Comrade Alex opts for the inglenook

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The Independent Online
If, 10 years ago, you had been told that a Russian was spending $2.7m (pounds 1.8m) on a manor house in Connecticut, you would have looked askance, I think. Now it still seems odd, but it is no longer gob-smacking.

Alex and Vicki Kirzhnev have commissioned Border Oak of Leominster to build them a mock Tudor mansion. This is no standard mock Tudor jobby. The frame will be made of 130 tons of Scottish oak, pegged together in the traditional way, and the house will include the full Elizabethan monty - medieval galleried hall, oak-panelled library, authentic inglenook fireplace and all. They will probably want a ghost, but I gather they are in short supply this year.

Apparently Mr and Mrs Kirzhnev visited a friend's mock Tudor house in New Jersey, and were so impressed that they decided to get one for themselves. They heard about Border Oak, which has recreated chunks of Stratford-upon- Avon in Japan, and flew over to Britain to have a look. But they found the company's off-the-peg offerings a little small, and asked it to draw up some sensible-sized designs. Something where a man could do bazooka practice in the library without bothering his wife in the living room.

What Bob Dole and Diana Ross, their neighbours in Greenwich, Connecticut, will think is anybody's guess. But if I were them I would be intrigued. All I have discovered for sure about Mr Kirzhnev is that he is 45, his wife is 42, and they have two children. Border Oak says the couple arrived from Russia in 1992, but I wonder if he is the same Alex Kirzhnev described in the New York Times in 1985 as a currency trader for the Union Bank of Switzerland in New York. I will try to find out more.

Meanwhile, it is comforting to know that there are still people around rich enough to continue scattering the world with truly eccentric buildings.

Note in an Edinburgh butcher's shop: "Wanted - customers. No experience necessary."

High climbers

ING Barings has been thinking of ways to stop its traders getting their hands on dangerous things like derivatives. The latest is to knacker them. "The ING Barings 24 Peaks Challenge" involves climbing 24 Lake District mountains, all over 2,400 feet, within 24 hours. Teams from the corporate sector are expected to train to cope with "two long and arduous days". Or sothe blurb says.

Phooey, my sinewy ex-City chum says when he discovers the contestants are allowed a four-hour rest in the middle. "It's peanuts - it's just a doddle. I reckon I could do that in five hours. It's all about the yuppie image of trying to be healthy."

If Barings really wants to keep its staff's paws off the loot, he recommends it send them on the Bob Graham Round, "42 peaks in 24 hours non-stop". That should do us all a favour by bringing the City to a halt. "You can't do this stuff seriously and have a career," he says

An official was wandering through a Network SouthCentral train the other day, displaying a badge declaring he was part of the Customer Action Team. Is this supposed to comfort? - "Ah, good to see those chaps are so dynamic." Or terrify? - "Help, I'd better pay up or he'll karate chop me!" I asked the man what he though of his new team. "I dunno, we're just ticket inspectors," he said.

Tell it like it is

One of the many sterling qualities of the Germans is that they don't believe in euphemisms. They call meat "flesh", and so forth. Even so, I was taken back when abluting at a motorway service station in Bavaria. There was a machine there selling a condom called "Babystop".

Should Bunhill fail to appear in the coming weeks, I must tell you why: I will have been locked up by Mr Plod for failing to pay a non-existent tax.

To explain. The Bunhillmobile is an old lady and therefore, following the estimable Mr Clarke's last Budget, exempt from road tax. Come the spring, I decide to get her out of the garage. I have a note from the DVLC that should enable me to get a tax disc, even though there is a zero rate on it. But because the car has been off the road it is a little while since the last tax disc expired.

The lady in the post office cannot give me a new tax disc, apparently, because the DVLC has not sent me a new registration document saying that my car is no longer "private light goods" but "25-year tax exempt".

Does it really matter if I have no tax disc, given that there is no tax to pay, I ask? "Oh yes," I am told. "You have to have a tax disc even if there is no tax." So will I be pulled over and charged with not paying a tax that doesn't exist? "You will be charged with not displaying a tax disc," she said.

There's a bloke called Heseltine who says he's going to get rid of the unnecessary bureaucracy in government. It seems to me he has a little way to go.

Dope heads

You readers are an ungrateful lot. Chateau Bunhill has been working flat out to produce enough passable champagne to keep the winners of my many competitions happy. Now one such has written to say that as he is a teetotaller: "A bottle of Dettol would have been more use." He continues: "In a more civilised age prizes like this fizzy-liquid version of the drug which befuddles millions, turning them at best into gibbering fools ... will be replaced by more benign herbal substances that enhance the natural appetites."

Which I think means he wants me to hand out cannabis at the very least. It's an idea - but I feel sure we can find better ways of cracking that 5 million circulation barrier.

By the way, Bunhill has made it into Captain Moonlight - that excellent bastion of monarchism - today. I tell you this in the spirit of comradeship with the rest of the paper. Well, someone has to read it.