Flat Earth

Hello, cool seaman

Here follows a tale of sperma di toro, of stierzaad or haran siemenneste. Still not with me? This is, respectively, the Italian, Dutch and Finnish for bull semen, one of the three icky substances elevated to a casus belli (Latin) by John Major.

If tomorrow the EU agrees once again to allow the export of sperme bovin, as the French call it, along with tallow and gelatine, a great victory will no doubt be pronounced. Perhaps bullensamen, as it is known in Germany, will subside into history, and the hapless simultaneous translators of Brussels can put away their battered dictionaries.

The story reaches me of the Greek translator who, confronted with the unfamiliar term "bull semen", rendered it into her native tongue as "cold sailors". The nautical bit I can understand, but why were they feeling chilly? .

Since you ask, she should have said sperma vooidou.

Hanoi Kong

I read with interest, though no great surprise, of the difficulty Vietnam's few environmentalists are having persuading the authorities to take their concerns seriously. Despite the devastation wrought by American defoliants in the countryside and bombs in the cities of the north, the Vietnamese show little urge to preserve what is left.

Before I went there I had imagined that Hanoi would be a Communist nightmare of flaking concrete, only to discover that some of the unique "tube houses" were nearly 1,000 years old, and that there were leafy boulevards lined by French colonial villas. With the influx of money, however, the municipal and government authorities seemed determined to turn the place into a replica of Singapore or Hong Kong.

Nor were the Vietnamese simply rearranging their own surroundings. Outside Saigon there are no trees more than about 20 years old, so thoroughly have the defoliants done their work, yet huge logging trucks kept going past, each carrying a single giant tropical hardwood trunk. How was this possible, I asked. "Oh," said my guide, "those come from Cambodia."

Gazzevich, come fly me

Since Cathay Pacific is unlikely to have the England football team back in a hurry, another airline will have to be found to carry Gazza and his mates,around the world and I suggest Aeroflot. I'm not going to make cheap jokes about this being a suitable punishment for overpaid juveniles, or about Aeroflot being the only carrier whose air hostesses have the physique needed to overpower a boisterous midfield playmaker. These days they are trained to smile, and they are promising to pull out all the stops when Russia's sportsmen and women go to the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

"Special service" will include "heavy" food for wrestlers and "light" food for gymnasts and swimmers, while basketball and volleyball players will travel business class so they can stretch out their giraffe-like forms. "They will be no-alcohol, no-smoking flights," a spokeswoman said. "Everyone will get a lot of natural juices." Terry Venables should call his travel agent right away.

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