Sunday 21 November 1999
To remind denizens of the French capital that they are only a short train ride from Britain, Eurostar has a witty poster campaign in Paris.
One ad shows grinning men in turbans in an Indian restaurant and declares that "Bombay" is only three hours from Paris. Beneath a pair of ring- and razor-blade-adorned punks, another says that the "biggest hardware store" in the world (in other words, London) is only three hours away. The third poster shows a typically bluff, late-middle-aged Englishman in a pin-striped suit, with an ugly yellow and black tie slightly askew. The caption is: "Pour un bon roastbeef, comptez trois heures." (For a good roast beef, it takes three hours).
Les roastbeefs, or, more usually, les rosbifs, is what the French call us, in the way that we call them frogs. But to display such a poster in Paris en plein beef war amounts to treachery. One possible reading of the caption is that you have to travel three hours from Paris to eat good roast beef.
Prince and the paper
Why was this news kept from us? When the Queen met India's Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, at the Commonwealth summit recently, she expressed her sorrow at the cyclone deaths in Orissa, only for the Duke of Edinburgh to leap in and say that "the Indian authorities should not be too worried about the deaths of a few thousand in a nation groaning under the weight of a population of one billion plus".
It sounded all too plausible, but somehow only The Hindu, India's most serious daily paper, ran the story. The explanation came the next day, when the newspaper carried this brief note: "The story on the Duke of Edinburgh's remarks ... has turned out to be a hoax ... We regret the error."
Of an uncertain age
But then the term "documentary evidence" seems to mean something different in India. Rakesh Chaudhary, Bihar's state Minister for Horticulture, Weights and Measures, was fired for being under-age. According to the voters' list he is 24, and the minimum age to be an MP or state assembly member is 25.
But it's not that simple. Mr Chaudhary's school-leaving certificate declares him to be 31. His matriculation certificate asserts that he is only 19. His horoscope says he's 26, while a legal document held by his lawyer shows him to be 20. Whatever his age, though, he is sacked.
Students often play Father Christmas in Germany to make a little pocket money. In the past, these earnings have been untaxed, but now the greedy state is playing Scrooge. The result is a threatened mass rally of militant Santas in Berlin on 1 December.
Fearing trouble, the authorities have revived an obscure law stating that no one must cover his face at public demonstrations. Most of the Santas are understandably outraged at having to leave their white beards at home, but Jorg Schopfel, Germany's Santa-in-chief, concedes: "Anyone could come dressed as Santa, and no one would know if they were genuine."
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