We never managed to plumb the heart of the maze. Every time we got near the dovecote which marked the core, the path we chose veered away and dumped us somewhere outside

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The topic of mazes implanted itself on the labyrinthine ridge of my cerebral cortex the other day. It all started when I happened to pick Larry's Party, the new novel by Carol Shields, which concerns a Canadian garden designer whose obsession with mazes is sparked at Hampton Court: "He hadn't anticipated the sensation of feeling unplugged from the world or the heightened state of panicked awareness that was, nevertheless, repairable." No sooner had I laid this enthralling yarn aside than I heard a women asking the Gardeners' Question Time panel how could she grow a maze in her Dordogne estate? Bob Flowerdew (he of the meandering pigtail) proposed fence panels covered in ivy. Geoffrey Smith, a Yorky know-all who is horticulture's answer to Geoffrey Boycott, pooh-poohed the whole idea - "The maze at Hampton Court is a nonsense" - but grudgingly suggested a hedge made of escallonia. Big-leafed, of course.

A couple of hours later, purely by chance, I found myself entering a maze for the first time in over 30 years. We were visiting the wonderfully preserved Burton Agnes Hall (built 1598) near Bridlington in North Yorkshire. Nosing round the grounds as closing time approached, I happened to come across a maze. After a little prodding, Mrs Weasel agreed to accompany me in a journey to the interior. The labyrinth turned out to be a modern construction made from 700 yew bushes (their arrival in 1990 caused confusion among estate workers who were under the impression that they were receiving 700 ewes). It shares some characteristics with the frosty labyrinth which was Jack Nicholson's undoing at the end of The Shining. As well as being located in an isolated stretch of the north country, the Burton Agnes maze is overlooked by a rambling pile which is famously haunted. In fact, this verdant teaser proved to be a cheery amusement - but unexpectedly deceptive.

Starting off at a hectic lick down the leafy corridors, we traversed an emotional gamut which must be familiar to amazed explorers since Minoan times: supreme confidence; rueful admiration at the designer's ingenuity; irked perplexity; refusal to admit defeat; blank incomprehension at repeated disappointment; abject failure. But it wasn't the familiar Jerome K Jerome story of not being able to get out. Quite the reverse. Don't ask me why, but we never managed to plumb the heart of the maze. Every time we got near the dovecote which marked its core, the path we chose veered away and dumped us somewhere outside. Eventually, Mrs W insisted on an undignified retreat, ensuring my acquiescence by tugging on my ear. On emerging, we discovered that both the house and grounds had been locked up and we were presented with the unexpected bonus of having to puzzle our way out.

Back down south, we decided to give our local maze in Crystal Palace Park a whirl. Dating from 1865, it proved to be simplicity itself. We were in and out in five minutes, accompanied through the hornbeam passageways by a small army of urchins, Rather unsportingly, many of them were using mobile phones to speed their progress. But even more inappropriate was the object which the ever-considerate Bromley Council has seen fit to erect at the centre of the maze - a signpost.

You might recall that it was an aggressive alien crustacean known as the Chinese Mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) which John Prescott addressed as "Peter", thereby enlivening a slow news day in August. But it is not only the Deputy Prime Minister who has recently encountered a crustacean interloper. I did so myself in Tesco's Scarborough branch list week, where I came across a small dressed crab that had no right to be there. I admit there was nothing unusual about the breed. It was a bog-standard common crab (Cancer pagurus). What made me turn crabby was the sign above the crustacean which proudly asserted that it came from Cromer in Norfolk.

What sort of madness prompts a supermarket chain to transport a crab over 100 miles up the North Sea coast to a district which produces excellent crustacea in prolific quantities? Have the big fish who run Tesco never encountered the principle of local sourcing? If they were to take the trouble to sniff round the Scarborough area, they would find scores of small outlets overflowing with superb crabs (lobsters, too, at a modest price this year, due to the strong pound restraining exports). Though undeniably toothsome, Cromer crabs are uniformly diminutive in size. But their Yorkshire seabed-fellows, while equally tasty and somewhat cheaper, often grow to impressive Prescottian dimensions. Come to think of it, the Deputy PM is himself a native of these northern waters. Any cabinet, whether at No 10 Downing Street or Tesco's fish counter, benefits from a bit of variety.

For an ocean of reasons, I don't often feel a pressing need to pore through the pages of Time Out New York. (Owned by Tony Elliott, the magazine abbreviates itself as TONY, a true example of vanity publishing.) Still, it can be a rewarding experience. When I last took a browse, exactly a year ago, I learned about a comedy feature film called Joe's Apartment which featured a trio of cockroaches. Twelve months on, I find that nothing has changed. According to the latest issue of TONY, the latest shlock- horror movie to open in the Big Apple has for its stars a small army of roaches.

By the sound of it, the flick, which is entitled Mimic, is not exactly chockful of belly laughs. It concerns a genetically-engineered strain of 'roaches which have evolved into "six-foot man killers". Their victims turn up encased in what might most politely be described as massive examples of insect ordure. Not exactly the most elevating of entertainments, though TONY rates it highly ("wants nothing more than to scare you shitless and succeeds brilliantly"). However, there remains a chance that we might escape this cinematic bug fest. Perhaps because we're mercifully unpestered by the insects, Joe's Apartment never made it across this side of the Atlantic and the same might conceivably apply to Mimic. However, the other day, I read that scientists are warning that, because of global warming, cockroaches may well take up residence in Britain. It's not the insects that worry me, but the culture that comes with them.

How many people have noticed that the Tate Gallery, currently celebrating its centenary, already has birthday candles of a suitably avant-garde nature in its collection? Fat Battery, by the German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), consists of two small tins of fat. Particularly in the summer months, these have a tendency to melt and resemble night-lights. Fat played a prominent part in the art of Beuys. His lardy preoccupation stemmed from the last war, when, as a Luftwaffe pilot, he crashed in the Crimea. Peasants saved his life by smearing his body with fat and wrapping him in felt. You can imagine the drawbacks of owning one of Beuys's oleaginous meisterwerks, though I'm not sure if the tale in E Annie Proulx's novel Postcard is apocryphal. It concerns a Beuys artwork in the form of a fat- filled German stove, which a dealer delivers to an absent client. "The next week the phone rings. She's back and she's furious," he recalls. "What is this smelly thing full of fat doing in her foyer? She had her cleaning lady take all the suet out and throw it away. I should come and get the stove. So I did. And there the damn stove sits, in the gallery, a ruined work of art. It's a very expensive stove and we might as well use it"