Flat Earth

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These boots aren't made for watering

'A LAST bid for the south] How I long to see Russian soldiers wash their boots in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean . . .' The strategic vision of Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, outlined in last weekend's Review, raises some immediate objections - like war with Iran and Pakistan for a start. And now a further problem comes to light.

According to bijou London dry cleaners and boot repairers Jeeves of Belgravia, the Zhirinovsky programme would be disastrous. One should never wash one's boots in seawater. 'It would be a most damaging process,' they tell Flat Earth. 'The salt water would stain and weaken the leather, which would then start falling apart at the seams.' More or less the fate you might wish on bad old Vlad himself.

Character forming

THE silence from London over the fate of two British subjects facing canings in Singapore contrasts strangely with the outcry in Washington when US citizen Michael Fay was sentenced to the cane. Could it be that the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, had such a succesful career beating smaller boys at Eton, where he was known as 'Hitler' Hurd? The exquisitely ironic Singaporean responses to any FO complaint are too easy to imagine, and too painful to contemplate.

Mehta physical

IT would be difficult to overpraise the achievements of Ved Mehta, the blind Indian writer, whose journey through life has taken him from a bleak school for blind children in India, to the United States, then Balliol, and on to international fame. His success must depend partly on his insistence that he be treated exactly the same as his sighted friends. Coolly eavesdropping in Bombay recently, we hear the poet and journalist Dom Moraes recall the time in the 1950s when he introduced Mehta to Francis Bacon in Soho.

The young writer insisted he be taken at once to the Master's studio. Reluctantly leaving his champagne, Bacon led the way. Once in the studio, Mehta wanted to 'see' the latest paintings. Muttering to himself by now, Bacon hauled out the canvases and lined them up. 'Hmm,' said the stern young critic, after standing in front of each of them in turn, 'not your best work.' Bacon, for once, was speechless.

Kremlin gremlins

Ring out wild bells, to the wild sky,

Ring out the old, ring in the new

Ring out the false, ring in the true]

Or perhaps not . . . The bells of Ivan the Great's tower in the Kremlin have been silent since 1918, when their use was banned by Lenin. Finally, Boris Yeltsin - a good Orthodox Christian - has handed them back to the church authorities.

For the first time, in a practice for the Russian Easter, the bells begin pealing out joyously. But soft] What man is this approaching? Well, it's a man from the Kremlin, and in a very grim mood. Kindly stop that racket at once. Don't you know what time it is? Someone Very Important has been woken up.

Russia being Russia, a Leninist silence abruptly descends once more over Ivan's belfry; the presidential lie-in resumes its fitful course.