For example, why should an all-too-solid armchair be named the "Banquo"? And for what reason is a sofa, which looks more cosy than Cosa Nostra, called the "Pacino"? Most mysterious of all, why is a plain plastic lampshade, with little obvious connection with the mystic world of elves and trolls, termed the "Tolkien"? However, during the course of our last visit, I discovered a new source of idle entertainment. The shop has introduced a range of foodstuffs intended "to establish Habitat as a one-stop shopping emporium selling essential products for modern living." Among the vinegars and oils chosen for this brave new venture, it is hard not to feel that certain items were chosen for the appearance of the packaging rather than the contents. They bring a new meaning to the term "designer food".
Although it's gratifying to know that John McCann's Irish Oatmeal won an "Award for Uniformity of Granulation at the World's Columbian Exhibition, Chicago, 1893", its charmingly archaic container must contribute significantly to the price of pounds 3.95 for 1lb 12oz. Similarly, it seems unlikely that Uncle Joe's Mini Balls (fabricated in The Toffee Works, Wigan) would be regarded as "an essential product for modern living" were it not for the handsome tin (pounds 2.95 for 200g) bearing a portrait of an appropriately avuncular top-hatted toff. Those on a limited budget may care to consider the alternative of "Jesmona" Old-Fashioned Black Bullets from Sheffield at pounds 2.95 for 500g.
But even Habitat man cannot live by oatmeal and mint balls alone. The protein required for a balanced diet is available in the form of Ortiz "El Velero" brand tuna, which, coincidentally, also happens to come in a rather pretty tin (picturesque fisherfolk launching a sail vessel). I imagine it will sell like hot fishcakes at a mere pounds 9.95 for 725g. Adding a touch of spice to the shop's eclectic pantry is Moutarde de Dijon from Fallot et Cie of Beaune, which comes in a colourful metal pail (a chubby chef wielding mortar and pestle immodestly announces "Quelle bonne moutarde!!!") at pounds 3.95 for 450g. First prize for luxury goes to Habitat's "Vinaigre Aromatise Aux Carottes" which, as the name implies, is spicy vinegar with a couple of carrots chopped up in it. One litre sells for pounds 11.
While I was still reeling at this costly condiment, Mrs Weasel appeared with an item which instantly banished all critical thoughts. "I've got one at last," she declared. "A rolling mat for making sushi." Lord knows how we've managed to struggle through all these years without one. She had also accumulated a rich trawl of Yutaki roasted seaweed, Mitsukan powdered sushi mix and Washabi horseradish. If they're not "essential", I don't know what is. But we still lack one vital item. "They haven't had any fans delivered yet," sighed my spouse. She responded to my enquiring gaze with a look of perplexed exasperation. "Didn't you know, you have to fan the rice when making sushi." Will we be able to last out until stocks arrive?
While on the topic of Habitat, I'm sure that anyone who has lashed out pounds 2 on the shop's catalogue will be thrilled to find that a double-page spread (pp 98-99) is given over to a 14-photo sequence of someone splicing a tomato. No words. Just the tomato, a pair of hands and a knife. This is a classic instance of a growing phenomenon which might be termed "art editor's conceit", characterised by uninformative images, often repeated, sometimes blurred. As far as I can discern, their sole raison d'etre is to demonstrate what a daringly inventive guy (or gal) the designer is.
The most staggering example I've come across in recent months is the River Cafe Cook Book Two. For their pounds 25, purchasers are treated to a photo sequence running across eight pages of a man standing beside a pile of parmesan cheeses. Equally "creative" is the recipe for salt cod soup (pp 136-137) printed over a photo of sea-salt crystals. It's piquant, apposite, witty, all those things - but also virtually impossible to read, especially in the steamy conditions which are an inevitable consequence of making potage.
Of course, you expect smudgy, indecipherable images on the fashion pages. The outre journal, Dazed & Confused, consists of little else. But even this curious publication has achieved a new level of incomprehensibility in its latest issue. In order to appreciate Damien Hirst modelling designer garb, readers are obliged to play a game of join-the-dots on four successivse pages.
If you find yourself a trifle enervated after the effort of finding out what Damien Hirst in "white V-neck T-shirt by Jigsaw for Men" looks like, you can enjoy a reviving sniff of a new Calvin Klein scent called cKbe by opening a perfumed fold on page 32 of Dazed & Confused. It smelled nice and spicy to me, but the advertising copy suggests the fragrance also has exceptional existential properties: "Be this. Be that. Just be." I wonder if the copywriter has been reading Carry On, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse, first published in 1925? I only ask because the story entitled "The Aunt and The Sluggard" contains a strikingly similar example of vers libre by American poet Rockmetteller Todd, whom Bertie has to help out of a scrape:
The Past is dead,
Tomorrow is not born,
Though his name is not exactly redolent of this sceptr'd isle, the British Library owes much to Antonio Panizzi, who has born on 16 September 1797. An exile from Modena, he transformed the fortunes of the Library in the 19th century. Panizzi's greatest achievement was the construction of the circular reading room using innovative cast-iron technology. From conception to completion in 1857, the project took just five years. (Compare and contrast with the new pounds 511 million BL building in St Pancras, which was started in April 1982 and will not be fully open until the turn of the century.)
Ironically, the Library will shortly lose Panizzi's great dome when possession transfers to the British Museum. However, some members of the BL staff conjecture that the Museum may not enjoy its prize for long. "The dome was never intended to be a free-standing structure," an administrator gleefully whispered to me. "It remains to be seen if it will stand up when the book stacks which surround it are removed." Perhaps the BL's celebration of Panizzi's bicentenary next Tuesday will go with a bigger bang than expectedReuse content