The Weasel

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Adopting the pince-nez and high moral tone of the editorialist, the Weasel pontificates: it is perhaps symptomatic of the preference for art over technology which prevails in this country that the death of Aubrey Beardsley, at the age of 25 in March 1898, has been commemorated with no fewer than five books, while the passing of the renowned engineer Sir Henry Bessemer, who also went to meet his maker in March 1898, having notched up a more respectable innings of 85, has gone unmarked. Don't worry, you're not about to receive a potted biog of the great man - as far as I know, his life was not marked by much in the way of delicious decadence - though I might remark on the curious memorability of his greatest achievement, the Bessemer converter. Together with the Van de Graaf generator and the ox-bow lake, it is one of those rare particles of knowledge which survives, indelibly etched, from schooldays.

Following my discovery in an indispensable guide called Who Lies Where, by Michael Kerrigan (Fourth Estate, pounds 9.99), that Sir Henry has just commenced his second century of residence in the South Metropolitan Cemetery in West Norwood, not a million miles from Weasel Villas, I popped along to see the old boy, accompanied by a rather reluctant Mrs Weasel. The SMC turned out to be a sizeable necropolis. A map marking the location of its star turns - Victorian celebs such as Mrs Beeton (who handed in her rolling pin at the tender age of 29) and newshound Baron Julius de Reuter - is apparently available at the gatehouse. Unfortunately, the gatehouse was silent as ... well, you know what. Because his chunky tombstone is hard by the entrance, it was no great hardship to find Sir Hiram S Maxim (1840-1916), who so immeasurably benefited the world by inventing the machine gun, along with a disastrous flying machine and a terrifying white-knuckle ride. Even in afterlife, Sir Hiram has maintained his extraordinary fertility - a huge palm tree flourishes in the centre of his grave.

Bessemer proved somewhat more elusive. Distracted by their euphonious occupants - Temperence Everage, Salome Tarbuck, Mr and Mrs Wat Tyler - who variously were "called away", "laid until the great awakening" or simply "fell asleep", we roamed among the motley regiment of slabs. The cemetery is a place of sundered partnerships, a host of familiar ampersands bisected by death. The aesthetically inclined sugar magnate Sir Henry Tate reposes here but not his eclipsed pal, Lyle. There is Edgar but no Swan. Stoughton but no Hodder. Higgs but no Hill. Dollond but no Aitchison. Trollope but no Colls. Or was it Colls sans Trollope? Just when I'd given up hope, there it was - a fairly modest bookmark in eternity's pages, simply stating: "Sir Henry Bessemer FRS". Ironically, our hunt for the man whose hot idea had transformed the British smelting industry had a chilling effect on Mrs W. "Can we go now?" she quivered, "I'm freezing."

Normally, I keep mum about my links with Yorkshire - it strikes me that there are quite sufficient of my fellow Yorkies who take precisely the opposite approach - but I must admit to a shock of recognition when I saw the latest canvases to emerge from the Los Angeles studio of David Hockney. Instead of portraying the familiar palm trees and swimming pools of the West Coast, he has chosen to explore the alien terrain of the East Coast - to be precise, the undulating landscape inland from Bridlington. Apparently, the artist regularly visits his 97-year-old mother who lives in the East Yorkshire resort. He spent a good chunk of last summer there, frequently driving between Bridlington and Wetherby. These dazzling studies of patchwork wolds bisected by empty serpentine roads are the result. More colourful than reality, they exalt in the on-top-of-the-world spaciousness of the area. But you don't have to take the word of a deracinated tyke for it. According to Calvin Tomkins, veteran art critic of the New Yorker, they are "six of the most exuberant paintings Hockney has ever created".

Rich as fruitcake, the works are crammed with colour and detail, much of which I have previously seen framed by my car's windscreen. I know the roundabout, hemmed in by four different crops, in the bottom left- hand corner of The Road Across the Wolds. However, I notice that Hockney has omitted the roadside crucifix and the track for runaways in Garrowby Hill, his depiction of a famously precipitous declivity. But I was delighted to see that he has given centre-stage to an oddly shaped stone structure in his painting The Road to York Through Sledmere. Erected in 1919, the Waggoners' Memorial is a tribute to an army corps of 1,000 drivers raised by the local baronet, Sir Mark Sykes.

Of course, Hockney cannot show the series of carved panels on this squat column depicting the wartime experiences of the Waggoners Reserve, but they include doughty Tommies giving what- for to moustachioed Huns in pointy helmets who are engaged in a spot of pillaging and worse. Needless to say, the caricatures on the memorial have come in for a degree of criticism in recent years from certain fellow citizens of the European Community, but Pevsner's Buildings of England admires its "curiously homely carving of great skill and subtlety". Hockney's evocations of East Yorkshire will shortly be disappearing to exhibitions in Boston and Paris, but they can be seen at Saltaire, Bradford, until 13 April - I'm off up there this weekend - and if you've the opportunity, it's worthwhile popping over to Sledmere for a gander at the Waggoners' Memorial. For a touch of the exotic, it knocks palm trees flat.

The bloke in front of me was poring over a riveting volume entitled Power Supply to the Electric Railways 1906-1920, but the audience at the London Museum was not notably anorakish. We had been drawn by a lecture with the delightfully morose title, "It'll never work", about popular myths and heroic failures of public transport in the capital. After cheerfully acknowledging that the average speed of road traffic in central London has "barely changed since the 1860s", head curator Mark Dennison informed us about the underground railway which opened in 1870 to shuttle passengers under the Thames from Tower Hill. Alarmingly claustrophobic, it ran for a few months only - though the tunnel is still extant. Even less successful was the spiral escalator installed out at Holloway Road in 1907. This spectacularly dicey facility never saw public service.

Many of the legends about London Transport turn out to be quite true - such as the one-legged man who demonstrated the safety of the first conventional escalator (at Earl's Court in 1911). His name was Bumper Harris and he did the job for exactly one day. I'm sorry I was not around to see the daily transportation of fish on the Metropolitan Line (from Monument Station near the old Billingsgate Market), but it was banned in 1936. Can't imagine why. And, yes, a double-decker did leap Tower Bridge when it unexpectedly opened one day in 1952. It was a No 78 en route for Dulwich, and the driver's name was Albert Gunter. His life-saving heroism in keeping his foot hard down on the accelerator netted him a reward of pounds 10

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