Flat Earth: Two Muslim cheers

SHOCK news from Mayfair. The Egyptian Embassy held its first 'dry' reception last week to mark the arrival in Britain of Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader. No need this time for the Saudi press to airbrush out the glass held by Mr Arafat's wife Suha, as it did during the couple's visits to other EC countries - in London, it was double fruit juices all round.

Our agent, masquerading behind a greying beard, said it was not clear whether Egypt's diplomats were taking a first step towards prohibition or were merely terrified of the rather austere Hamas gentlemen present.

If they are wavering, I can offer them a piece of worthwhile advice from Pakistan. When, during the dark days of martial law under the late imbiber General Zia ul-Haq, you were lashed for tippling, a curious custom grew up at diplomatic receptions - started, naturally enough, by the Australians. Lemonade and ginger ale were served on trays by stewards; but at one end of the room, or in the garden, a tented screen hid the hard stuff. You would go in one end and emerge from the other with lemonade lookalike (gin) or ginger ale lookalike (whisky). No one was offended because it looked as if all were drinking non-alcoholic nectar. This part of the room was known as Muslim Corner.