The Weasel

`There are no paintings, no rugs, no curtains. No visible taps, switches, latches or knobs. No sofas, easy-chairs or day-beds. No books. No antiques. No things'. It looks great, of course, if a trifle monastic
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Indy Lifestyle Online
London leads the world in nothing. I'm sorry if that sounds a bit negative. What I mean is that the British capital is at the forefront of the fashion for minimalism in interior design. Though no-one I know has managed to achieve the spartan emptiness which you see repeated endlessly in magazine spreads, I am aware that it has been around for a while. I recall reading, a few years ago, about the white austerity of Doris Saatchi's London home, which even extends to the lavatory. (New visitors have to be given a guided tour of the smallest room so they know where the toilet roll is secreted.) Our unexpected knack for nothingness has even been celebrated in a book called London Minimum by Herbert Ypma, who notes that the capital has "become the world's hot spot for architecture and interiors that embody the adage `less is more'."

The leading proponent of the cult of emptiness is the Yorkshire-born architect John Pawson, whose Notting Hill house takes the notion to an extreme. Mr Ypma describes this cosy nook as follows: "There are no paintings, pictures or drawings on the walls; no rugs, carpets or mats on the floors; no curtains, drapes or shutters on the windows. No visible taps, switches, latches or knobs. No skirting-boards or door jambs. No sofas, easy-chairs or day-beds. No books. No antiques. No things. Just space and light."

It looks great, of course, if a trifle monastic. I'd go in for the minimal myself, except for the fact that I can't afford to have nothing. Far from being free, nothing comes with a hefty price- tag. For much the same reason that obesity and poverty tend to go together, it is remarkably economical to fill a house with clutter. Mr Ypma's favourite maxim should actually read "less costs more".

If your house is anything like ours, you'll know that books and newspapers reproduce in grotesque numbers by supernatural bifurcation. In Weasel Villas, every kitchen shelf is filled to overflowing with trendy condiment bottles of obscure manufacture. Every cupboard is crammed with teetering piles of crockery. Every horizontal surface is occupied by a nightmarish army of ornaments and trinkets, which grow, like mould or lichen, when no-one is watching. Recently, in a token gesture towards the austere, Mrs W managed to clear a single window-sill. But within a couple of weeks, it has become inexplicably cluttered with a pot-plant, a stack of computer discs, a clockwork toy in the shape of a birthday cake, a tarnished cocktail- shaker and, oh yes, a book about minimalism.

Last week, my eye was taken by an advertisement covering most of a page in The Spectator. "Share in the next exciting chapter of British film history, King Lear by William Shakespeare," it enticingly declared, above a Victorian painting of a dying king in armour being tended by one of his knights.

Always fancying myself as a cigar-chomping movie mogul, wearing a camel- hair coat with a doxie or two on my arm, I read on. The advert invited readers to purchase a pounds 500 debenture in "the next major film from the makers of Macbeth". Along with "a share of any net profit of the film", potential investors in "King Lear plc" were entitled to "appear as an extra in the film" together with "a listings in the credits".

Though it all sounds a little like the hilarious film of the life of John Wesley which features in Evelyn Waugh's satirical novel Vile Bodies ("the most important All-Talkie, super-religious film to be produced in this country by British artists and British capital ... Nothing has been omitted that would contribute to the meticulous accuracy of every detail"), in fact, the people behind King Lear are a pukka outfit called Cromwell Productions who have merely hit on an unusual way of raising capital. The company's feature film of Macbeth, which stars Jason Connery, is due to reach the cinema screen in May.

Like Waugh's fictitious film producer, Cromwell Productions lays great stress on authenticity, aiming for "a believable historical setting sympathetic to the setting of the play". So I was somewhat surprised by the illustration which appears in both The Spectator advert for the film of King Lear and on the cover of the glossy prospectus issued by the company. Though undoubtedly of a moribund monarch, unfortunately it is not King Lear. After a little research, I discovered that the work, painted in 1862 by the highly regarded artist John Mulcaster Carrick, is entitled Morte D'Arthur. Perhaps I'll hang on to my money until Cromwell Productions gets round to filming The Sword in the Stone.

My first breath-taking sight of Comet Hale-Bopp took place on the terrace of the Oxo Tower Brasserie overlooking the Thames. Unlike last year's Comet Hyakutake, which, while impressive enough, was more of a smudge in the sky, Hale-Bopp is the real thing. Bright white with a streaming tail, it looks like the comet portrayed on the Bayeaux Tapestry or inscribed on champagne corks. Aptly enough, this happened to be the drink I was guzzling while engaged on my astronomical activities. Near me on the terrace were two other stellar bodies, the former Radio One disc jockey, Mr Chris Evans, and his friend, the former Radio Five Live football critic, Mr Danny Baker. We were all there courtesy of PG Tips, which was launching its celebrated pyramidical tea-bags. I was hitherto unaware that Messrs Evans and Baker were such great advocates of the cup that cheers but does not inebriate. Mr Evans loudly expressed his appreciation of the sensational firework display, launched from a barge on the river, which celebrated this great advance in tea-bag technology. Quite right too. Temporarily eclipsing Hale-Bopp, it was pounds 25,000 wonderfully well spent.

The expense of the pyrotechnics was a negligible speck compared to the estimated pounds 30 million which Brooke Bond spent on developing the paper pyramids. The London launch of the innovatory infusion cost a total of pounds 8.5 million. I should add that it is not the strange mystical powers associated with pyramids which prompted the company to make this investment. "We looked at all sorts of shapes - cylinders, globes, cubes - before coming up with the tetrahedron," admitted a Brooke Bond boffin. "The pyramid acts like a mini-teapot. It means you don't have to squeeze the tea-bag against the side of your cup with a spoon." No doubt, generations yet unborn will praise PG Tips for this labour-saving boon, particularly if they happen to lack a teaspoon. At any rate, Brooke Bond thinks it's on to a winner. Each of the new packets carries a stern warning that the word "pyramid" is now a trademark. I only hope they've told the pharaohs.

Like myself, The Sunday Telegraph's food columnist, Omnivore, is fascinated by the fashion for famous people to append their names to food products. In a somewhat belated discovery of the pricey packets of vegetable chips marketed as "The Stamp Collection", he notes that "Terence Stamp has joined the growing number of celebrities including Robert Redford, Linda McCartney, Loyd Grossman and Gary Rhodes whose faces appear on the packaging of various foods." Well, I'm not saying that Omnivore has bitten off more than he can chew, but the Robert Redford range of foodstuffs is news to me (though "Redford's Radishes" has a nice ring to it). I am, however, well acquainted with Paul Newman's successful line in pasta sauce and salsa. Considering the cinematic partnership of the two stars, such a mistake is easy to make. For future reference, Omnivore should bear in mind that Paul Newman was the one who played Brunch Cassidy

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