The Weasel

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I don't know how to say this without incurring the sniggers of the ungodly, so I'll just say it anyway: I have fallen in love with an item of furniture.

This is not, let me assure you, some camp extravaganza of tallboys and closets. This is the real thing. I am like a Renaissance hack who has eyeballed Beatrice in the street. I am like Cressida, shortly after spotting Troilus in the crowd, glowing with manly thinginess. I have become a stay- in recluse at Weasel Villas, a guilty obsessive. I have conceived a passion for a wardrobe.

It happened like this. Shortly after moving house, it occurred to me that I had nowhere, except the wall, to hang my clothes, Mrs W having colonised every inch of cupboard space for her camphorated mountain of tulle and iron-silk taffeta. I was philosophical about it, telling myself I've never owned a cupboard because of my crazy beatnik ways, my wherever-I-lay-my-hat waywardness. But now the outlaw days are yielding to maturity (I reasoned), it might just be time to get one: Plato's Wardrobe, everything arranged just so, a kind of sartorial Filofax.

So I set off in search of this wonderful object. It was a wilderness out there. Antiques shops and furniture salesrooms, all featured the same huge and draughty nine-foot wooden dungeons ponging of dead woodworm, decrepit French armoires festooned with gesso cupidons, rickety upright steamer trunks and verminous British Empire sarcophagi. You'd no more think of consigning your little family of trousers to their chilly embrace than you would of hurling them into the Thames.

Nearing defeat, I entered a store called Oola Boola near Tower Bridge, stated my business and was listlessly waved to the far corner. There a small, stout, friendly-looking walnut thing stood, nonchalantly, dispensing an air of quiet conceit. I turned the key, tugged the handle softly and...

Somewhere a choir started singing that bit from Fidelio when the prisoners are released. Golden sunlight, remarkable for December, streamed through me. Tiny bluebirds orbited my cranium. A paradisical vision of mirrors, glass cabinets, teak drawers and silver hinges appeared. I unlocked the other door which, on opening, pulled out a long leather strap from which depended a score of rosewood hangers. A metal flange advised me it housed "Opera Hats". Another notice sternly admonished that the front rail was for plus fours, the other rails for breeches. Secret compartments concealed "Dress Vests", whatever they may be. Little plastic cups encourage you to tidy away your collar studs...

At floor level, there was a lid marked "Sundries" with a hole to put your finger through. Yanking out the lid, I discovered half-a-dozen miniaturised cricket bats. What could they be for? (some Edwardian spanking ritual?) I asked the chap. "Tie stiffeners, sir," he said with the air of one bored with identifying Big Ben for American tourists.

Now it's moved into Weasel Villas. Since we've been, as it were, together, our relationship has taken some odd turnings. After the initial rapture of cramming all my clothes inside it, I suffered a crise d'estime. I became convinced my fusty old threads just weren't good enough for my new possession and I'd have to buy it some Valentino frock coats. Now I'm afflicted with a new quandary. After two weeks of filing my life into its woody depths, I have a bad desire. I want to move into the thing, to eat and sleep there, to set up a secondary home, tucked away, filed, pressed, hung up and in my proper place at last.

But - damn it all - in which compartment?

Where did all the cabs go? Throughout the season formerly known as Christmas, it was possible to walk right across central London in the early hours without encountering a single taxi with its light on. Perhaps they were all block-booked by big City firms, once again displaying their flair for social responsibility by monopolising a scarce resource. But I suspect that at Christmas, in accordance with some Biblical injunction, all Hackney carriages go back to their place of birth and stay there.

Either way it means that even such a natural loner as the Weasel was forced to take public transport. It proved an education. Passengers on the so-called "milk train", I discovered, leaving London at 1am, proved to be fuelled by a more volatile liquid and were to be avoided. Devotees of the night bus a couple of hours later, on the other hand, were young, sober, used to staying up late and perfectly amiable.

A shame you can't say the same for the drivers. Given that most passengers on these buses are Continental visitors, it was amazing to see the surly way the driver responded to any request to know where the bus was going. Some were almost in tears. Was this, they were thinking, the country of Shakespeare? Of Jane Austen? Of Drusilla Beyfus?

A trio of Scandanavians, however, were made of sterner stuff. "Where does this bus go?" asked their leader in clear, unaccented English, a bit of a faux pas when trying to ingratiate yourself with the natives. Reluctantly, the driver named an obscure suburban hellhole not yet covered in Swedish GCSE Geography. Patiently the flaxen trio tried again. "We want to go to Soho. Does the bus go near?" "Trafalgar Square and walk," grunted the ambassador for our nation shortly. By this time, a certain hostility was beginning to bubble up from the other passengers. "Oh dear," said one of the three, as he led his friends upstairs, "I think we'd better travel in the tourist section..."

One group who'll be wishing for a better New Year will be the Metropolitan Police. In an effort to make people love them, they've been discouraged from stopping people for simple traffic violations - which may be why life on the roads around the capital has been more excitingly Darwinian than usual this winter.

All the same, it was gratifying to see, in the aftermath of the Brixton Riot (that's the 1995 full-length gangsta remix version), a number of uniformed officers handing out glossy leaflets headed "No Excuses". Sadly they proved to be part of a winter-long anti-crime initiative. If the police had been handing out a leaflet about Brixton's specific troubles and the way they'd been handled, they'd have had to call it "Nothing But Excuses".

For years I've been a dedicated motorway wool-gatherer, particularly when it comes to M-road signs. I like the one on the M40 which helpfully promises, "Emergency WC, 25 miles". Driving into Harlow New Town, and noting a sign saying "Harlow" and then, a mile later, another saying "Harlow", I've often wondered why there isn't a third sign enquiring, "Who's Yer Lady Friend?" Driving in America, I always enjoy the injunction, "Stop You are Going Wrong Way" and wonder if there's one for cars coming in the opposite direction. But lately, it's the deer that have been preying on my mind.

Anyone who cruises regularly down the M4 will have noticed the growing number of signs suggesting that vast herds of fallow deer are poised to spring across the motorway, to be reduced to venison jam under one's squealing radials. The warning signs appear, I'd say, once a mile all the way from Reading to Swindon. But has anybody ever seen a whisker of a deer anywhere between these twin Arcadias? And if you were a deer, looking to do some freelance gambolling, would you choose Swindon? I resolve to get to the bottom of it in 1996. Happy New Year

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