From cleanliness, we moved to godliness at the William Booth Salvation Army College on Denmark Hill in Camberwell. This imposing structure - its style is described by Pevsner as "American collegiate" - was the work of Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the somewhat similar Bankside Power Station (soon to become Tate II). With what seemed a very un-Christian lack of trust, most of the building was firmly locked, but we were allowed to corkscrew our way up an infinitely long spiral staircase which gave access to a spooky viewing area at the top of an immense tower.
Feeling not unlike Quasimodo, I braved a draughty peep at the metropolis. "The police sometimes come up here," a well-informed visitor disclosed. "They get a good view of car thefts."
At the bottom of the hill, we popped into Camberwell Hall. Once a meeting place, recently converted into a private dwelling, this elegant building dates from 1745. The owner (who was not present) has imparted a cheery modern touch to the courtyard wall with a massive copper relief of Lenin which used to embellish the KGB Building in St Petersburg. Where Wesley once preached, we found a wall-length mirror with ballet barre, a six-person Jacuzzi, a sauna and a sunken bath. The open-plan regime even extends to the toilet bowl.
On the following day, I generously gave Mrs W a treat. We visited two sewage pumping plants. The first, at Store Street, E14, was designed by the architectural Wunderkind Nicholas Grimshaw. "It pumps raw sewage to Beckton Treatment Works, the biggest in the world," a worker proudly informed us. When my dear partner asked if she could add her widow's mite to the throughput, he replied, "You're in luck. This is one of just two pumping stations with a ladies' loo." Only open three weeks, the pounds 13-million structure whiffed of nothing more noisome than fresh paint, but a sigh ominously warned of "explosive gases".
The second example, at Tidal Basin Road, E16, is the work of maestro Richard Rogers. Obviously, the Pompidou Centre was merely a practice run for this. The multi-coloured pipework of the pumping plant is a triumph. "Because we only pump surface water, it's not as big as Store Street," an attendant conceded, adding by way of compensation, "but a body came through here once." We ended our tour nearby at Trinity Buoy Wharf, where an 1864 lighthouse overlooks the Thames. After puffing up 59 narrow steps, we discovered that the lamp had been removed - though Mrs W's crimson cheeks made an effective substitute. Coincidentally, the lighthouse will give a good view of another of Lord Rogers's creations. Across the river in Greenwich, the yellow struts of his Millennium Dome are already arriving on site. But I doubt if it will compare with his masterpiece at Tidal Basin Road.
Brace yourself. Next week, the nation's political hacks pay their annual visit to Blackpool. In their reports, it is traditional for these well- fed pundits to stray from the parliamentary turf and pass a few comments about the culinary delights offered in Lancashire's premier resort. In their lordly way, the scribblers always "discover" Roberts's Oyster Bar (est 1876) opposite the Central Pier. A few years ago, I recall one eminent columnist finding a first-growth vintage claret offered at such a ludicrously low price on a hotel menu that he snapped up every bottle.
Aside from its eponymous rock, perhaps the best-known foodstuff to be named after this gastronomic paradise is the Blackpool Milk Roll. Though the wrapper bears an image of the famous tower, this distinctive loaf is actually made in Bolton by a company called Warburtons. The heart-warming history of the firm, also printed on the wrapper, has a curiously evangelical overtone: "It all started in a tiny grocer's shop. We baked four loaves and six flour cakes which sold out within the hour - no one had ever tasted bread quite like it."
The Milk Roll came along in the Fifties, invented by one Derek Warburton. It is interesting to speculate that if he had chosen to add olive oil instead of milk powder to the recipe, the result would have been ciabatta, but it is unlikely that the customer response would have been encouraging: "Nay, lad, yer barmy. There's only one place for olive oil and that's in t'lug-'ole." Other recent additions to our daily bread - the bright- green hue of pesto, crimson scraps of sun-dried tomato, black fragments of olive - would doubtless have resulted in the innovatory baker standing in the dock of Bolton Magistrates Court.
What is the strange appeal of Mussolini for hotel-owners? A few weeks ago, I read that Villa Feltrinelli, the rather forbidding palace on Lake Garda where II Duce passed his final desperate months, has been purchased for conversion into a luxury hotel. Now I learn that Lord Forte's daughter, Olga Polizzi, has purchased the dictator's 26-ft yacht for her Cornish hotel. Ms Polizzi admitted to certain doubts about acquiring the Pinuccia: "But when we learned he did not use it socially, it seemed the perfect thing for the hotel." Well, that's all right, then.
But the hoteliers could be in for a shock if guests choose to emulate Benito's healthy life-style. According to Jasper Ridley's new biography, Mussolini, "He ate very little and very quickly, rarely spending more than 10 minutes on a meal." For breakfast, he enjoyed "fruit, milk and wholemeal bread", while lunch consisted of "a little spaghetti with tomato sauce, some fresh or cooked vegetables and a lot of fresh fruit". Sure, the guy had a few flaws, but in many respects he sounds an ideal role-model for our health-obsessed era. He took plenty of exercise including horse-riding and, of course, the occasional march on Rome. How long before the M-plan diet or Dine with the Duce appears on the bestseller list?Reuse content