The Weasel

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I've gone all starry-eyed over an optician. This is the slightly unlikely profession of Dorinda Hafner, the TV cook for whom the word "sassy" might have been minted. She was in town to launch a TV series and accompanying book called United Tastes of America. Her eight-part exploration of US ethnic cuisine starts later this month on Channel 4. "She's a great enthusiast with tremendous personal warmth and charm," noted Mark Galloway, commissioning editor for the series. "Surprisingly, very few presenters have either of these qualities."

This is understating the case, for the Ghanaian gastronome is nothing less than a force of nature. "I'm a lunatic," she said by way of greeting when we met at the launch party in a Soho restaurant. "I've got too much of a passion for life. Someone should line the streets with men for me. I've got so much energy I could run round the walls. You might ask 'What's an optician doing on a TV food show?' Because so many people are short- sighted about what they're eating, that's why. The first programme in the series is about Italian food from Boston. You'll see a stuffed lobster that was just..." Ms Hafner temporarily quenched her Niagara of words in order to clutch her bosom and roll her eyes heavenward, "...just ORGASMIC!"

Seconds later, she was back in full spate, "Cooking is power - think of how many people you could poison. Food talks. Food is everyone's language. Food isn't just nutrition, but a way of communicating, a means of nurturing, of showing love. Food is the essence of life. Without food, I'd lie down and die. I love the food in the States, but Americans take themselves far too seriously. Life is too short not to have wickedness. You just get one bite of the cherry, you've got to make sure you get a good swallow. I'm looking for a man who'll massage my feet - that shows warmth, nurturing, humility. I live in Adelaide. It's a beautiful seaside city.You come over and I'll cook you a meal - and that's not an invitation I give out to everybody. Keep in touch - or I'll come and find you..."

At this point, a senior Channel 4 executive who bore a slight resemblance to the Prime Minister said good-bye to Ms Hafner. "He's eminently bonkable," she sighed, as the big-wig disappeared into Dean Street. "That's strictly off the record," chipped in her agent. But Dorinda didn't seem to care as she scribbled a dedication for me in the front of her book: "Remember to grab life by the balls and LIVE!" Now there's a tempting recipe.

Weasel (nervously adjusts tie, clears throat, scuffs floor with shoe): I know you've had a surfeit of it. But since I've just been there, perhaps I might just chip in a few words about...

Long Suffering Reader: Oh, no. Not that Royal Academy Exhibition again.

W: How did you guess?

LSR: Because every hack and his dog has felt obliged to expound on the topic. I had expected better of you, but I see I was sadly deluded.

W: I promise I'll be snappy. Look, I'll keep my comments about Marcus Harvey's controversial work Myra Hindley to two words. Leaving moral considerations to one side, I'd just like to say that his technique of using hand-prints reminds me of the famous cravat-wearer and TV artist...

LSR: This is a bit more than two words.

W: ...Tony Hart,

LSR: Have you finished?

W (assumes intense intellectual air): Perhaps I might add that the show struck me as being more like advertising than art. Clever but gimmicky. Sharp but shallow. I scarcely need add that the product being marketed by the artists is themselves. No wonder they've been snapped up by half of Saatchi & Saatchi.

LSR (abstractedly): Is that the half with the ampersand?

W: Since you ask, I rather liked Rachel Whiteread's orange bath, mysteriously titled Untitled (Orange Bath), which was so temptingly tactile the understandably twitchy RA attendants had to keep croaking the mantra: "Excuse me, do not touch the exhibits." I was also taken by Whiteread's equally enigmatically named Untitled (One Hundred Spaces), which turned out to be translucent casts of 100 spaces beneath chairs and stools. Their watery colours reminded me of immense cubes of Rowntree's jelly in rather exotic flavours - cucumber, pomegranate, mango...

LSR: Yawn.

W: Finally, there is the presiding genius of the show, the Lord of the Flies himself. From a distance, Hirst's infamous shark is impressive. Up close, however, it looks sadly the worse for wear, with numerous holes plugged with what looks like Blu-tack. His chain-saw dissections of pigs and cattle, bleached grey by formaldehyde, are tediously grey and repetitive. Incidentally, did you see that picture of the dastardly Damien grinning underwater which was widely reproduced from his ludicrous pop-up book (pounds 59.95). The idea was pinched from an advert which appeared a few years ago for a record by that dangerous subversive Phil Collins. I think that says a lot.

LSR: Zzzzzz.

In his acclaimed new comedy, The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard makes play of the fact that after leaving university without a degree, AE Housman gained congenial employment in the Patent Office. While assaying madcap inventions and innovations, Housman found time to continue his translations and eventually discovered his own voice as a poet. Some commentators have noted the unlikely parallel with Albert Einstein (another college failure), who was employed by the Zurich Patent Office between 1901 and 1909 while he produced most of his greatest work, including the Special Theory of Relativity. Though I've never managed to digest the consequences of E=mc2, the same does not apply to a patent for a triangular mould which bears the signature of A Einstein. Without his say-so, none of us would ever have chomped a chunk of Toblerone.

I recently received a pleasingly complimentary letter from a reader in Chipping Norton. But the gilt was taken off the gingerbread more than somewhat by her opening words: "Dear Weasel (I suspect aka Andrew Marr.)" Flattering though the comparison is, I wish to point out that the editor of this newspaper has bigger fish to fry. At least this misapprehension did not prompt the embarrassment suffered by the poet and academic DJ Enright who, shortly after he had published a book of verse, received a cosy missive from "a male person": "Dear D Enright, Can you be the vivacious Dorothy Enright I met on a cruise to South Africa five years ago? Do you remember those nights on deck, gazing at the moon? You didn't tell me you wrote poems but I should have guessed..."

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