Sholto Byrnes: Hello again!

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The Independent Online

How have you been coping with the intermittently clement weather? Better, I hope, than Brian Sewell, who has disintegrated in Hastings. Let me explain that I refer not to the real Brian Sewell, he of the exquisite pronunciation and virulent opinions. No, I am referring to an extremely lifelike waxwork of the art critic which is on show at an exhibition in the Hastings Art Gallery and Museum.

Originally the wax Brian peered, head down, at a label on the wall, a catalogue in his hand. Unfortunately, the warm weather caused the statue to sag somewhat. "The shoulders started to come away from the frame so the weight of his head pulled the whole thing forward," says Judith Stewart at the gallery. "It ended up with his head resting against the wall, looking either as if he was drunk or in a state of total despair. As he looked in danger of dying completely we decided to put him in the study room. He was left lying down on some cushions in the recovery position, with his shirt open. But he was frightening so many people we had to put him in a store."

In another office I used to sit only a few feet away from Brian, and I can tell you he would not have suffered such an indignity with equanimity. Luckily for all concerned, the wax Brian has now been restored by his creators. The real Brian will not, however, be visiting to see how his likeness is getting on. The gallery sent him a postcard inviting him to the exhibition, but Brian was having none of it. "See me in Hastings?" was his reply. "No you won't."

 

While we leave Hastings to recover from this snub, there is happier news for another much-maligned place. Stella McCartney has been doing sterling work for Paddington. She lives near a pub called The Westbourne, which is usually identified as being in Notting Hill, but she says it's in Paddington. This is quite a reversal, as people who live in neighbouring districts often claim to be in Notting Hill rather than the other way around. Peter Mandelson's house (the first one that caused all the trouble) was usually said to be in Notting Hill, for example. In fact it was in Bayswater, which is a very different, and much smellier, kettle of fish. So it's very selfless of Miss McCartney to lend the glamour attached to her name to Paddington rather than to Notting Hill. Perhaps she can turn her attention to Hastings when she has the time.

 

I don't know if there is a special event honouring the pie (the Captain can let us know on his return, I'm sure), but I, for one, can't wait for British Sausage Appreciation Week, which starts at the end of October. Last year Asda, Hazelwood Foods and the British Sausage Appreciation Society created the world's longest sausage, all 36 miles of it. Well done, but there's no room for complacency so let's see if they can do even better this year.

 

I do hope they take proper precautions with their bangers, for there has been an outbreak of larceny on the cooked meat front. Clare Wilson of Mitcham, south London, recently cooked a huge panful of Irish stew, only to find it gone in the morning. The kitchen door of her house had been forced open, and the hungry miscreant ignored the five televisions, four CD players, four mobile phones and two videos in her house, swiping the stew instead. Clare was quite upset, as she had used her best pan to cook it in. "I've got several others but that was my favourite," she said. "I'm considering putting out reward posters asking people if they've seen my stew pot." For the record, it is stainless steel with a burgundy handle.

 

The literary world is on tenterhooks while the Queen decides whether to accept an annual gift of books for her Balmoral holiday reading once again. She used to receive a selection every year from the Book Trust, but the arrangement was terminated in 1993 after a disloyal newspaper made fun of the reading matter. This was really quite cheeky, for the list contained not only Jilly Cooper, but also such heavyweight figures as Dick Francis and John Le Carré. The Book Trust is now keen to revive the practice, in which case I would advise them to steer clear of some of the books soon to be published by Duckworth. I can't imagine many of the Royal Family getting stuck into Eunuchs in Antiquity and Beyond.

 

But do the royals read on the loo? If so, perhaps the Book Trust should call up a German firm called Wishi, which is going to print classic novels and poems on loo rolls for the convenience of those who like to read while they are on the convenience. This venture has received the seal of approval from that distinguished man of letters, Robin Baird-Smith. "I enjoy publishing short books, like the novels of Muriel Spark and Beryl Bainbridge," says Robin. "When I give them to people I always say 'you can read this on the loo'." But as befits a man who has commissioned such diverse writers as Kosher Sex author Rabbi Schmuley Boteach and Professor John Bayley, Robin has the vision to see that this idea has not been taken far enough. Reminding me of the loo rolls which play tunes when you tug on the paper, he suggests wiring up loo rolls to audio books. Instead of reading the paper, the story could be stopped and started every time you visit the smallest room. "War and Peace would be a good one if you've got problems," he adds helpfully.

 

Casting my eye over my estimable local paper, the Ham & High, I notice an article on a north London horticulturalist called Gary Sycamore. Ever since I first heard of Bob Flowerdew, a regular on Gardeners' Question Time, I have been intrigued by the connection between green-fingered types and their names. Further research proves my point, as I discover that Messrs Peat, Trowell, Stoney and Potts once won the Southern England in Bloom competition. A spokesman for the Genealogy Society informs me that those born with names of an arboreal or herbaceous nature may be predisposed to take an interest in gardening. "Although most surnames became fixed in the medieval period it is possible that a genetic interest in all things earthy may have continued," she says. "Titchmarsh, for instance, is a locative name relating to something boggy." I rest my case.

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