Flat Earth

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The Independent Online
See the light

AWARE that killing animals for fun can look, shall we say, a little yobbish, the defenders of traditional country pursuits such as those swamping London today have always tried to deflect such criticisms by doing what they do in strictly enforced style. A whole gamut of dress and other rules, as well as the odd esoteric ritual, are presumably designed to give the impression that what is going on is more than naked expression of one of our less attractive instincts.

An interesting contrast, then, with a bloodsport enjoyed by British expats in the mountainous Caucasus republic of Georgia, known as "lamping". This is a misleadingly elegant term for racing around the countryside at night shining a powerful lamp into the darkness and blowing off the heads of those rabbits inquisitive enough to stick their ears up. John Etchells, 45, a construction engineer from London, says you can bag up to 20 in a night. That's if you haven't been a victim of Georgian hospitality, which cuts the tally to "about three". The hunters ensure they are not that unpopular with the locals: "We give the rabbits away to old women, who cook them. People never kill what they don't eat."

Happy hostages

THE generosity of the wine-loving Georgians should not be underestimated. Witness, for example, the experience of four UN peacekeepers taken hostage in a remote mountain village shortly after the assassination attempt against President Eduard Shevardnadze on 9 February. Far from being chained up in a cellar, they were treated by their captors - some 15 gunmen loyal to the late Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia - to one wine- soaked feast after another. As one hostage was a Czech, there was great rejoicing when the Czech Republic beat the Russians at ice hockey in the Winter Olympics last Sunday, securing the gold medal. "They held a party and invited half the village," said Peter Mamradze, a senior aide to Mr Shevardnadze, "They drank toasts for many hours. The last toast was for world democracy." Reports that members of the household who were held in a farmhouse had been released turned out to be wrong: they were going out for more food to fuel the feast. The relaxed atmosphere even seemed to infect the Georgian authorities. When the gunmen surrendered, they detained eight of them but three - including the ringleader Gocha Esebua - were allowed to flee.

Make it snappy

A CHAMBERMAID in a Paris hotel had a rude shock this week when a crocodile suddenly sprang out from under a bed. Although only a baby, just 2ft long,it was sufficiently aggressive to make her drop her mop and run. Too young to be sold for its hide, and not a particularly affectionate pet, the beast was probably destined to be served up (dare I suggest, as a croque- monsieur?) in a speciality African restaurant. Brought to the hotel by a guest who subsequently disappeared without a trace, the crocodile was declared to be in excellent health and is currently residing at the "Jardin de Plantes". The only cause for consternation is that a second crocodile, known to be kept in the hotel room, has not been found. Hotel guests have been warned.