The Weasel: Instead of our Old Colony, a vast, astounding lunar- like landscape greeted my eyes

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Even weasels feel the necessity to take holidays sometimes, and last week I found myself busily packing my suitcase for America. I managed to get myself to Heathrow and even on to an aeroplane, though I was not- a-little-nonplussed when my pilot turned out to be named something like Captain Stephensonnedottirfloorplug. But I put that out of my mind and after what seemed like a surprisingly brief nap, braced myself for arrival in our Old Colony. But as I glanced out of the window, I thought we were arriving at the moon instead: a vast, astounding, lunar-like landscape greeted my eyes, a white, totally deserted, lava-like surface dotted with small craters and hillocks.

Had Mr Neil Armstrong been with me - he, my dear younger readers, was the first man on the moon - I am sure he would have been intoning "Twenty feet... 18... 15... 12" as we hovered down inexorably onto this strange new world. Then Captain Whatever-his-name-was welcomed us all to Reykjavik. Reykjavik? The very name filled me with alarm: I was clearly not in America, and I had absolutely no idea what kind of reception a species such as mine would receive in Iceland.

Then I recalled that my travel agent had dispatched me to America via an airline called Icelandair, mainly because the return fare was something like pounds 169 return - and I began to relax. The Icelanders couldn't actually have been more hospitable to me, even though their "duty free" shop seemed to specialise in items like Nordic sweaters or packs of Icelandic salmon, each at prices something like pounds 10,765. I then continued my journey to the US, when I fell in with a most agreeable Icelandic companion who plied me with Moet & Chandon; as I said, he was an agreeable chap indeed. By this time, I was noticing that every Icelander seemed to know every other Icelander - it being a country of only 250,000 people, apparently - and I asked him if this was, indeed so.

By way of an answer he beckoned over our delightfully comely, blonde stewardess ( I refuse to use the term "flight attendant" that is in such vogue these days). "Put it this way," my new friend went on, "Annamariadottir here and I have never met before today. But if she and I go to a hotel and make a baby tonight, we could find out afterwards we're related - and that could lead to problems." Now I may be vain in such matters, but from her looks I rather think the young lady might have found the prospect of making a baby with The Weasel an altogether more enticing prospect than with her by-now drunken fellow Icelander. But it was an intriguing, revealing exchange, nonetheless: and I hereby resolve, at some future date, to explore this amazing moonscape of a country further.

Finally, I arrived in America that night. My host there was a gentleman of the press, a most urbane fellow who seemed to know everybody and everything in Washington. He took me on my second night to the Awards Dinner of the National Press Foundation, a typically Washington, black-tie occasion where, he said, everyone, my dear, would be there. He warned me to be on the lookout for

a) General Alexander Haig (he of the Nixon and Reagan Administrations) who is apparently the biggest party bore in Washington, and b) Arianna Stassinopolous Huffington, the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus (as someone supposedly once described her) whom it is apparently terribly hard to avoid in Washington.

Well, it was just the Weasel's luck to find himself at the said Arianna's table, sans husband - and preparing to leave Washington for ever for the second time, licking countless wounds inflicted on her by merciless Washington hostesses, to return to California. Of Haig, luckily, there was no sign: my ever-informative host told me that Haig's hysterical "I'm in charge here now!" pronouncement (you'll have to research that for yourselves, younger readers) came just after Reagan was all-but assassinated as he left the very hotel where we happened to be that night, the Washington Hilton.

It all seemed to me to be a quintessentially American occasion: the hero of the evening was a man called Mr Daniel ("Dan") Rather, a kind of Texan cross between Jeremy Paxman and Trevor McDonald. But to the Americans, he clearly meant far more than a Paxman or a McDonald; to them he was more like an Archbishop, a high-priest of righteousness and holiness generously bestowing his blessings on the flock gathered about him. They showed video clips of Mr Rather blathering on about everything from the Kennedy assassination (long before your time, younger readers) to the Vietnam war to the Challenger disaster to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The effect, somehow, was that by his very presence at such events, Archbishop Rather rendered them real and meaningful to the American people.

The highlight of the evening, though, was an award to America's two leading agony aunts - one called Abigail Van Buren and the other Ann Landers (my host told me some amazing gossip about them, but that will have to wait for another day). Between them, the two are read by 200 million readers every day - but what really struck me was that, a) this year they will enter their ninth decades, and b) that they are identical twins. Ann started first, only for Abby - in a rage of sibling rivalry - to start up an identical rival operation. The two did not speak for years, and when they hugged each other on stage a few feet from me I couldn't help feeling there was a distinct lack of warmth in the air; indeed, both then proceeded to make speeches managing not to refer to the other. Thank Heaven we weasels, at least, are more mature than most humans.

I had been planning to cut my normal sartorial elegance in Washington, but find I am having immense problems these days when it comes to ties: I simply cannot find any decent, sober, elegant ties suited to a being of my distinction. The day before I left for America, I went into my usual purveyors of such goods - Turnbull & Asser, in Jermyn Street - and asked whether my impression was true, that ties have become altogether jazzier and less tasteful than they used to be. "Ours, sir," the pompous assistant sniffed, "certainly have not." I am not tall at the best of times, but he was the kind of jumped-up sales assistant who nevertheless manages to make me feel about a quarter-of-an-inch tall - even though I know it should be the other way round, and that, in any case, he was wrong about his damned ties. In America, predictably, the tie situation is even worse: every man I see seems to be wearing a tie full of Mickey Mouses (Mice?) and the like. Oh dear.

For next week, my host has promised me what he says is an ineffably unique American experience: the annual, highly hyper fund-raising auction at his children's school. Being a fashionable chap, his children naturally go to a fashionable Washington school - so I fully expect to see the likes of Haig (a grandfather, I imagine) and Mrs Huffington, again, there. The school is supposedly an excellent one, too - but I was chastened by something my host told me. He has the most charming and intelligent little boy, aged seven, who recently had to do a spelling test which included the word "witty". Being so bright - a chip off the old block,

I suspect - the boy spelt the word perfectly correctly. But his teacher crossed it out with her red felt-tip pen and wrote "whitty" , a word that exists in no dictionary any of us could find. And we think the British educational system has problems.