FLAT EARTH

Good sin transit - a touch too much

FIRST, THE weekly religious briefing. We're sorry to report an exponential increase in Sin, especially in Tehran and environs, where the authorities have had to re-organise the mass transit arrangements accordingly. Chief of Public Tranportation, Mr Mohammad Ali Tarfa, explains: "Everyday, 370,000 women take our mini-buses, and, want it or not, each male passenger has an average of at least 10 contacts with female passengers. This means 3,700,000 sins per day. That contradicts our religious convictions." Under the new deal, women must sit on the right hand side of buses and men on the left. But this solution does not cover the rush hour when men and women have to stand crushed together in the aisles, sinning on an astronomical scale.

Bear witnesses

TO OTTAWA, where the residents are focusing on next month's referendum on Canadian unity. Or they were, until Nature reared up and tapped them on the shoulder with a dark paw. This first came to our notice when our Washington correspondent paid a flying visit this month and reported a family of bears stripping the crab-apple tree in his hosts' garden, the all-night ursine clang of dustbin lids, and the flat refusal of the family labrador to go down certain leafy paths because of the bear question. At the same time bears turned up in a bus tunnel, whatever that is, and up a tree at the centre of a busy intersection. This week however, the bears, rather like sin in Tehran, have gone critical. "I've never seen anything like it," said Daniel Charron, president of Animal Control. "There are bears in the yard, bears in the trees, bears looking in the windows."

What does it mean? In our millenium the art of divination has been rather neglected (I blame the Romans), though it remains relatively simple in Britain. An owl blinking in daylight obviously signifies Mr Major on transport policy. Glimpse a molehill at the edge of the lawn, and the mind turns easily to Mr Rifkind's statesmanship. But thousands of small black bears invading your capital? Fetch the ancient texts.

Misappropriation

THERE WE were reading the claims and denials last week that Britain was secretly colluding with France over nuclear tests in the Pacific when we got to the letter from the Minister for Defence Procurement, James Arbuthnot, to the shadow defence secretary, David Clark, saying it would "not be appropriate" to give details of Anglo-French nuclear co-operation.

"Not appropriate"? Hmmm... I have to tell you that we've been keeping an eye on this phrase for some time, ever since we first spotted it behaving suspiciously in the vicinity of official replies - not to mention the lips of the politically correct. What it really means is the speaker doesn't fully understand his reasons for, say, a refusal, or, more often, that he does and knows they will sound absurd or disgraceful. After all, what could be more appropriate than letting the country know whether Britain is conniving with France as it pounds an atoll belonging to some Polynesians into radioactive crumble, thus infuriating two of this country's closest natural allies, Australia and NZ?

"Not appropriate" today strikes the same false note as our old friend, the verb "abhor". Remember "abhor"? During the 1980s it wonderfully came to mean its exact opposite, as in the phrase "Of course I abhor apartheid, but - ", which really meant: "Actually it sounds like a jolly good idea and I wouldn't lift a finger to disrupt it."

If it's true - and it sounds likely - that Britain is profiting from a technology flow from the Pacific tests, one party will be delighted with an unexpected byproduct - the disruption of the Commonwealth summit in Auckland in November. The French have always looked coldly on this gathering of Anglophones, and at this very moment must be weighing up whether to let off a nice big bomb just before, or during, or after the meeting in the South Pacific.

Cut and thrust

A SAD accident has befallen one of America's premier chefs, Georges Perrier, who, whether from greed or just unthinking impatience, suddenly plunged his hand into the fish mousse forgetting the fact that it was in the Robot Coupe, a processor which has a particularly sharp circular blade. He was rushed to hospital with three fingers nearly off and he won't be in the kitchen for quite some time.

He seems a spiky sort of character, this Georges. His restaurant is named le Bec Fin - the edge of the bird's beak - for example, and when he turned up on CBS's The Late Show he cooked lobsters and cracked open a bottle of champagne with a sabre. I hate to boast about our powers of prevision, but if we'd seen that particular Late Show we could have told you that Georges was heading for trouble. We had a friend who used to open champage with a sabre at what might otherwise have been perfectly well-mannered drinks parties in the Russell Square area. Or failing a sabre, a heavy Sabatier kitchen knife. (Now that I think about it, he always was failing a sabre.) Anyway - as I was saying, an awful fate overtook him. He developed a large paunch and is now the drive-time host on an FM station.

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