I can boast of setting foot on three of the bridges in the exhibition (the real versions that is, not the models): Robert Adams's handsome Pulteney Bridge in Bath, the Rialto bridge in Venice (lined with posh gewgaw shops, but handy for the fish market) and Florence's Ponte Vecchio, which supports no fewer than 47 establishments - at least, that was the number when it opened in 1345. I can't say I bought anything there since they are mostly stratospherically pricey jewellers and up-market tourist traps. The exhibition informed me that, as usual, I'd turned up too late. For the first 250 years of the bridge's existence, the premises were occupied by grocers, butchers and similar worthwhile enterprises, but in 1593 "Grand Duke Ferdinand I de' Medici decreed that these should be replaced by luxury trades such as gold-and silversmithery and money-changing". Obviously, Ferdy was no foodie.
As a water-loving creature, I would certainly splash out in order to live on a bridge, though I doubt if the same applies to Mrs W, who is inclined to complain about draughts. The suggestion has emerged from one quarter that instead of using a modern design - the ones on display tend to be more challenging than comfy - any new Thames crossing should be based on the Old London Bridge, which supported a wide variety of buildings over the centuries. If the Globe Theatre has returned to London, why not reach it via a bridge of the same period? As well as being good for the tourist trade, it would provide a wide selection of gabled and turreted des. res. in the heart of the City. However, it is a matter for conjecture how closely the proposed reconstruction would follow the model in the Royal Academy, which features 14 (I counted them) tiny heads stuck on poles, looking rather like pins in a pin-cushion. If this practise were to be re-instated, City headhunters might be viewed in a quite different light.
Following my account of Mrs W's encounter with a Finnish student who was vainly searching London for Jim Morrison's grave, a reader kindly wrote to inform me about a similar meeting he had with two young Belgians. They were hitchhiking towards London when he picked them up near Folkestone. What were they planning to do in Britain, he inquired. "Well," one smiled wistfully, "we want to go to a place near Oxford. We were too young for the Woodstock festival but we want to see the site where it was held." My correspondent had to break it to them that the Woodstock they wanted was several thousand miles away in upstate New York. After that, he recalls, the two were "somewhat quiet" for the rest of the journey to the capital.
While on the topic of Woodstock, perhaps I might add that, in contrast to the unfortunate Belgians, the small Oxfordshire town contained rather more than I expected. I must have been there a half a dozen times to visit the pubs and pop round the bookshops. On my last visit, however, I decided for the first time to venture round the corner at the end of the town's high street. Blenheim Palace came as quite a surprise.
Is anyone else as galled as I am by the patronising attitude of publishers who price their books at one penny under a round number of pounds? There seems something seedy and spiv-like about a book selling for pounds 9.99 instead of an honest, four-square pounds 10.00. To my eyes, a price with lots of nines at the end looks higher than one with several noughts. I'm pleased to say that several outfits, including Quartet and Pimlico, have chosen to come clean and price their books in round pounds. The classy new series of Papermacs have sensibly opted for full quids. Penguins are in two minds about it, even with similar books. For example, David Wheatcroft's dynastic history The Hapsburgs sells for pounds 8.99, while the three vols of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire go for pounds 15 apiece. The most surprising example of the penny-off syndrome appeared in The Spectator last week, where the acclaimed 34-volume Macmillan Dictionary of Art was offered at pounds 4,999 - as if, by knocking off one pound, bibliophiles would somehow be lulled into thinking that the set cost around four thousand quid. In fact, this sum is a misprint - the correct price (until 31 December) is pounds 4,900 - but somehow I still don't feel tempted.
Though I normally cross the road when I encounter such grotesques, last week I headed directly towards a female homunculus dressed in a spherical red outfit, decorated with disturbingly huge, fluttering eyes. Jittering on the pavement outside a Covent Garden brasserie, she was impersonating a cranberry. After exchanging pleasantries with the over-sized fruit ("Pip- pip"), I went inside for the launch of National Cranberry Week. "I saw you talking to Miss Cranberry," said Irene Sorenson of Ocean Spray, the American cranberry co-operative. "I brought her over from Cranberry World in Massachusetts."
"Isn't she rather hiding her light under a bushel?" I suggested, glancing at the scarlet robe from which two slender, red-tighted legs protruded.
"I brought over the outfit, not the person," explained Ms Sorenson, smiling rather tautly. After this initial hiccough, she more than fulfilled my curiosity about the berry. It is one of only three indigenous American fruits (I suppose you'll want to know: the blueberry and the Concord grape). It was introduced to the first settlers by native Americans. The export trade began very early. Charles II was particularly fond of them. Native Americans used crushed cranberries for face paint (a marketing opportunity not yet exploited by Ocean Spray). They are grown in fields known as "bogs", which are flooded in order to facilitate the harvesting of the floating fruit. Just as my cranium felt to be overflowing with cranberries, Ms Sorenson broke off to introduce the star of the proceedings, an effusive cook called Aynsley Harriot, who was there to whisk up a few cranberry cocktails.
Though previously unknown to me, Mr Harriot turned out to be an ornament of daytime TV. His persona is like a cross between Bruce Forsyth and Little Richard. "Cranberry juice is good for the waterworks," he trilled. "We like to be regular, don't we ladies and gentlemen?" Shimmying like a New Orleans high yaller gal, Mr Harriot churned up a vodka and cranberry concoction called "Sex on the Beach" which he presented to his former TV colleague Marguerite Patten. "You'll lurve it," he serenaded the doyenne of British cookery. "It's soooooo gooooood." The stolid representatives of Ocean Spray looked on in some bemusement at this unrestrained display of English campness - but it has to be said that Mr Harriot's salaciously named cocktails were dangerously moreish for a Monday lunchtime. I didn't see if Miss Cranberry indulged - too much like cannibalism, I suppose.Reuse content