They must be mad. My spavined, pigeon-chested frame is as far from Michelangelo proportions as always. The recent holiday consumption of exotic vegetable dishes and rudimentarily distilled wines has left my intestines churning like the glopiter-glopiter machine in How to Murder your Wife. Frankly, I'm a mess. But still they marvel. And why? Because I have acquired the great secret weapon of factitious beauty. I've got a tan.
It stole over me, really. I didn't realise it was happening. Covered in ruinously expensive Sun Factor 98, I lay in the sun for a week enjoying the warmth but disdaining the rays. Let the sunshine in, by all means, but not the melanoma. And all the time, the sneaky thing was spreading o'er my lovely upper half beneath the slimy film of factor cream. I wasn't a slice of white bread toasting under a grill, more a beautiful photograph gradually developing.
Frankly, I find the whole thing farcical. Indeed, meeting the sun-bed fraternity was enough to convince me that solar worship could not happily co-exist with sanity. This came home to me when I was lying on the beach beside a chap in a thong and the merest smear of Factor 2 to whom I initially remarked that, given his astonishing colour, he had no need of real sunlight. "That's where you're wrong," he groaned. "I bear the mark of the UVA-sun victim."
With infinite regret, he raised his arms so I could see that, though bronzed front and back, his body was striped down the sides with untanned flesh, the colour of blanquette-de-veau. Seen horizontally from a distance, he looked like a sandwich, possibly Brie-on-rye. "You can't lie sideways on a sunbed because one's, er, hips stick up too much," he explained sadly. "So I have to go abroad."
Three days later, I saw him again. By now his entire body was a rich, French-polished teak. Mission accomplished? Yes, he agreed, much better. So you'll be heading back to England? "Nah," he said, "I'm going to lie here and go black..."
You will have noticed that the Weasel now resides in a setting of unparalleled loveliness. The only thing that has remained the same is the name of my little publication. You can understand the desire for continuity, of course. And then there is the cost aspect: new blocks of rubber for the John Bull printing outfit don't come cheap.
However, someone has kindly lent me an ingenious computer programme which proposes a way out of the difficulty. We can have a new name while retaining something of the old and even re-using the same letters. The programme does anagrams.
After much electronic huffing and puffing, Independent Magazine presents no two-word anagrams, but no fewer than 36 with three words. Of course, not all are suitable. No one would, for instance, want to be associated with a magazine called Deepening Nazi Tandem, one of this electronic device's surreal suggestions.
On the other hand, Antennae Impeded Zing! does have a certain go-ahead, cyberspace something. I shall put it forward for the editor's consideration.
Something oddly threatening has appeared in my postbag. It's a box from a brewing company containing i) a bottle of beer and ii) a copy of The Trial by Franz Kafka. Where did it come from? Had I ordered it from some mail order company? Could it be that Kafka's trustees, rejoicing at the news that their man's work will enjoy an extra 20 years of lucrative copyright in the wake of a new EU ruling, have decided to celebrate by distributing pints of wallop to readers all over the Continent?
The truth is sadder and simpler. Along with the box came a jolly publicity handout, explaining the connection thus: "In Britain, Kafka has always been available, but the policies of the former [Czech] regime have until now denied us the opportunity to enjoy another genuine pleasure of Prague - the city's favourite beer, Staropramen." That right, it's a PR pitch that says - quite literally - you've read the book, now try the beer. "Like Kafka," they conclude with magnificent chutzpah, "it leaves a lasting impression and we urge you to 'Trial' it..."
Is this, I wonder, how life is going to be from now on? I mean, Kafka and beer? You would as soon find Peter Lilley on the cover of Loaded magazine as you'd find poor neurasthenic, tremulous, bat-quivering Franz K hanging out with the lads in the Old Market, sinking litres of Heldenleben, or whatever it was the Praguites drank in the Twenties. Read my lips: Kafka did not drink beer.
On the other hand, the inappropriate advertising pitch could turn out to be a stroke of genius. I look forward to the arrival, any day now, of a box containing i) the Journals of Virginia Woolf and ii) a Gossard Wonderbra.
The Weasel has seen the future, and it's whelks. All right, not whelks exactly, but mussels, the staple food in Brussels, served with chips and mayonnaise. When the whole of Europe is run from that unlovely city, as it surely will be, such fare will be compulsory. No doubt we'll get to like it.
I am moved to these thoughts by a flying visit to the European Commission, which was a breeze, once I'd found it. Previously all Belgian roads led to the Berlaymont building, a giant three-winged monolith just outside the centre of town. Now, though, the Berlaymont is closed. The discovery of asbestos has left it stranded, like some giant plastic widget ripped untimely from its can of Tetley's. The Eurocrats are elsewhere.
Tempting though it might be to think of them thrown on to the streets, nothing could be further from the truth. You don't have to go far down any street in Brussels before finding that pretty blue flag with the gold stars. An informant tells me the Commission has temporarily replaced the Berlaymont with no fewer than 56 buildings.
Reports of luxurious accommodation, however, seem a little exaggerated. The department I visited (after being made to hand over my passport at the security desk in the absence of an acceptable carte d'identite) was occupying a perfectly ordinary bit of office space above a restaurant with the charming pan-European name "Maison de la pizza".
The only thing you could say was that there was a lot of space for, well, very few people. "Where is everybody?" I asked. It was a little late in the afternoon for lunch. "The director's away," came the reply. Some traditions are obviously international.
Sadly, while none of the Eurocrats is homeless, lots of other people are. Lining the road fronted by both the Berlaymont and the extraordinary new council building sit a succession of sad women in the headscarves familiar from news of the Bosnian war, some with small babies. Nobody gave them any money.
Later, on an underground train, I saw a different approach. A young woman suddenly addressed the passengers in a resonant French. "Mesdames et messieurs," she said. "Please accept my apologies for disturbing you. I am a homeless person..." And so on. Nobody gave her any money either.
Still, it proves one thing. No foreign trip, even to the land of chips and mayonnaise, is entirely without educational value. A homeless person is une personne sans abri: you never know when something like that might come in usefulReuse content