FLAT EARTH

A terrible speech

is born

STILL pining for the "special relationship", torpedoed by the Tories who so niftily backed Bush against Clinton in the last election? Never fear - in some ways we are still Athens to their Rome. British journalist Christopher Hitchens describes a phone call from the White House: "Hi. George Stephanopoulos thought you would know where that line about 'the centre cannot hold' comes from." Clearly a White House speech full of doomy Yeatsian echoes was in the pipeline, so Hitchens rang back to declaim "The Second Coming" to a secretary.

"The repetition of 'loosed' after 'blood-dimmed tide' gave some difficulty," Hitchens writes, "and then with a sinking feeling I heard myself say: 'The ceremony of innocence is drowned.' When the recitation ended, there was a puzzled silence on the line.

" 'Will he know what this is about?'

"'Yes he will. It's a poem he asked for.'

" 'A poem? Did you write it?'"

Horn of Africa

A RARE meeting of minds in the Middle East, where fundamentalist group Al-Jihad has taken against the admittedly rather phallic 617ft Cairo Tower. "It must be destroyed," thundered an Al-Jihad fatwa last week. "Its shape, and its construction amid greenery, could excite Egyptian women." You realise what this means? Now trees are offensive objects on the grounds that they resemble pubic hair - which, apart from being 90ft high and home to the common magpie, I suppose they do. "The Tower is against sharia law," continued the edict, "and so it must fall." This will please the Americans, who could never stand the sight of the thing. Angered by a US decision in 1960 to cut off funds for the Aswan Dam, Nasser, using dollars America had already donated, built the tower to cock a snook at the West.

Bulgar abuse

EVER wake up in a sweat from nightmares about Eastern Europe - rusty reactors, crime waves, that sort of thing? Wait till you hear about their schools. Ignorance and indiscipline have engulfed the halls - not helped, it must be said, by staff. In Bulgaria, two lady teachers (history and maths), feeling fed up, brought along a can of petrol and immolated themselves in assem-bly last week. In another school one boy behaved so badly that he has been suspended for 50 years. Which is dandy for everyone except the poor teacher, probably as yet unborn, who will be taking class in 2045: the door bursts open, and the aged and sullen Bulgar slouches to his desk, behind in all subjects.

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