Fairy-fanciers clustered round Joseph Noel Paton's soft-porn panorama, The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, just as they did when it was first exhibited in 1850. (Lewis Carroll was a great admirer: "We counted 165 fairies.") Another big draw was Estella Canziani's 1914 whimsy The Piper of Dreams, in which diaphanous nymphs swirl round a young musician in a woodland glade. Oddly enough, it ranked alongside Lord Kitchener's finger as one of the most prominent images during World War I - though a wounded soldier was understandably puzzled when he received a postcard of the picture: "Don't you think she made them gnats rather large?" But the star items in the show are two of Richard Dadd's entrancing masterpieces. Incarcerated in Bethlem Hospital, this sad genius spent years on these hallucinatory images whose surfaces pullulate with detail. I was delighted to spot the distinctive bristly features of Robin Cook in the bottom left-hand corner of Dadd's The Fairy Feller's Stroke. Quite right, too - in the light of recent revelations, who can doubt the Foreign Secretary's magical powers of allurement?
As is customary with the Academy's exhibitions, the RA shop is selling a variety of thematically-linked merchandise. (It still has a few fishy items inspired by D Hirst's marinaded shark in last year's "Sensation" exhibition.) Fairy-associated offerings include a Titania "Spell" necklace for pounds 59, a Daisy Chain bracelet for pounds 75 and a sequinned Fairy T-Shirt for pounds 21.95, available in XL for fairies whose figures are no longer sylph- like. There was, however, one obvious omission from this trawl of supernatural souvenirs. No Fairy Liquid.
Weasel Villas is glutted with dates. I do not, I hasten to add, refer to sticky Christmas confections steadily congealing in their boxes - but dates as in days. We've got heaps of them. In short, our house is awash with calendars. Judging by the illustrations, we're in for a hell of a year. The first calendar we received was an arty collection of Parisian Views in which June is illustrated by a wintry shot of an ancient winching mechanism in the shadow of a bridge, while the the spirit of November is captured by a murky stretch of canal. If I ever tire of these exhilarating views of the City of Light, I can turn to the Underwater Wilderness calendar from Monterey Bay Aquarium. March will be bucked up no end by a constellation of starfish ("Oozing digestive juices on to its prey, the star liquefies its lunch and slurps up its meal"), while the sea-nettle jellyfish ("it has no brain, no head, no real eyes") will inflict its sting in September.
In a momentary fit of wanderlust, Mrs W bought me a desk calendar devoted to native Americans, each page bearing a handsome sepia print. I must say I felt a certain kinship with the braves who are portrayed on the page for 13 January: "A cold, cheerless day, when the party of Sioux, wrapped closely in their blankets rode on in stolid silence." In similar optimistic mood, the illustration for 20 October is "an Apsaroke burial platform". On 10 February, we are helpfully reminded that this is the birthday of the German publisher (Taschen) and given a fax number to send congratulations.
However, the most irresistibly blithe of all my calendars came from my French friends. Issued by their local Red Cross branch, it celebrates the activities of this inestimable organisation. The illustration for Mars-Avril features the aftermath of a traffic accident, while Juillet- Aout is devoted to four Croix-Rouge stalwarts lugging a prone figure on a stretcher, However, the highlight of the year comes on September-October. This is memorably marked by by a photograph of two paramedics tending a victim who has been bisected at the waist. Fortunately, it is an exercise and the patient is a plastic dummy. What a treat in store to cheer up the encroaching gloom of autumn.
As always, Alan Bennett's Diary, which appears annually in the London Review of Books, was a feast of wit and observation, but I can't help feeling that he is mistaken about New York art galleries. Describing a spot of badinage between two warders at the Metropolitan Museum, he noted that this was only possible because they are "less mindful of the reverence to art that pervades the National Gallery". In my experience, nowhere in the world makes a more grovelling obeisance to art than the Big Apple.
My ignorance of the strict rules for visitors to New York's Guggenheim Museum led to a series of spectacular embarrassments during my last visit. "PUT THAT PEN AWAY!" bellowed a guard, presumably to prevent me embellishing the art-works with specs and moustache - an unlikely eventuality since I was looking at an exhibition of Dan Flavin's minimalist neon constructions at the time. It transpired that I was expected to purchase a pencil from the ticket desk.
Soon afterwards, we suffered another mishap when Mrs Weasel produced her camera. "STRICTLY NO PHOTOGRAPHY!" yelped a gauleiter - which might be fair enough in a gallery, except we were outside in the museum's sculpture court when the ticking-off took place. Since the Guggenheim is currently bidding to take over the entire world - it also has branches in Berlin, Venice and an astonishing new tin palace in Bilbao - we may all be viewing art from a kneeling position before long.
Though there's no greater fan of a good pork pie than the Weasel, I joined in the national jubilation at the escape of the Tamworth Two, successively pursued by slaughters, policemen, hacks and helicopters. Always a great admirer of the species, I was once tempted to try my hand at pig-farming but was put off by a farming friend from Lancashire: "It all ends up at t'abattoir." However, the impressive velocity of the Wiltshire boars suggests that pig-racing might offer a less sanguinary possibility. In support of this viewpoint, I cite Wiseman's History of the British Pig (1986), which contains a picture of a porcine breed called the Irish Greyhound. Now sadly archaic, the slender beast was able "to clear a five-barred gate with ease". It is not beyond the bounds of feasibility that porkers will one day replace pooches at Wimbledon or Catford. Never heard of pig trotters?Reuse content