Pembroke: Russian hospitality leaves bad taste

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The Independent Online
Doing business in the new Russia is a tricky affair. Just ask Garrard, the Crown jewellers, who returned from a sales trip there last week. Garrard was one of a number of UK firms, including accountants Price Waterhouse and KPMG Peat Marwick, that took part in the City of London exhibition in Russia, timed to coincide with the Queen's visit.

During what proved to be a chaotic trip, the Garrard team visited a Russian restaurant and, not wanting to get caught out, agreed the bill beforehand.

Russian inflation may be bad, but the final bill weighed in at more than double the original estimate.

Upon querying the amount, they were led to an anteroom whose door was locked behind them, where a 'discussion' took place.

Recognising a strong hint when they saw one, the Garrard team paid the bill using their American Express card, but craftily wrote on the chitty that it had been signed under duress. Sadly for the purveyors of posh trinkets, the matter didn't end there. The Russians managed to translate the disclaimer and tried unsuccesfully to gain entry to the jewellers' hotel.

The Regent Street team were apparantly laughing about the incident on the plane home but have gone a bit shy about it since. 'I think they would rather pretend it didn't happen,' a protective Garrard spokeswoman says. No doubt the firm will draw lots on trips to the former Soviet Union in future.

What is going on at the NatWest Tower, the bank's former headquarters which has been empty since the Bishopsgate bomb blast last April? Yesterday it looked a real mess as builders were demolishing the once glass-fronted entrance hall, and stripping it of its finer points - such as marble cladding and fountains. In its place is a series of unsightly concrete joists.

NatWest says the reason for the work is that builders needed to erect joists to enable the movement of men and materials up the building for re-cladding and refurbishment. Does this mean the bankers, currently scattered in several buildings across the City, are set to return to their former home?

'No decision has been made on that,' NatWest says. 'And the building is unlikely to ready until early 1997.'

Still on NatWest. Lord Alexander of Weedon QC, the bank's chairman, was in witty mood last night in a hard-hitting speech at the insolvency lawyers' association.

'No member of the Bar ever takes either solvency or popularity for granted,' he opened. 'Halsbury's Laws of England recognised this when they placed a section on barristers neatly between 'Bankruptcy' and 'Bastardy'.

Not content with branching out into vodka and cola, Richard Branson has taken to advertising venture capital groups. Lucky recipient of Mr Woolly Jumper's voice-over skills is CINVen, which is running a campaign on Virgin 1215 (surprise, surprise) and London Radio.

Did CINVen pay Mr Branson a fee? 'No,' the firm says. 'It was done for mutual publicity.'

Cheap stunt of the week award goes to MTV. The music television station has issued invitations to a sponsorship deal announcement next week with a 'Jeans' condom attached inside. True the sponsor is Durex, which is spending a seven-figure sum on the Dial-MTV show, but even so . . . 'We thought it would grab the attention,' MTV says, limply.