The Weasel

Inspired by the ribbed bean of the kola nut, the bottle is "a mythopoetic combination of entrepreneurial vision and artisan genius". (Mr Bayley ignores the inconvenient fact that most Coke is now sold in cans and plastic torpedoes.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Do you know anyone who drinks Coca-Cola? The question occurred to me at the Design Museum the other day while taking a peek at a new display with the enticing title "The Coca-Cola Bottle Exhibition". The show was created by "design guru" Stephen Bayley, recently given responsibility for ensuring that there is something to go inside Sir Richard Rogers' overblown Millennium Dome. He has certainly generated a large quantity of frothy tosh to fill the Design Museum. According to Mr Bayley, the old-fashioned Coke container is nothing less than "the shape of the century". Inspired by the ribbed bean of the kola nut, the bottle is "a mythopoetic combination of entrepreneurial vision and artisan genius". (Mr Bayley ignores the inconvenient fact that most Coke is now sold in cans and plastic torpedoes.)

"Since 1916," we learn, "the Coca-Cola Company has manufactured more than 840 billion contour bottles," so someone must be guzzling the stuff. All I can say is it's not me. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've ever tasted this sticky gloop - and I don't need any digits at all to count the number of times I've managed to finish a glassful. Despite being "the most successful American business ever", as far as I'm concerned, Coca-Cola's ranking in the fizz biz is somewhere between Vimto and "Tizer the Appetiser". Mind you, Mr Bayley suggests that swigging the liquid is not the main point. "Sure, it may be delicious and refreshing," he pontificates, "but astonishing global acceptance has been at least as much to do with brilliant packaging as with taste."

Hammering home the message, much of the exhibition is devoted to photos of various celebs in close proximity to the celebrated phial. There are some fairly obvious inclusions from the Coca-Cola heartland such as Sir Cliff Richard, Charlton Heston, Dwight D Eisenhower and Bill and Hillary Clinton. But others are rather more surprising. I had not previously associated Frank Sinatra with soft drink of any kind. (The crooner famously opined of teetotalism: "Imagine waking up in the morning and thinking that's the best you're gonna feel all day.") John Huston and Mae West are another pair of unlikely imbibers, though, in fact, they appear in a still from the film Myra Breckinridge. But, for my money, the least probable Coke sippers are the deceased comedians, Arthur "Hello, playmates" Askey and Tommy "You lucky people" Trinder. Why on earth are these stalwarts of the British music hall slurping the syrupy produce of Atlanta rather than a spot of brown ale? It is interesting to note how many of the celebs in the photos sensibly prefer to have some liquid other than Coca-Cola in their bottles. Steve McQueen goes for milk, while Sir "Tel" Conran prefers a rare vintage. Most tellingly, when Miss Atlanta splashed a jeroboam of Coke over TWA's inaugural flight to her home town in 1958, "simple brown liquid was used instead of Coke to protect the aluminium fuselage". It is, apparently, quite safe to pour inside the human fuselage.

In order to pad out the snaps, the exhibition bizarrely includes the accoutrements of those doing the drinking: Ray Charles' shades, George Harrison's camera, Stirling Moss's racing car. Perhaps the most striking of these objects is a frock designed by Bruce Oldfield. "His gowns flatter the women who wear them because of his innate understanding of the valleys and inclines of the female form," smarms Stephen Bayley. "The same unconscious understanding of natural curves helped make the Coca-Cola bottle so distinctive." Crumbs. When such Freudian stirrings are unbottled, it is high time to mount on offensive against the alien effervescence. Arouse yourself, dandelion! Stir your roots, burdock! Britain needs you at this hour!

There's no denying it - having your product launched by Vogue Promotions, the marketing wing of Vogue magazine, ensures wall-to-wall pulchritude. Novu, the ritzy Japanese restaurant where Honda's new CR-V "sport utility vehicle" was introduced last week, was packed with lean lovelies. The car company certainly got plenty of babes for its bucks. Underlying this unlikely symbiosis is Honda's belief that "the young, independent woman" will be a major purchaser of its pounds 17,000 funmobile. Unfortunately, I scarcely heard the vehicle mentioned from the moment I entered the restaurant to the moment I left. The guests were keener to talk about Dolce & Gabbana rather than the CR-V's "monocoque construction with extensive cross-bracing and stiffening members". Similarly, Manolo Balhnik took precedence over the "innovative inertial-axis engine mounting system". Maybe such dirty talk is uncool in haute couture circles.

Nor did the Vogue vanguard take much interest in the tidal wave of glistening sushi which emerged from the restaurant kitchen. Japanese food may be fashionable - but nothing's as fashionable as not eating. Fortunately, I discovered a fellow sushi addict in Sally Cartwright, the svelte publisher of Hello! magazine. We tucked in with gusto but Ms Cartwright would not, however, be persuaded of the merits of raw sea- urchin, despite my revelation that only the creature's sex organs are eaten. "Tastes like something from under a pier," she sniffed. We were joined by Lord Strathcarron, motoring correspondent of The Field since 1954. "Lots of pretty young gels around," observed the 73-year-old baron, while declining a goblet of raw sea bass. "Must pop home for m'fish- cake. I use a scooter in town, you know. Honda. Can't beat 'em." But the company's president, Toshino Ishino, peering in some bemusement at the glamorous throng, did not hear this unique encomium.

Seeing a TV advert for Legoland, I was tempted to take the Weasel family for a visit to the "Pirate's Goldwash". But a phone call revealed that there is no rich vein of ore below the theme park. Despite being a "massively popular" feature, the glittery nuggets which turn up in such unlikely profusion are not the real thing. "Pirate's Pyrites" would be more accurate. The young prospectors deceived by "fool's gold" are not the first to have their hopes dashed while seeking the mother lode. When the Weasel family toured the Colorado Rockies a few years ago, Mrs W passed a happy hour panning for treasure near the town of Cripple Creek. After a while, she gave a shriek and pointed gleefully into her pan. It was gold all right, but molecules rather than troy ounces. The pickings are richer in the neighbouring community of Victor - though you need a pneumatic drill rather than a prospecting pan, because the very sidewalks are made of low-grade gold ore. With streets literally paved with gold, it is one of the saddest, down-at-heel joints in the American West. You could find a moral there somewhere.

No sooner had American Pastoral, Philip Roth's acclaimed new novel, arrived in Weasel Villas than Mrs W pounced. "Oh, I just heard about this on Radio 4," she yelped. "Giveusit'ere." With unexpected passion, my spouse started to thumb through this dark epic based on the life of a New Jersey glove manufacturer. Most reviewers have commented on the many pages given to a detailed account of the trade. After reading about the tanning process, the cutting room, the stitching and myriad other technicalities ("The prixseam. Spear points. Dehairing. Pickling. The grain finish. Skeleton linings..."), Mrs W tossed the volume aside. "There's lots in it about glove- making," she explained, looking a trifle disappointed. "On Kaleidoscope, I thought they said `love-making'".

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