling mental function"), and kava kaya ("a key restorative herb that helps alleviate fatigue and promote sociability"). My newly improved sociability does prevent me from pointing out that IntellectTM has the slight defect of tasting like over-sweetened cake-mix, with an unpleasantly woody aftertaste. I noticed that the tiny bars on sale in Aveda's painfully stylish London outlet still bore the US price tags of $1.95, though they sell here for pounds 1.95. Still, I guess anyone willing to pay nearly two quid for this "perfect, smart, guilt-free pick-me-up" needs all the intellect they can get.

I must take issue with the misconceived premise of Channel 4's new series Why Men Don't Iron. At least this man irons, it's just that the results sometimes show scant evidence of the fact. As an old hand at etching crease and pleat, perhaps I might offer a few tips to young fellows pressed into service at the dread board. For starters, the process is not entirely lacking in appeal to the male mentality. With a bit of practice, a steam iron may be induced to emit entertaining spouts of superheated vapour like the loco Mallard on its record run.

However deftly you wield the implement, a let-down often comes afterwards. You may have been admiring your workmanship for some minutes before the realisation strikes that, inexplicably, shirts have two arms. An even more irritating aspect of this garment is that, along with a front and back, it is also endowed with two easily overlooked bits at the top, known (stop me if I'm getting too technical) as the shoulders. They certainly came as a surprise to me when I first plied the Morphy Richards.

It's the same story with trousers. Usually, I iron them in orthodox fashion with the crease at the front. Occasionally, the artist in me comes out and I iron them with the crease at the side (although there is a danger of being mistaken for a tar on shore leave). What you mustn't do, however, is lose concentration and switch from one approach to the other in mid- trouser. The resulting mix of longitudinal and latitudinal creases is an inevitable distraction during conversation. Regardless of your wit or originality, your addressee's attention will wander legwards.

One final point: if, like me, you restrict your ironing to a single garment at a time, usually in a rush prior to an appointment, don't be tempted to press your trousers while you're wearing them. The finish is rarely satisfactory, though I dare say the masochistic method is good for the iron in your soul

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