Flat Earth: Kohl makes a meal of it

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When he showed up in Hong Kong, the locals took one look at Chris Patten and immediately christened him "Fat Pang". Five years and a heart operation later, the soon-to-be-ex-Governor is trying to watch his weight, but it does not help to have the mountainous Helmut Kohl as a guest.

The German Chancellor and the former Conservative Party chairman are old pals from the international Christian Democrat circuit. Their only encounter was supposed to be a 90-minute formal meeting at Government House last week, but schedules were torn up as the pair adjourned to a Chinese restaurant for a two-hour lunch - enough time, one would think, even for Helmut to ingest the fuel he needs, but perhaps the chopsticks slowed him down.

Afterwards Chris suggested a stroll round the antique shops of Hollywood Road, but that took them past his favourite egg tart shop. (Don't ask: a local delicacy.) Pausing only to sample a few, the pair rambled on to a jade shop, where Kohl picked up a couple of carvings. They emerged into the midst of a horde of German tourists, who were somewhat gobsmacked to see their Chancellor wandering around Hong Kong. As Helmut went into gladhanding mode, Chris could allegedly be seen thinking: "That could be me!"

Knives out for Yemen

EVERY time a boy is born in Yemen, a rhino dies. Well, not quite, but no self-respecting male on the heel of the Arabian Peninsula would feel dressed without his rhino-handled dagger, known as a jambiya, and according to conservation bodies that means about 25 horns a year.

Yemen claims it is doing its best to stop smuggling, but one traveller there tells me they could make a start by closing the souvenir shop at Sanaa airport, where all sorts of fearsome ironmongery is snapped up by tourists. Apart from the threat to African pachyderms, it causes security nightmares for the airlines.

"You feel sorry for the ground staff," says my informant. "The dialogue with every Yemeni passenger goes like this: `Are you armed?' `No.' `Any daggers?' `Dagger? Well, of course I've got my dagger.' They don't consider anything short of a sub-machine gun to be a proper weapon."

Esperanto crash course

STAYING with air safety, are you worried about all these claims that crashes are happening because pilots and controllers can't understand each others' English? They should have spoken Esperanto instead, according to - no prizes - the Esperanto Association. Its threat to mobilise the "Esperanto Vote" in the General Election does not seem to have had much effect (unless we all missed a Labour commitment to its immediate introduction), but maybe this time we should pay some attention.

I challenged the Association to translate some common exchanges: "Descend to 18,000 feet," for example, is "Malsupren al 18,000 futoj." The warning, "You are on a collision course!" is admirably compact - "Minacas kolizio!" and so is "Take evasive action immediately!" - "Devojigu tuj!" But then if the Esperantists are right, they would never be needed.