The Weasel

It has to be admitted that Blake's propensity for radiant transcendenta l visions is a mite unusual in the Anglo-Saxon character
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Have you heard about the excellent initiative to replace our dirge- like National Anthem? Repetitive as a mantra, it could well have been a joke perpetrated on the poor British by its alleged author, Henry Carey (1693-1743), a farceur who apparently committed suicide. The front-runner to replace this obsequious doggerel is William Blake's wonderful `Jerusalem'. Of course, the Women's Institute has been warbling his stirring lyric, brimming with uninhibited sexual imagery ("Bring me my arrows of desire"), for years. Blake's cussedness, belligerence and idiosyncrasy make him an ideal as national bard, though it has to be admitted that his propensity for radiant transcendental visions is a mite unusual in the Anglo-Saxon character. WB Yeats, flummoxed that the English could produce such a mystical genius, insisted that he was of Irish stock.

My sole reservation about adopting `Jerusalem' as our official ditty is the effect that the seer's posthumous stardom will have on the West Sussex seaside village of Felpham, where Blake lived for three years. Since Mrs W's mum lives there, the Weasel family can sometimes be seen on Sundays, relishing a post-prandial bicker on the promenade. According to the much-acclaimed biography of the poet by Peter Ackroyd, this was the unlikely setting where Blake wrote his famous lyric, despite the fact that "dark, satanic mills" are somewhat thin on the ground along this stretch of the south coast. The thatched cottage he rented for pounds 20 a year is still a private residence, though few obscure rhapsodists could afford it today. I hope its market value remains unaffected by Ackroyd's revelation that in 1800 the residence "was damp, since it had no cellar and was placed low on the earth between the Downs and the sea".

It cannot be said that Felpham has cashed in on its renowned resident. There are just two modest references to the poet: a small blue plaque on his former abode (a sign in the window adds "NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC"), while the lane outside is named "Blake's Road". A few years ago, I recall enjoying a refreshing Campari e Soda in the Bar Shelley at San Terranzo on the Ligurian coast, where Percy Bysshe passed his final months before heading for his watery grave, but there's no equivalent in Felpham. The rather camp restaurant on the village high street is a shrine to Marilyn Monroe. I suppose there's always a chance that the fishmonger may be transformed into "Blake's Hake" and the shoe shop might become "And Did Those Feet?" - but it seems somewhat unlikely.

Though many of the buildings are little changed since his time, it is hard to see the same Felpham as Blake. I have not managed to catch a glimpse of "a fairy funeral" consisting of "a procession of creatures, of the colour and size of green and grey grasshoppers, bearing a body laid out on a rose leaf, which they buried with songs, and then disappeared." Nor, while licking my tutti-frutti cornet outside the sea-front coffee bar, have I been fortunate enough to descry spirits of ancient poets and prophets, "majestic shadows, grey but luminous, and superior to the common height of man."

Perhaps, however, it is not a wise idea to follow in Blake's footsteps too closely when at Felpham. He concluded his time there by having a punch- up with a soldier, whom he discovered prodding round his garden. Five months later, our hero was up before the Beak at Chichester, accused of spying. He got off, but Sussex folk still seem wary of Britain's greatest visionary.

I have been somewhat perturbed by those bank adverts encouraging student customers. You know the ones, they feature some brainy young cove, pictured with intelligence beaming from every pore. Though the copy runs to only a few lines, they are enough to induce a mild queasiness. "At three, she was playing Mozart. By six, she was fluent in French. At 10, she had `A' levels in Spanish and German." The ad goes on to point out that this prodigy has now arrived at university and been sensible enough to open an account with Barclays.

Deep suspicion of any form of intellectual attainment has traditionally been a mainstay of the British. Can our national temperament have changed so radically that the swot has now become an alluring role model for the young? If the groves of academe are really thronged with Fotherington- Thomas types ("Hello clouds. Hello sky"), I mourn the loss of such long- standing student skills such as the accurate placement of a water-bomb or the rolling of a 12-skin spliff.

I remain puzzled by the mature appearance of the young woman in the advert. Since she obtained the required qualifications for university at the tender age of 10, what on earth has she been doing in the interim? She may possibly have spent the last eight years just lolling around, watching Telly Addicts and reading nothing more demanding than Smash Hits. On the other hand, her facility for languages may have led her to seek employment in the murky boites of Pigalle or the Reeperbahn.

She certainly appears unsullied by the dark side of life - but she doesn't look much of a swot either. There are no jam-jar specs. Her brow is uncorrugated by furrows of concentration. Of course, she may not be a student at all. After all, certain other adverts maintain that Cheri Lunghi is the boss of Kenco and Nigel Hawthorne and Bill Conti are senior execs at Vauxhall. You can never be sure of anything in the illusory world of advertising. Did she really play Mozart at three? Even Mozart himself only just managed that.

Though I wish his re-born publication all the best, I wonder if Peter MacKay, the editor of Punch, was wise in declaring his aim of creating a British version of the New Yorker. British editors have repeatedly attempted to import its Manhattan magic, but with scant success. Even the New Yorker isn't the New Yorker since Tina Brown took over. I must admit to preferring the publication during William Shawn's long stint in the editor's chair. (Ms Brown, not entirely inaccurately, typified the magazine's content during this period as being "100,000-word articles on zinc.") The only British journal to come anywhere near it was Night and Day, a weekly which survived for six months in 1937, before being sunk by a libel action brought by Shirley Temple and 20th Century Fox against its film reviewer, Graham Greene. Even before this blow, the paper's name proved something of a liability. When its telephonist announced "Night and Day," someone would invariably croon "You are the one."

It's nice to see a good sprinkling of British brews among the 1,200 international beverages assessed in The Beer Lover's Rating Guide, produced by Workman Publishing of New York. The author, Bob Klein, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, helpfully suggests the ideal food to partner the booze. For Newcastle Brown Ale in bottle ("Sharp, almost metallic taste; not very flavoured; very little body,"), he makes the slightly obvious recommendation of fish and chips. But for the same beer in draught form ("full-bodied and very satisfying"), Mr Klein advocates "chewy strips of licorice, an unusual combination I recommend highly". (I imagine Pontefract Cakes would be equally satisfactory, while slightly less embarrassing to consume, when sinking a few bevvies on the Tyne.) For Landlord Strong Pale Ale brewed in Keighley ("dry finish with subtle character") he suggests "well- spiced dishes like beef fajitas." A sound choice. I believe they eat little else in the cantinas of West Yorkshire

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