The Weasel: Goodbye to all that

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The Independent Online

In their picturesque way, the French refer to orgasm as La Petite Mort. The same term could apply to the termination of a column, though the experience is not quite as pleasant. From an account of being snowed-in at Yorkshire, which appeared on 30 December 1995, to last week's tale of being penalised by H M Customs & Excise for importing an anthology of ancient gospel music, the Weasel has been my outlet for 12 years of vicissitudes. They ranged from a near-death experience in 2005 when a bunch of "arty boneheads" marched me at dead of night to the top of a Cumbrian fell for a chat with Ken Russell (he had left by the time we arrived) to a terrifying ride on a breakneck Big Wheel in the Tuileries Gardens in 1997. "Whataniceview," I repeated in an anguished mantra. "NotreDame-LesInvalides-EiffelTower." But Mrs W had her eyes tight shut.

The editors of this paper have (at least until now) put up with a series of strange obsessions in this space. Recurring themes included pigs, Keith Richards, books on minimalism (they now clog our house), the ingenious Christmas present ideas suggested in magazines (did anyone buy jump leads in Connolly leather for £500?), old telephone exchange names and Dracula. (I discovered these last two happily conjoined in a film called Transylvania 6-5000.) I reported three times from New Orleans, three times from hospital and 36 times from Filey, North Yorkshire. In Patagonia, I saw the fissured cliff of a glacier in mouthwash-blue that might have been designed by Frank Gehry. Two days later, I saw it collapse in a 12-hour live TV programme at Buenos Aires airport (I'd missed my plane).

My columnar campaigns produced mixed results. Though I repeatedly urged the scrapping of the walls round Buckingham Palace gardens, these barriers have been strengthened. For all my rants that Loyd Grossman's puttanesca sauce diddles the public by its lack of capers, his product remains resolutely caper-free. It is, however, gratifying that others are now complaining about the bullying tactics of TV Licensing, an off-shoot of the BBC that cannot conceive how anyone can live sans telly.

Food was the one area where the Weasel came under pressure, at least when this column appeared in the main newspaper. "Can't he write about anything else?" moaned a senior editor. But what else is so interesting, so universal, so funny? Which other column would have pointed out that a "special edition" of "Lover's Marmite", containing 0.75 grams of champagne at a mark-up of 87p per jar, stood to earn £522,000 for those "romantic soppies at Unilever"? Still, La Stampa over-egged the pud when it described the Weasel as the "critico-gastronomico of Il Independente". This happened when I found myself awarding the Golden Truffle for the heaviest fungi (650g) at the Truffle Fair in Moncalvo.

One perk of the last 12 years has been my Thursday morning chats with Lucinda Rogers. Having my suggestions realised by a brilliant illustrator was like playing God. With remarkable regularity, they made me burst out laughing (The Weasel looking in the bathroom mirror and seeing John McCririck), but I adored her dazzling pastiches. Over the years, the protean Weasel was the slightly unlikely subject of Matisse, Monet, Blake (both William and Peter), Beardsley, Hogarth, Degas, Tenniel, Lowry, Scarfe, Hopper, Durer, Caravaggio, R Crumb, Manet and Leo Baxendale (the creator of the Bash Street Kids).

The astoundingly erudite letters to the Weasel were another bonus. "The poltergeist you describe [a mug that swung on its hook for no apparent reason] is almost certainly ground-based vibration at a critical frequency." "What everyone remembers from the handcuffs-and-stockings sequence in Hitchcock's 39 Steps is that Robert Donat's hand glides down Madeleine Carroll's leg holding a ham sandwich." "It's obvious that you're not a seafaring Weasel. My stepfather was in the Royal Navy, so I've known from an early age that the term 'Nelson' for 111 derives from 'one eye, one arm, one arsehole'." "Mrs W was right not to drink gecko in wine. It's a Chinese cure for impotence."

However, Mrs W did sample Rick Stein's stir-fried whelks ("I'm still chewing"), "aphrodisiac jam" from Paris ("Quite nice but not very arousing"), Nourishing Kidney Soup from Wing Yip supermarket ("Disgusting and horrible") and the Provençal shellfish called violet ("Looks like doggy doo and tastes like TCP"). She once discovered a large tentacle of Portuguese salted octopus soaking in the sink ("Not what a girl wants to come home to on a dark night") and was unimpressed by a Futurist dessert called Strawberry Breasts ("I rather hoped you were not going to do that"). In short, the dear girl has put up with a lot. My mail bag was universally sympathetic: "I like the sound of Mrs W." Her real name is Alison.

For those suffering withdrawal symptoms, an archive of Rogers/Hirst material is now available at But before we bid our adieux, there's just space for a farewell cocktail, a Weaselian invention, no less. Per person: 60ml vodka; 20ml undiluted elderflower cordial; a couple of splashes of Angostura bitters. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Sorry, forgot to give you the name: Elders & Bitters. Chin-chin!