The point, of course, is in the studied casualness of that sentence (it's like the time Betty Kenward of Jennifer's Diary flew to Caracas for a dinner party and turned down a postprandial cognac "because I have a plane to catch"). The point is that there is something devilishly endearing about nipping down to a foreign capital with no more fuss than one might take a bus from Richmond to Stoke Newington, only with breakfast, papers and half-hour snooze thrown in. The point is that I have discovered the bliss that is the Channel Tunnel.
The occasion was Mrs Weasel's umpteenth birthday. Mindful of an episode in TV's EastEnders, in which Po'leen is made "Queen for a Day" by her pie-faced husband and treated to all manner of glamorous interludes Up Lime'ahse Wye, I decided to indulge her long-frustrated dreams of high living and take her Seine-wards.
The train was a great gleaming snake with the pointy snout of a gundog and a staff of satin- ate smoothies. Light years removed from the traditional railway guard with his whistle, his broken veins and permanent air of melancholy bravely borne, the Eurostar deploys a "Train Manager", in our case a babyfaced charmer called Reuben with a mobile phone and the cheery air of a TV game-show host.
Seeing Mrs W flapping her paws at the prospect of three hours in a smoking compartment, he upgraded us to a little cabin with a table and two seats. It was comfortable but unsettling. Why, on my side of the table, was there no window through which to admire the disappearing gardens of Dulwich and Beckenham? What was this curious metal hoop that poked out at elbow level? Reuben appeared, bearing coffee. What, I asked him, was this cabin used for? "Customs people," he said, beaming still, "and anyone they want to talk to." And what was the metal hoop for? He didn't blink. "Handcuffs," he said. "More coffee?"
There are two speeds of Eurostar. You pootle across the south of England at a lazy, good-for-nothing, Hector-the-Hungover-Engine stroll; then, after the tunnel, you hurtle across France in 90 minutes at a skin-flaying, eyeball-popping 300kmh. I assume this disparity is all to do with the roll of the English downs or the lack of straight sleepers in English track or something like that, rather than a deliberate metaphor of the backwardness of Albion and the whizzy efficiency of Gaul.
The only disappointment was the tunnel itself. I am not so lost to reason that I expected to see a beach with a bloody great hole in it; nor did I think we would hit the sea like the carriages hitting the Water Splash at Battersea Fun Fair. But I suppose I was anticipating some sense of occasion, some vast road sign, even some Welcome-to-Hell graffiti. The tunnel, however, begins about ten miles inland, with a horribly unprepossessing grey cave of an entrance, surrounded by the sort of dense, keep-out wire you might find at Auschwitz Central. And that's it.
How far down were we? About 40 metres, beamed Reuben. And what with the water and everything, the distance to the sea air must be...? Half a mile or so. And tell me, Reuben, has anyone, to your knowledge...?
"Before you ask," said Reuben wearily, "the answer is Yes. I believe one or two people have started the Half-Mile Under Club." Zut alors.
H H H
I was fascinated to read of a survey by a British academic team that has broken new ground. Karen Barker of City University and Professor Graham Davey of Sussex have made a study of Disgust, and concluded that the whole of humanity finds approximately the same things disgusting, though differences of detail remain.
Here it is, that disgust chart in full. At Number One come certain foods of animal origin, such as offal. Second comes the human body and its less alluring products, such as greasy hair and ear-wax. At Number Three are invertebrate animals such as maggots (although, strangely, women seem more affected than men). Bubbling under, as it were, at Number Four are gastro-enteric products (vomit and faeces to you). And at Number Five are certain sexual activities, notably incest.
Oddly, the one item that seems to be culturally determined, rather than inherent to the human species, is the last named, disgust with sexual behaviour. Everybody, it seems, hates that knot of hair in the plughole; but in some societies incest is considered less appalling than squid.
