Despite my protests that the sitting room had only lacked an operative curtain for a little over a month (well, call it six weeks), we were soon nosing round that innermost circle of hell populated by DIY devotees and their incessantly squawking offspring. Not that I was exactly squawk-free myself, while Madame spent aeons probing among the curtain accessories. "I can't find a cording set," she wittered. "I want overlapping arms and they haven't got those." My helpful suggestion that she should instead settle for a pair of heavy-duty tile nibblers or a hot-melt glue-gun did not go down too well. "Why don't you belt up?" she hollered.
It's a funny thing about Homebase, but when I'm there I can't recall any time when I wasn't in Homebase. The place is so all-encompassing and unconnected with my normal existence that I find myself dislocated by its alien vastness. The products on sale exude a palpable whiff of testosterone: Bisonite, Bostik, Ronseal, Unibond. But in this dismayingly prosaic environment, I was delighted to discover a corner imbued with aristocratic charm. To encounter the National Trust paint range in a South London Homebase was like finding Lord Emsworth at the Catford Dog Track or Camilla Parker- Bowles in the audience for a performance by the Chippendales.
The names of the tints are gloriously redolent of life in the rolling shires: Fox Red, Hay, Pigeon, and Hound Lemon. This is not to say that the range betrays the slightest hint of sentimentality. Several appellations could have come from one of Ted Hughes's sinewy evocations of rural life: String, Bone, Cord, Drab. Others may be positively off-putting to sensitive souls: Mouse's Back (grey-brown), Ointment Pink, Dead Salmon. But the label on one tin appeared to take the renowned bluntness of our upper orders to an extreme. It read: PIG GALL RED. Knowing that the pink colour of rural cottages was once attained by adding pig's blood to whitewash, I pondered that this rather gory designation was by no means an impossibility. It was only when I looked at a National Trust colour chart that I realised I had been misled by an abbreviation. The full name of the paint was PICTURE GALLERY RED.
I doubt whether you'll have come across a new bi-monthly called Bizarre, but if you do happen to see this print equivalent of a circus freak show on the newsagent's rack I'd be inclined to steer well clear. Aimed squarely at the psychopathic fringe of the burgeoning "lads" market, its picture-spreads include a voodoo priestess biting the head off a chicken, a chef spitting in a pan of baked beans (inaccurately captioned as "chicken in gob and white wine sauce"), a collection of suicide notes, a hairy woman and images of decaying corpses (part of a six-page "investigation" called "Vampires Uncloaked"). The whole unedifying mess is accompanied by a free booklet entitled The World's Most Bizarre Facts Ever ("Slugs have four noses").
This handy compendium might also have included the curious fact that John Brown Publishing Ltd, the small company responsible for Bizarre, also produces the irreproachably refined Gardens Illustrated. Though it also happens to be a bi-monthly with free booklet attached (Days Out in English Gardens), there are few similarities between the two journals - unless you count a mutual interest in slugs. While a Bizarre reader might be lured by the tempting invitation on the cover of the latest issue of Gardens Illustrated to "Seek out the Spirit of a Cotswold Garden", this turns out to be nothing to do with ghost-busting. Similarly, a visit to the Enganei Hills near Padua to see the garden of Villa Emo, "Where past and present are flawlessly integrated", fails to mention the un-dead in the form of either zombies or vampires. In short, everything in the garden is rosy.
Since John Brown's fortune stems largely from his association with Viz,the scatological cartoon-strip magazine, it is certainly the case that his stable of periodicals covers both ends of the publishing spectrum. Not much in the middle, unfortunately. I wonder if Mr Brown occasionally urges his fragrant editor to broaden the appeal of Gardens Illustrated ("Ere, gel, can't ya spice it up a bit?"). I don't suppose Ms Atkins can be blamed for the advertisement for "eleven- inch fairies for home and garden", but I hope the slightly suggestive picture-spread on asparagus spears or the full-page portrait of three apples in a state of advanced decay does not presage an adoption of Bizarre's singular approach to the natural world.
This weekend is your last chance to visit London's Monets. The National Gallery exhibition devoted to the master's work held in London collections finishes on Monday. You may recall that the show had to be briefly closed when a visitor was so entranced by the beauty of the works that she plonked a lipsticky kiss on one of the canvases. If this misguided art-lover had really wished to pay tribute to old Claude, she should have cooked up a batch of Yorkshire puddings. Following his visit to our capital in 1870-71, the great Impressionist became addicted to this delicious northern savoury.
I discovered this from a recent volume called Monet's Cookery Notebooks. Though his formulation for Yorkshire Pud is non-canonical (trois oeufs is definitely over-egging the pudding), Mrs W turned out a most toothsome version of his Stuffed Aubergines. Sadly, since she is not a fish-lover, she could not be persuaded to essay Cezanne's Salt Cod Soup. Myself, I'd like to have a bash at Potage aux Huitres, except for the fact that it calls for three dozen oysters, costing around pounds l8 at current supermarket prices. Most of the dishes, from Creme Brulee to Ceps in Olive Oil (which Monet claimed to have invented), could appear on a fashionable menu today. It is a strange coincidence that Monet's closest equivalent in our own time, the prodigiously talented Damien Hirst, also has a profound interest in gastronomy, as evident by his restaurant venture with Marco- Pierre White. I can't wait for Damien's Cookery Diaries to appear: "Take one chain-saw..."
Since this column is being written before the election, you have the advantage over me of knowing the result. But I wonder if New Labour was wise to issue an advert featuring Messrs Major and Clarke in the guise of Laurel and Hardy? As far as the Weasel is concerned, they are two of the greatest figures of this century. I refer to L & H, of course, not M & C. It is worth adding that, despite appearances, Stan Laurel was a brilliant tactician, who deliberately delayed Ollie's departure to the golf course in order to capture the exquisite level of simmering exasperation in his performance. I anticipate the repeat of their incomparable films with much greater relish than the smirking appearance of the comedian who won last Thursday, whichever he might beReuse content