FLAT EARTH

No easy cure for ham-fisted Nato

WE'VE ALWAYS thought that Nato, for all its woes (imagine losing your Willy because of corruption in helicopter circles), is still devoted to the armed defence of democracy. But it seems to be straying far from its brief, to judge from a report in El Pais which says that Nato has launched a crash project "to improve the taste, aroma and nutritive value of serrano ham and to reduce its curing time". Quite apart from the question of what on earth that's got to do with the Alliance, I turn for expert reaction to Dorothy, famous curer of hams at the St John restaurant in Smithfield, where a ham takes seven and a half months to prepare. When I tell her what Nato are cooking up, she goes pale and has to sit down. "Who are these people?" she asks. I tell her a little about Nato, then try to explain what happens to perfectly ordinary bureaucrats in Brussels - years of loitering along those infinite corridors is so bad for the human spirit that they assuage their griefs and boredom in gluttony. "I don't care," she says fiercely. "Tell them to keep their paws off ham."

Hard to bear

JUST TO KEEP you abreast of the crisis in Ottawa which has been invaded by gangs of homicidal black bears. A plan is afoot to bribe the beasts by setting up a huge mound of apples in a remote corner of Gatineau Provincial Park, pouring a lot of delicious fish offal over them, and then waiting for the aroma to waft through the woods. The expectation is that this will lure the bears of lower Canada to the feast and away from the deep- sleeping suburbs of Ottawa. I ask our North American correspondent to go to the park at dusk, climb a tree and secrete himself among the pine needles in order to observe this important event in natural history.

To my amazement, he refuses. It's an extraordinary thing: here's a man who has covered wars of revolting cruelty in Central America and Natal, who stared down Winnie Mandela in her worst temper and was not afraid. And will he do a little bear story? No.

And why not, one asks.

"Because bears can climb trees too," he complains.

Slowly I replace the handset in its cradle and gaze into the middle distance. Whither British journalism?

Savoy truffle

IT IS universally admitted that a lovely young prime minister shooting through London on a 24-hour trip stands in need of a Reception. And that Reception will require the presence not only the Great and Good, or even just the OK and the Not Too Bad, but also a crowd of total nobodies to provide the impression of general thronging about and vague buzzing. Thus we found ourselves down the end of a stygian corridor at the Savoy, watching the gorgeous Benazir Bhutto work the room.

Now we have to say we were pretty knocked out by Benazir. Has any woman since Thatcher so dominated a gathering in London? It was quite the oriental court: Benazir looks left - everyone glances covertly in the same direction to see who she's looking at. She strolls 10 yards to the right - the whole roomful moves with her. Now girlish, now imperious, her eye glitters above the crowd. The fact is there's just more to Benazir than most people. Indeed there's more of Benazir as well, since she's become quite, well, statuesque. Among the Labour Party folk who were flocking around her to pay her their respects, it was hard not to think of Snow White besieged by the Seven Dwarves, what with Robin Cook as Grumpy, Gerald Kaufman as Sneezy, Claire Short as Shorty - hang on, that doesn't sound right. Still, you get the picture. . .

Effing and blinding

IT'S A TRICKY business at the best of times, diplomacy, what with punching above your weight, putting national interests above all (including principles), playing double bluffs and so on. But when two countries in negotiations won't even mention one another's name, surreal effects emerge. Greece and Macedonia, for example, after 29 months of squabbling over Macedonia's right to its name, have finally reached an accord which will at least allow minimal contacts. But since Greece still cannot bring itself to utter the word "Macedonia", and so Macedonia in return won't speak the word "Greece", the document reads like a game of Blind Mans' Bluff with all players hooded and groping about.

"The Party of the First Part," for example, "will not return documents of the Party of the Second Part on which this Party is designated by a name which the Party of the First Part does not recognise," reads one par. And at Greece's insistence, Macedonia has only been admitted to the UN as "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and, though pining and casting longing glances at the "M" section, has to sit under the letter "F" in the General Assembly.

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