Years went by without me finding the figurine. But, woozily masticating my slice last January, I was surprised to come across a tiny object. At last I was the King - but it turned out to be a far from edifying experience. Though my princedom lasted no longer than the pudding course, I became the object of much fawning and toadying. My opinion was sought on matters for which I was ill-informed and untutored. I took advantage of my position for a spot of canoodling with a comely guest who, prior to my surprise coronation, had viewed me with rather a cold eye. I spouted all sorts of specious nonsense and, astonishingly, people took notice. For no other reason than eating the right bit of cake, the whole world revolved about me. Thank God that nothing like that could happen in reality.
Away, away, from men and towns
To the wild wood and the downs
It was with these thoughts in mind that Mrs W and I set out for Horsham shopping centre, the unlikely setting for a pounds 100,000 memorial to Percy Bysshe Shelley, which was inaugurated in November. You can't say that Horsham acted with unseemly haste in commemorating the rhyming radical, who was born there 204 years ago, but Sainsbury's stumped up the wherewithal and now Rising Universe, Angela Connor's awesome watery tribute, stands cheek-by-jowl with a McDonald's outlet. I doubt if the great poet, who was an ardent vegetarian, would appreciate this proximity. Big Mac addicts would do well to muse on Shelley's prose-work On the Vegetable System of Diet, where he expressed trenchant views on carnivores: "How shall we inspire the miserable man with kindness whose social feelings are jaundiced by a torture which lurks within his vitals..."
While negotiating the perilous path from a multi-storey car-park, I lost Mrs W in a Monsoon. This was not a Shelley-style demise, I hasten to add, she merely disappeared into a branch of the fashion chain for which she has a ruinous fondness. Rising Universe turned out to be hard to miss. Amid the utilitarian architecture of the modern shopping centre, there was an opalescent sphere, perhaps 15 feet in diameter, partially shrouded by a beige skin of some concrete-like material. This singular object stands in a large stone basin and is surrounded by four miniature versions of itself, which rotate in their own small effervescent fountains.
On a draughty Sunday morning, shoppers were transfixed by this monumental assemblage - not all in wonderment, it has to be said. One grizzled party repeatedly barked, "terrible, terrible", as he circumnavigated the globe. Inevitably, someone used the dreary expression "monstrous carbuncle". But most Horshamians seemed to be rather impressed by their new acquisition.
The only drawback was that Rising Universe was doing little in the way of rising. I knew that six and a half tons of water were supposed to emerge in the course of an eight-minute cycle, but whatever was due to happen, didn't. The great globe unsteadily descended on its column, then stuck fast a few feet in the air, a weedy trickle of water drizzling from its base. "There have been a few teething problems," acknowledged one observer. "It's a brilliant idea, but they're going to have to get it right." Attempts to overcome these defects have not been assisted by the occasional propensity of certain local elements to add Fairy Liquid to the fountain or purloin the small rotating spheres.
By this stage, I had been joined by Mrs W, so laden with carrier bags that she resembled a Peruvian pack-mule. "I don't think that anything is going to happen," I muttered. "Let's give it another minute," she insisted - and I'm glad she did. Shortly afterwards, an explosion of water emerged from the base of the sphere with a mighty roar. Then, a touch unsteadily, it began to rise like a creaky old space-ship, with water billowing out to form a thunderous trail. It was as if one of the poet's ambitious metaphors had suddenly been made flesh. Even the cranky unpredictability of the device is somehow Shelleyan. I'm sure he would adore Ms Connor's creation. At any rate, the fountain should serve to awaken Horsham's interest in its most famous son. Not that this has happened yet, as I discovered in Hammick's bookshop a few yards from the fountain when I inquired after Richard Holmes' spell-blinding biography of the poet. A young assistant tapped away at her computer. " S.H.E.L.L.E.Y," she said hesitantly. "Is that how you spell it?"
The fact is that poets don't see the world like the rest of us. In Allen Ginsberg's Journals: 1954-58, just out from Penguin, I came across this stanza, which crops up in a poetic description of a visit to London: The sun slanting down/ against the flat front/ modern white building/ Daily Express Fleet Street. Dating from 1922, this gleaming steel and glass structure is perhaps the most famous black building in Britain. I'm well aware of poetic licence, but for one of them to say, literally, that black is white seems to be taking this dispensation to an extreme.
Surely "celebrity" pasta sauces must rank high among the most inexplicable food products of these foolish times. There can be few culinary items which are easier or more satisfying to make, yet some deluded souls are evidently snapping up the Loyd Grossman sauce range at pounds 1.49 for a 350g bottle (equivalent to 42.6p per 100 grams). Are they somehow unaware that the main constituent of these sauces, Italian plum tomatoes, are also available in the supermarket at 11p per 400 gram tin (equivalent to 2.75p per 100 grams)? Consumers of these over-priced condiments must somehow believe that the imprimatur of the Boston vowel-strangler, who smirks horribly on the label of his product, is a guarantee of superior quality. In this, I'm afraid, they are mistaken.
Take his version of Puttanesca sauce, the classic ragout, which should include tomatoes, anchovies capers, black olives and cayenne pepper. "For correct Italian style," the label admonishes, "remember to skip the parmesan." Quite correct - but perhaps I might point out to Mr Grossman that "for correct Italian style, remember to include some capers", which have been inexplicably omitted from his formulation. Similarly, he might be a little less stingy with the "extra virgin olive oil", which appears on the list of ingredients after "garlic".
Though the label informs us that "Puttanesca's fame has spread far beyond its Neapolitan birthplace", Loyd remains curiously coy about the intriguing name of the sauce. Being entirely made up of items from the stock cupboard, it was apparently a favourite supper dish for the working girls of Naples after a hard night on the streets. Yes, I'm afraid that puttanesca means "prostitute" or, if you prefer, "tart". Yet Loyd, who fancies himself as a bit of a food journalist, chooses to draw a veil over this interesting fact. How oddReuse content