The Weasel

Offerings lugged in through the cat-flap of Weasel Villas have included a large pigeon (dead), the carcass of a smoked guinea fowl, several worms and a raw pig's trotter
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Despite being such a po-faced lot, the new government is proving to be an unexpected source of hilarity, largely because of its inane obsession with "presentation skills". I will long relish the squirming discomfort of Foreign Office mandarins as they were forced to sit through the ghastly video which preceded Robin Cook's "mission statement". Even this was topped by the terrified rictus adopted by Cherie Blair when prodded, presumably at the end of a sharp stick wielded by Alastair Campbell, into a less- than-convincing public display of affection towards Humphrey, the headline- hogging moggy of Downing Street. It is hard to say who looked unhappier, the cat or the QC. Because I, too, have been forced into an involuntary liaison with a variety of felines ever since throwing in my lot with Mrs Weasel a decade and a half ago, I feel I should enumerate a few treats in store for Cherie.

1) The Massage. As long as you oblige with a tin of Whiskas when required, you should rub along fairly amicably with old Humph. It is, however, wise to be prompt in fulfilling this duty, even when engrossed with the word processor, otherwise you are liable to find a small, damp nose pressed hard against the back of your knee - a disconcerting experience if you happen to be wearing shorts.

2) The Fur Rug. Emerging from bed in the middle of the night, you may experience the sensation of putting your toe on a tiny fur rug. It might take a moment for the fact to sink in that you don't own a fur rug - and even if you did, it wouldn't be mouse-sized.

3) The Gastronomic Contribution. Non-rodent offerings lugged in through the cat-flap of Weasel Villas have included a large pigeon (dead), the carcass of a smoked guinea fowl, several worms and a raw pig's trotter. Notwithstanding Mr Campbell's strictures about retaining the cat-lover's vote, it is not necessary to consume such donations.

4) The Joy of the Chase. Though it may be frowned on by New Labour apparatchiks, you could be co-opted to participate in Humphrey's hunting activities. One morning, I heard a clatter coming from our drinks cupboard and found Capt Haddock (our moggy) pursuing a distinctly battered mouse through my alcohol collection. When he lost interest in his victim, I was forced to administer the coup de grace with a bottle of absinthe. (No, I didn't encourage the rodent to drink itself to death in the manner of a fin de siecle poet. A tap on the noggin sufficed.)

5) The Elevating Experience. Once, while doing a spot of vacuum-cleaning, I suffered a sudden loss of suction. It turned out that the corpse of an exceedingly large mouse, possibly a small rat, was wedged head-first in the machine. I made the mistake of calling on Mrs W, who had just emerged from the shower, to observe this singular phenomenon. I don't think I have ever seen anyone jump so high from a standing start. Now that would be a great photo-opportunity for you.

Having waited for more than a few buses in my time, I feel a kinship with the 4,000 omnibus devotees who turned up at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden and the Leyton Bus Garage to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the "Regent Three" bus, better known to Londoners as the "RT". Launched in 1947, these vermilion leviathans once formed the world's biggest bus fleet. You could wait hours for one and then 7,000 would turn up at once. During the Sixties, they were steadily replaced by the Routemaster bus and disappeared entirely in 1979, but I fondly recall canoodling with a young lady on the capacious back seat on the upper deck of an RT plying the 54 route (Croydon to Woolwich).

A few days after the festivities, I popped round to Covent Garden for a personal tour of the museum's RT in order to revive happy memories of bachelor days. I was shown round by Ken Kelling, the museum's press officer, who spiced technicalities with human interest: "Everyone thinks that Cliff Richard drove a Routemaster in Summer Holiday but, in fact, it was an RT." The example on display is a 120 (Hounslow to Southall) and its lower deck is populated by mannequins. A sign points out: "The conductor is a model of Mr Tony Severin who was awarded the OBE in 1993 nominated by users of his bus route." We are not told if the model passengers received any honours.

With Mr Kelling's permission, I straddled the permanent barrier which excludes visitors from the upper deck and lowered myself onto the back seat, the scene of my romantic moment in the Blackheath area. Though most things in life seem to shrink with the passing of the years, I'm pleased to report that the back seat was as spacious as ever. Returning home, I happened to hop aboard a 24 bus (Hampstead to Pimlico) operated by the Grey-Green bus company. There was such a paucity of knee room that I could hardly squeeze myself into the back seat upstairs, never mind indulge in a spot of passion with a partner. How I pity the young of today.

Confirming my view that any encounter with the Royal Family is most ardently to be avoided, Mrs Weasel suffered a tedious and uncomfortable journey with Princess Margaret last Friday afternoon. The Royal auntie turned out to be a travelling companion on Thames Turbo's 3.20pm service from Paddington ("even today, a stronghold of the old leisured order", notes one reference work) to Worcester. To tell the truth, they weren't exactly sitting together, gossiping over the latest issue of Hello! magazine and enjoying a reviving draught of Famous Grouse whisky. HRH had a carriage to herself, so occupying one- eighth of the train. This doesn't sound too bad, except that, being a Friday, the other seven carriages were packed before they left Paddington. After taking even more passengers on board at Reading, the train was heaving. On pulling into the crowded platform at Oxford, insurrection seemed a distinct possibility. Even the legendary placidity of the British has its limits. So the hoi polloi were at last allowed into the all-but-empty carriage (the royal entourage was still safely sealed off in the First Class section). At Worcester Shrub Hill Station, the monarchic sibling plus Lady-in-Waiting and security man, who came in handy for carrying a mountain of luggage, finally disgorged amid much bowing and scraping. "Oh look, it's Margaret," gushed a female passenger. "I thought the carriage was empty because it was carrying a prisoner." "Nah," yawned my jaded partner, "just a princess."

The range of knowledge of Weasel readers never ceases to amaze me. A few weeks ago, I remarked on my discovery of the anarchic term "to feague", which applied mainly to horses and meant (literally) to "ginger up". Gordon Thorburn, of Appleby-in-Westmoreland, has written in to point out that an account of this practice occurs in his book about the famous local horse fair (The Appleby Rai, Fido Publishing, pounds 8.95). Without going into unsavoury details, the tale involves the reinvigoration of a recalcitrant nag ("the slug of all time") for an important horse show in the Forties: "`Nip into the house,' my grandfather said to me, `and get me them snuff bellows. And see your grandmother and ask her for a small handful of ginger powder'." The result was "a top trotting horse, all spirit and flash, its forelegs going like the Tiller Girls... It won its class and then it won the best in the show." What a shame that the same technique cannot be used on the horseless carriage

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