FLAT EARTH: No change in HK

Larry Feign creator of Hong Kong's immortal Lily Wong, pictured the masses united by a single thought as they prepared to be handed over to China: "How can I make a buck out of this?"

Cynical, you might imagine, but accurate, if the latest reports from the Special Administrative Region are any guide. Why do old people queue outside banks every morning? They exchange all the notes they have for coins, then sift eagerly through them in search of old colonial examples with the Queen's head - not for love of the old regime, but because they are collectors' items.

A 10-cent coin minted in 1980 has fetched over pounds 1,650, with collectors in mainland China the keenest buyers. Everyone is happy except the banks, which can run out of coins in the first half-hour of business, and one has now told its branches to stop giving change.

Even Chris Patten, the dastardly "Triple Violator", is back in favour, at least with collectors. The former Governor's autograph has been valued at pounds 1,500, "almost an Abraham Lincoln," according to one expert. "It gets you two John F Kennedys, Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway or Sigmund Freud." It seems that the best way Patten had of enhancing his popularity was to make himself scarce.

Earning a crust

Russia's economic troubles mean that many workers go for months without being paid, or find themselves having to accept whatever their company makes or processes instead of cash, such as saucepans or fish.

In the southern port of Taganrog, pineapples have become cheaper than potatoes, because dockers are being paid with cans of the fruit rather than in roubles. The hapless dock workers are selling the tins on the streets to raise cash to buy other food for their families.

The Kremlin has decreed that all public sector workers should receive wage arrears by the end of the year. But that does not cover private enterprises, so anything from toilet bowls to rubber sandals may still be legal tender.

Photo faux pas

Can this be the same country where Fergie's notorious toe-sucking pictures were taken? A French court has ordered a hotel chain to withdraw a brochure with an innocuous-looking photograph of a couple seated at a table on a terrace.

The trouble was that the man was in the process of divorcing his wife, who was not the woman in the picture. It was an embarrassing time for him, he told the court, which upheld the couple's complaint that the chain should have sought their permission before using the snap.

This case should be enough to strike terror into any British tabloid editor. France rules that public figures like the Duchess of York are fair game, but is strict on violating the privacy of ordinary individuals like the anonymous couple. If "embarrassment" is going to become a hanging offence under any privacy legislation here, one is at a loss to know what the Sun is going to put on its front page.

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