Pray and pay

Flat Earth

So What if one British nurse might be beheaded and another given 500 lashes on the basis of disputed confessions? Saudi Arabia is becoming more liberal in at least one important respect, according to its Defence Minister, Prince Sultan: non-Muslims will be able to practise their faiths, as long as it is in the privacy of their homes.

This assurance, given in an interview with a Saudi-owned Arabic newspaper in London, came after Prince Sultan met the Pope in Rome. Let's hope the message gets through to the Kingdom's notorious religious police, who have been known to raid homes to break up prayer meetings and confiscate Christmas trees. When Western forces were stationed in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, their chaplains had to be designated "welfare officers", and religious services were characterised as "welfare meetings".

Going on to Kuwait just after the Gulf hostilities, I found that Christian worship was at least possible there, although the Catholic priest had to make sure his congregation got home safely. Kuwaiti men would hang around the church and try to drag Filipina maids, who made up the majority of the congregation, into their cars. Sometimes they succeeded.

After this it was chastening to go into defeated Iraq, which is home to one of the world's oldest Christian communities and has more religious tolerance than Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. In this respect if no other, Saddam Hussein was closer to our values than our regional allies were.

Coin a Clinton

A New book called How To Talk American, published this month in the US, brings us bang up to date with current usage: I enjoyed the news that among the President's detractors in Washington, "a Clinton" is a complete policy reversal.

You can introduce modifiers, such as a "half Clinton", which is a normal policy reversal. A "full Clinton" is a policy reversal with feeling, and a "double Clinton" is a reversal followed by a denial of the reversal.

It also appears that murdering your spouse is known as an "Alaska divorce", but what struck a curious linguistic chord was the jargon surrounding the American obsession with permutations of coffee.

A "double no fun" is a double decaf latte, and "thunder thighs" is a double tall mocha with full-fat milk and extra whipped cream). This link between coffee and sex appeal is reflected in Cantonese slang, where, I was recently informed, "decaffeinated" means a flat-chested girl.

Ring of steal

I Thought Hungarians were the people who went into a revolving door behind you and emerged in front, but clearly they are not all so sharp. A Hungarian burglar in Belgium broke into a sports club, and decided to call his girlfriend in Budapest while he stripped the premises.

He even took the phone with him when he left, but a month later the bill arrived at the sports club. The woman was traced through the Budapest number, and that led to her boyfriend.

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