Flat Earth

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The Independent Online
The art of PR

WHEN I was growing up in Cape Town we regularly used to pass a low, corrugated- iron roofed building which proudly advertised that Mrs Ball's Home-Made Chutney came from within its walls. (Still being made, by the way; I have even seen it in Sainsbury's.) It was a constant joke to speculate where on the premises Mrs Ball had her home.

I don't know whether there ever was a Mrs Ball who used to boil up apricots in her kitchen, but Bill Bryson tells in Made in America how Betty Crocker got her name - Betty because it sounded homely and trustworthy, apparently, Crocker after a recently-deceased executive of the company. She began as a signature on letters to customers asking about recipes, but later graduated to sponsoring a whole range of foods, and even had her own model kitchen at the HQ of General Foods.

Betty never got the company named after her, though, as Sara Lee did, and she has been comprehensively upstaged by Sara's role as patron of the arts. Last week Sara Lee Corporation (which used to be the much less friendly-sounding Consolidated Foods) announced plans to donate modern art worth $100m (pounds 61m) from its collection, including works by Matisse, Degas, Gauguin and Pissarro, to museums. It can't be long before Ronald McDonald starts buying up Jeff Koons, or Captain Birdseye puts his PR budget into Dutch seascapes.

Transvestite Spice

I DIDN'T realise how global the Spice Girls were until I saw a doctor in ER - set in Chicago - distracting a little girl from her injuries by asking who her favourite Spice was. Clearly the departure of Ginger Spice is a blow to female pre-teens all round the world.

And not just to them: Spice lookalike bands everywhere must be wondering how long they will last if the originals bow out. The Bangkok-based "Ersatz Spice", however, offer a bit extra - they are all men, and their transvestite act is suddenly packed out after all the publicity the real group has been getting.

Akanit Rattanavichit, 24, says he was picked to be Ginger because he was the most buxom of the bunch. With his fright wig he looks more like a send-up, but judging by the photograph Posh, Sporty and Scary are queasily close to the real thing. The quintet claims to move and sound like the girls, so maybe the next step should be to hire the manager they sacked. I'd be amazed if he couldn't book them on The Clive James Show.

Feeling horny

WE RETURN to Cape Town for the news that Viagra may rescue not only the sex lives of older men, but also the African rhino.

Save-the-rhino types are hoping that Oriental men who used to swear by powdered rhino horn will switch to the little blue pills to spice up their sex lives. "Maybe this will take over and reduce the myth that rhino horn is an aphrodisiac," says David Newton of Traffic, an international group which monitors trade in wild animals.

But he admits that poaching may still be a problem. No male in Yemen, that lawless state on the Arabian peninsula where they keep kidnapping Brits, feels properly dressed unless he is wearing a dagger with a handle made of rhino horn, and the Japanese and Taiwanese still think the powdered stuff is good for curing fevers. Don't ask me how it can heat you up and cool you down at the same time.