I suspected something was amiss when the Berlin Wall came down. I detected a certain change in the atmosphere when the Baltic states left the Soviet Union. I could tell things were going pretty badly for the movement when the Romanians shot Ceausescu. But I only really grasped that Communism was in real trouble when the final nail in its coffin appeared in the foreign pages this week: Fidel Castro has bought a suit.
Not just a suit. The Cuban bogeyman, who has spent the past 36 years in an unvarying succession of khaki fatigues (with extra pockets for, you know, grenades and very long speeches and so forth), was pictured outside France's Elyse Palace waving at the surly boulevardiers, like the Duchess of York at Gstaad airport, and looking every inch the fashion victim. We're talking cuff-links here. We're looking at spiky shirt collars and a clock-patterned club tie (Boodles? The Brigade of Guards? The Worshipful Company of Dictators?) We're staring at the great man's totalitarian rug slicked back with Brylcreem or Vitapointe. And the suit itself ... beside the ancient figure of Franois Mitterrand, in his Euro-consensus boring old pin-stripe, Castro stood resplendent in a three-buttoned, high-cut Italian dream straight out of Prt--Porter. I rushed to the fashion desk. "Mmm," they said, "that wide collar, that butch-yet-cointained look about the shoulders. It just shouts Romeo Gigli."
I knew it. Mr Castro has been made over. (Can it have been Barbara Follett, the left-wing image consultant? Can she persuade him to do something about that frightful beard?) I looked through all the other newspapers for more revealing photographs. The best was in El Pais, the Spanish daily, where a full-length portrait reveals that the former Commie Bastard is now shod in fashionable Doc Martens. The accompanying text was headlined: "Castro cree que su visita a Francia pone fin al bloqueo de Cuba". My Spanish may be shaky, but I understand this to mean: "Castro believes that his visit to France spells the end for the Real Blokes of Cuba". Ah well. The embrace of democracy must entail some sacrifices.
Spare a thought this weekend for Richard Cohen, the Robeson-voiced publisher who has charmed umpteen politicians into down-loading their autobiographies, helped Jeffrey Archer with all his bestsellers and started his own imprint last month with a party at which Archer, for the only time in his life, found himself sharing room-space with a member of the Workers' Revolutionary Party (Corin Redgrave, whose memoir of his father Michael comes out in June). For Cohen, renaissance man that he is, has for the 25th year in succession reached the finals of the National Sabre Championships, which will be held in Bath on Saturday and Sunday. Cohen is modest about his achievements. Only by relentless interrogation can you drag from him the fact that he has been selected to represent the UK at sabre-fighting in the Olympics on four occasions - in Munich, Montreal, Los Angeles and Moscow (he declined to attend the last named, perhaps from the impossibility of finding any politicians keen to spill the beans). Which bit is he best at? The thrust? The parry? The swinging-round-the-head haymaker? "Low cunning," he reports. "In the middle of a bout, I tell them I used to fence with their fathers, and usually they're so disconcerted I get another hit in."
My man in the British embassy in Moscow reports the tale of the Incredible Disappearing Politicians. It seems that the British ambassador and a delegation of weapons-grade diplomats had planned a trip to Turkmenistan, in the chilly wastes of the Caucasus. Memos flew. Schedules were drawn up. Everything was prepared. The ambassadorial party was about to mount the plane steps - when a message came to say there was nobody in Turkmenistan to meet them. Nobody. The entire Turkmenistan cabinet was unavailable. Of ministers, spokesmen and welcoming civil servants there was neither hide, hair nor trace. No explanation has yet arrived. Can it be that the Turkmenistanis simply bottled out of having a gaggle of superior Brits and their wives coming round to inspect their unswept flats and make off with all their carpets?
Like most people in this country, gays included, I cannot take much more of Peter Tatchell. That tone of argumentative sanctimony with which he explains to his "outed" victims why having their private lives exposed is good for them is enough to make a cat sick. Somewhere deep in the psyche of this "sexual terrorist" is a horrible reactionary streak which whines "I'm telling on you" like a nasty child. I suspect Mr Tatchell is a fake. I am making a few inquiries and am pretty close to discovering that he has for years been concealing a wife and four children in the depths of Esher, and a spectacular mistress just off Great Portland Street. It will be the scoop of the year: the Inning of Peter Tatchell.Reuse content