The Weasel

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Indy Lifestyle Online
After visiting the Palace of Westminster on the eve of the new Parliamentary session, I can assure you that, even under New Labour, the establishment is as well provisioned with humbug and fudge as ever. We'll pause here for a somewhat forced guffaw, since I was, of course, in the House of Commons shop. One can imagine the mixed feelings of eminent pundits, constituency agents and loyal sos when they receive these molar-corroding confections (pounds 3.80 for a 6oz tin) as an expression of an MP's pawky sense of humour. But there is a limit to political drollery. A line in acid drops was abandoned through lack of customer response.

Nor is Gunpowder Mustard jumping off the shelves (the pounds 4 price-tag may detract from its amusement value). Nevertheless, the souvenir outlets - open to staff and visitors as well as MPs - are making a bomb. Upwards of pounds 800,000 was spent on H of C knick-knackery last year. "We make no bones about making a profit. It helps to subsidise catering services," said Sue Harrison, Director of Catering. "At Christmas, you can hardly move in here." The fume blanc wine from Hampshire "goes very well indeed" at pounds 6.90. While some lucky constituents may receive a miniature of 12- year-old Scotch at pounds l.75, sitting members will probably treat themselves to a bottle of the excellent malt whisky, wittily dubbed Madame Speaker's Order, at pounds 23.30. I noted that the cut-glass whisky glasses (pounds 45 for six) were of extremely generous capacity. "You don't have to fill them right up," responded Ms Harrison a touch sharply. In fact, booze sales have declined from 50 per cent of turnover five years ago to 37 per cent last year. Rather surprisingly, you can still puff H of C cigarettes (pounds 3.20 for 20) - the packet bears the prominent legend "Tobacco Seriously Damages Your Health", as specified by none other than the H of C.

Other goodies displayed in this cornucopia range from a 9-carat portcullis brooch at pounds 90 ("Frequently seen on TV," claimed Ms Harrison) to a 12-inch ruler (85p) and a box of matches (6p). However, I'm slightly surprised at the lack of any "genuine" HP sauce. There is a hand-printed silk scarf for pounds 35 ("the design came from an iron grille in the Stranger's Dining Room") and some dazzling braces in red, blue or yellow for pounds 16. My inquiry as to which faction bought the most of these gaudy suspenders elicited a certain amount of I-couldn't-possibly-be-commenting, but I think we can all guess.

Overall, the best-selling item in the shop is chocolate mint creams - useful for wooing glamorous researchers at pounds 4.75 for 400 grams, or for placating slighted secretaries at pounds 2.70 for 200 grams. Ms Harrison said it was "far too early to comment" on the impact of the change of government on souvenir sales, but I imagine the lemon curd which I made the mistake of buying (pounds 3.20 for a measly 312-gram pot) will be much to the taste of New Labour. It turned out to be bland, sugary and sadly lacking in character.

For oldsters like myself who have been stranded by the relentless waves of Britpop, a snappy paragraph in the New Yorker sums up the current state of play: "Oasis holds a territorial claim on the later Beatles. For a hummable echo of Revolver, you can listen to the Seahorses, for a heady dose of Donovan and George Harrison in his Indian garb, you have Kula Shaker. The seasoned Scottish band Teenage Fanclub has settled into a pastiche of the Byrds. Bob Dylan [inspires] a new album by the aptly named Charlatans UK." It's good to know that the white-hot groups of today are so uncompromising in their efforts to forge a brand-new sound.

This liking for copy-cat rock has resulted in the inexplicable phenomenon of tribute bands. As far as I can tell, these living waxworks started with Bjorn Again, the wittily-named Abba surrogates. They have been joined by the Bootleg Beatles (big enough to fill the Albert Hall later this month), the Counterfeit Stones and No Way Sis (over-clever pun on Oasis). The pages of lookalike adverts in The Stage reveal that there are no fewer than four groups offering even tackier versions of the Spice Girls (I know it's impossible to conceive), however, the Wannabe Spice Girls promise one advantage over the real thing: "These girls sing live". There are also two "Gary Glitters", two "George Michaels" (though one suffers from the slight drawback of having a blond bouffant), A Taste of Meatloaf, Phoney M, the Secret Police and Shadivarious (a tribute to Sir Cliff and the Shadows). I Shadthinknot.

Moving away from music, "John Wayne" is a spit of Duke in True Grit - but the doppelganger is slightly let down by his less-than-rugged real name of Ricky Stupple. Perhaps you can negotiate a cut-rate for him along with "Clint Eastwood" and "Lee Van Cleef". Another lookalike offers a useful double-header as Father Christmas and Karl Marx. Let's hope he doesn't get the two mixed up: "You have nothing to lose but your paper chains."

The 30th anniversary of the execution in Bolivia of Ernesto "Che" Guevara prompted a host of magazine articles, but the most unexpected tribute appeared in the October issue of Cigar Aficionado. This singular journal, which runs to a modest 450 pages, profiles the great Marxist in its own distinctive manner: "During his years in the jungle, cigars were Che's faithful companion... not a luxury, but very much a part of the business of revolution." Despite his proletarian inclinations, Dr Guevara favoured smokes from the top end of the market: "He preferred large sizes in assorted brands, including Montecristo, H Upmann and Partagas." Che had good taste, because a Partagas double-corona gets top marks in a blind tasting in the same issue: "A powerhouse of flavours".

Coincidentally, another radical also features in this plutocrat's house mag. It seems that Jean-Luc Godard has smoked Cuban Cohibas for years. Though he sniffily dismisses the reporter's questions about his cigar habit, we learn that "he is a languid practitioner of the art... he had to re-light his cigar a dozen times, finally finishing it after three hours." No wonder his best-known film is called A Bout de Souffle (Breathless).

There's a spooky report in the latest issue of Marie Claire about Furries, a fast-growing Californian (where else?) cult of people who like dressing up as animals. Kishma Danielle is a belly-dancing zebra: "It's a wonderful thing to understand animals." Taken over by his cat "fursona", Byron Havranek has developed a taste for catnip, milk and fish. A Furry called Furlup has developed a powerful lupine resemblance even when out of costume: "He is me, I am wolf." Rod O'Riley says that being a mink has "kept me sane".

Rod's gay partner, Mark Merlino, prefers to be something called a "honey badger". According to the article, they "met through their shared love of mustelids, or weasel types". And who can blame them?

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