FLAT EARTH

Saddam says ...

Even Saddam Hussein has feelings, you know. Last week he went on television to tell his people that he was not stashing money away in Swiss bank accounts, and that all the palaces he had built were not his, but theirs.

Leaving aside what one imagines would happen to any Iraqi showing up to claim a stake in these national assets, you have to wonder about Saddam's public relations sense. By answering the charges, he was acknowledging not only that his hapless subjects had heard them, but also that they probably believed them. By the time he finished, any Iraqi still in ignorance of the calumnies against his leader had had it thoroughly dispelled.

Here he is, for example, dealing with the preposterous suggestion that he might be putting something away for his retirement. "The masters of imperialism said in 1992 that Saddam Hussein had personal accounts in Swiss banks and that his brother was appointed ambassador there to supervise those assets on behalf of Saddam Hussein. The then minister of information, Hamed Yousif Hummadi, had cleverly replied to them by saying: 'Wherever you find personal money belonging to Saddam Hussein, seize it, you the frustrated, and give us only five per cent to be spent on the people of Iraq.'"

I don't know about you, but for me - and no doubt everyone in the Iraqi TV audience - that clears it all up admirably.

A real rip-off

It Is nice to know that some British institutions still have their imitators round the world. At the elegant Creole-style house of the Leclezio family in Mauritius, which you can see below, they have taken a leaf from the book of our own National Trust.

The wooden edifice, which has no corridors but 109 doors, was given to a trust in 1986. Its splendid interiors are filled with mementoes from the East India Trading Company. Upstairs, however, you find that they're taking this "leaf from a book" business a little too literally. In their version of a National Trust shop, you are encouraged to buy pages torn from works in the Leclezio library, such as original maps and illustrations detailing the rich history of the island. Suitable for framing, as they say.

Perhaps it's not so much the National Trust they're emulating as that other fine British tradition, selling the family silver.

There's the rub

A Brit who checked into a somewhat dubious hotel in South Korea a while back could not understand why women kept phoning his room from the lobby to ask whether he wanted a haircut. In those more regimented times, barbering was the accepted social cover for prostitution: anyone going to the sort of establishment where all the snippers were female was understood to be in search of services more comprehensive than a short back and sides.

These days brothels commonly adopt the disguise of a Turkish bath, charging "membership fees" of up to pounds 200 for a massage with extras. This has annoyed the Turkish embassy in Seoul. "It is time to put an end to this mistake in a friendly manner before the Turks take it as an insult to their culture," Derya Dingiltepe, the embassy's charge d'affaires wrote to local newspapers. She said she had been humiliated by Koreans who assumed that because she was Turkish, she must be a masseuse at a bath-house.

This particular euphemism was borrowed from Japan, where the Turkish embassy got similarly annoyed a few years ago. In a typically Japanese consensus, the bath-houses all agreed overnight to call themselves "soaplands" - end of problem.

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