The Weasel - Life and Style - The Independent

The Weasel

Even lettered rock has been tainted by modern vulgarity. Nowadays, it comes with 'Old Fart', 'Sex Maniac', 'The Stud' and, inexplicably, 'I Love Scotland', running through it

Scoffing jellied eels and snapping up bags of candy floss, Mrs W was in her element during a recent visit to Brighton's Palace Pier. We were preceded a few days earlier by Virginia Bottomley, who also enjoyed herself in her somewhat brittle fashion while launching the Year of the Pier, in which 28 of Britain's 43 surviving piers will take part. A gaudy temple to the market economy, the Palace Pier may be an apt spot for a pronunciamento by a Tory panjandrum - but it is scarcely typical of the decaying structures, buffeted by waves below and prone to fires above, which decorate our coastline so wonderfully.

Though constructed in the 1890s, the Palace Pier is disappointingly up- to-date. Its Moorish Theatre at the seaward end burnt down a few years ago and has been replaced by a rackety funfair. The fortune-teller has been augmented by a "Computerised Palm Scanner" and a "Biorhythm Compatibility Test". When Mrs W tried out an automated graphology test, I discovered that high-tech gubbins is no guarantee of precision. The resulting report that she was "careful with money, never overextended" is the least accurate statement since Chamberlain's "Peace in our time".

Even the lettered rock has been tainted by modern vulgarity. Nowadays, it comes with old fart, sex maniac, the stud and, inexplicably, i love scotland, running all the way through. While "The World Famous Palace Pier Radio" fought a losing battle with grotesquely amplified rap music from the funfair, I lured Mrs W, still slightly scented by her encounter with fruits de mer, to a more traditional example of the British pier.

A few miles along the coast, Worthing Pier perches on elegant, spindly spikes like stiletto heels. The sole amusement is a gloomy pit at the shore end filled with squabbling homunculi. But outside, all is peace and light. The sea sparkled through the slats of the deck, gulls hovered on the handsome ironwork. A pair of elderly chaps in cloth caps and cord trousers were enjoying the afternoon sun. I edged nearer to hear what words of wisdom these salt-of-the-earth types were exchanging. "You can imagine my surprise," one was saying, "when we found two open-air Jacuzzis." Oh dear, maybe I should try Llandudno.

"Movie stars never eat what's on the menu," declares a character in the droll thriller Get Shorty. Living proof of this maxim occurs shortly afterwards, when a Tinseltown big-shot, played by Danny de Vito, asks a waiter for a special order of "white-of-egg omelette with some browned shallots on top". Sensibly, he rushes from the restaurant before this distasteful concoction arrives. What a marvellous satirical touch, we said after the film, to demand something totally inedible and then disappear before it comes. Of course, no one is really going to dine off fried albumen, however it is gussied up. Oh yes they will, in Hollywood.

A report on the Oscar ceremony in last week's New Yorker describes how actor James Cromwell, nominated for his role as an ornery pig farmer in Babe, demonstrated his real life vegetarianism by ordering a "yolk-free mushroom omelette" in the Bel Air Hotel. One minute Los Angeles, the next the world. It's only a matter of time before this culinary innovation appears here, accompanied perhaps by seed-of- tomato soup, red-of-radish salad and just the froth from a glass of de- alcoholised beer.

Rather like the clowns' Krazy Kar which provides such an enjoyably explosive interlude during circus performances, the Weaselmobile's progress is rarely free from entertaining incident. Scarcely a week goes by without something breaking down, or, indeed, breaking off. But on Maundy Thursday, even this unpredictably fissiparous vehicle attained a fresh nadir when it started giving us small electric shocks. Oddly enough, these occurred after we had emerged from the car. Merely closing the front doors induced a spasm of yelps and ouches. After two or three of these mini-jolts, we became a mite wary about getting out. After briefly considering the possibility of never leaving the car again and surviving solely on the dire fare sold at drive-in eateries, we mustered the necessary reserves of courage - only to receive another assault of nasty electric nips.

What could have caused this shocking turn of events? Surely my vigorous brushing of its interior carpets that morning could not have transformed the vehicle into a mobile Van De Graaff generator? My tentative probing of the esoteric world hidden under the bonnet proved - as always - utterly fruitless. No loose wires, no stray connection from battery to bodywork. There was nothing else for it, I decided: we'd have to get one of those funny dangly things you sometimes see fitted to the back of cars in order to discharge any build-up of static electricity. I was just summoning up the nerve for a trip to the auto-mart when Mrs W thrust a news item under my quivering nose. As a result of a current of dry air from the Continent, London was experiencing its least humid day since March 1965. With relative humidity down to 16 per cent, almost everyone was suffering from static. On the following day, the capital had regained its customary dankness, so I never bothered with the dangling gizmo. A pity really - a tail would suit the Weaselmobile.

The discovery that not just red wine but any alcohol can, if taken in moderation, act as a medicament comes as little surprise to the Weasel household. A large number of the bottles gathering a thick accumulation of dust in our drinks cabinet taste pretty much like medicine; only the most desperate or foolhardy would imbibe them for pleasure.

A moment of madness in Lisbon endowed me with a bottle of locally produced absinthe which, eight years after purchase, is still virtually full to the bung. "What a find," I crowed to Mrs W, as the shopkeeper stuffed my notes in his cash register and waved me off in amazed gratification. "It's been banned in France for donkey's years." Sure enough, with the addition of a little water, the viscous fluid acquired a distinctive milky- green hue, so accurately captured by Degas and praised by fin-de-siecle poets.

Unfortunately for my decadent dreams of sipping this illicit potion, perhaps while reading Baudelaire by guttering candlelight to a pale-faced young woman, it tasted a bit like Windowlene.

The level in my bottle of aquavit, a present from Norway, has stubbornly remained at half-mast for the past decade or more. Richly infused with caraway, it is something of an acquired taste, even for lovers of seed cake. The only way of taking it on board is to chill it to the point where all flavour is expunged - then down it in one. Even so, the predominant impression is of rocket fuel.

But the pride of the collection, surrounded by a murky forest of unpronounceable aperitivos and unpalatable digestivos, has never even been breached. It's the black worm, rolling around at the bottom of the mescal bottle, which puts you off. Though it seems doubtful that the worm of the agave cactus was traditionally included in mescal, it has certainly helped sales of this oily Mexican poteen in the US. Apparently, college students like to impress their girlfriends by chomping the worm. If you feel a pressing desire for a degustation, I'd recommend buying a miniature bottle of mescal, which comes complete with baby worm. Personally - even if the whole medical world urges me to take a dram - I prefer to forego the experience

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