With admirable academic fearlessness, Barker and Davey have managed to speak up for disgust, a human emotion that has hitherto found few supporters. They say it is helpful in avoiding illness, disease and infection: if those gastro-enteric products disgust you, you tend not to eat them.
Far be it from the Weasel to point out lacunae in the pair's researches, but there are some obvious omissions. Where, for instance, are such authentic triggers for the vomit reflex as the suffocating odour of "hot bread", mistakenly pumped into shopping centres on the grounds that shoppers like it? What about that new television programme in which nauseating exhibitionists secretly film their marriage proposals for later public consumption? What about that unnamed vegetative matter that always lurks behind the fridge? What about My Little Pony? What about Terry Christian? None of these would seem to fit the researchers' list, but if disgust is not what they inspire, what do we call it?
H H H
Still in academia, news arrives of an amusing legal dispute in California, following a lecture at the State University in Sacramento on "the anatomy and function of the clitoris". Professor Joanne Marrow (her real name) delivered her talk on this important educational issue, illustrated with a variety of slides and a catalogue of sex toys, with the pedagogical goal, according to her lawyer, of helping women "learn how to achieve more and better orgasms and to help men learn how to be better sexual partners".
Unfortunately, she reckoned without the presence in her audience of Craig Rogers, a 33-year-old male student, who became "disturbed" when the professor directed the pointer at one of her illustrative slides of female genitalia and cooed "Here's a cute one."
Being American, Rogers's instinctive reaction, once he'd recovered from a fit of the vapours, was to contact a lawyer, who rapidly drew up a claim for $2.5million in damages for sexual harassment. This is the price placed upon Rogers's "mental anguish, pain and suffering, loss of concentration to study for finals, and emotional distress".
The plot, however, thickens. Called upon to specify how he was damaged by his unfortunate lecture-room experience, Rogers revealed that he was having to seek counselling "to deal with past problems stemming from pornography". It seems that, having once liked pornography, and then taught himself not to, he found it all coming back to him when he found himself becoming "sexually aroused...in a classroom setting".
"I was sitting there in total disgust," he said, sadly, "and yet I was stimulated." I suggest he contacts Professors Barker and Davey, the disgust experts, without delay.
H H H
My sympathy goes to the unnamed burglar who made the mistake of invading the home of John Humphrys, the radio celebrity with the famously "direct style" of interview. One minute the burglar was innocently trying to blag Humphrys's Sony Trinitron; the next, he was being pursued downstairs, with the stark-naked Great Inquisitor howling abuse at him as he disappeared into the night.
It could have been worse. Imagine what might have happened if he'd been caught.
Humphrys (grabbing felon): Is crime on the upturn? Latest evidence suggests one householder in two is at risk. One person who should know is Mr - " (applies armlock)
Burglar (squirming): Ow, ow, ow. Stanley.
Humphrys: - Mr Stanley Burglar, who is with me now. So, Mr Burglar, you expect us to believe a syllable of these ludicrous findings?
Burglar (on floor): I didn't mean no 'arm. Only, the kids is starvin', see, and...
Humphrys: Some people would say you've brought it on yourself by your feckless, workshy, criminal policies.
Burglar (face pressed to Welcome mat): On my life, guv'nor, I'll never do it again.
Humphrys: So the message to Tory voters is basically, `Sod you mate, my snout stays in the trough'. Is that it?
Burglar: What're you on about? I'm a burglar.
Humphrys: Oh, I think we should let the listeners be the judge of that, don't you? (Applies knee to spinal column.)
Burglar: Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow.
Humphrys: It's 23 minutes past eight, and time to go over to Detective Inspector Swine in the radio car. Inspector?
Burglar: There ain't no coppers 'ere. You're makin' it up...
Humphrys: How's your cat? Or your dog or your canary? Because a new report shows that trips to the vet are going to cost an arm and...
Burglar: I'll come quietly. Just no more of your famously Direct Style.
Humphrys: And now - Thought for the Day... The WeaselReuse content