Bare threads for new Russia

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YOU MAY feel poor, look poor and think poor, but how do you know whether you actually are officially treading the bread line? The answer has emerged in Russia, where 40 million people are beneath it: you look at your towels.

If you and your family have owned them since the disappearance of Lord Lucan in 1975, or before, then you may well be members of this unhappy category.

Russia's parliamentarians have been drawing up a "minimum basket" of goods upon which the poor can survive.

According to Kommersant newspaper, Russia's largely male parliamentarians have concluded that a woman can, if she must, manage with only one dress and one skirt every five years. She needs six pairs of tights and five pairs of knickers every two years, and (howdid they work this one out?) two bras every three years.

The list of bed linen is depressingly spartan: the minimum amount for a family is three blankets for 20 years, three towels for 23 years, and 10 sheets for 18 years. A kettle should be expected to last 8 years, and a fridge for 30.

Although Russia's male politicians have a great appetite for double- breasted suits, they are rather less than generous in saying what their impoverished countrymen may wear. A pair of trousers should cover a penniless Russian for four years and one T-shirt should be enough for a year. He needs a new sweater every five years.

But some Russians may actually regard this threadbare wardrobe as a luxury. There were reports from the countryside yesterday that pensioners, unpaid for months, were given their pensions in the form of straw, manure and bricks of peat.