Voice of reason

FLAT EARTH

We Used to be able to rely on children to ask those really awkward questions that got to the heart of some adult pretence or hypocrisy in a way that grown ups would never do.

But as our culture has relentlessly hacked away at the years of childhood innocence, those sorts of questions are more and more rarely asked. The kids know the answers more or less as soon as they learn to speak. Fortunately, we can occasionally rely on adults who still have the childish gift, and Princess Diana, frequently suspected of being cunning and manipulative, employed the childish virtues of innocence and plain-speaking to powerful effect in Angola last week.

As "expert" ministers muttered anonymously from behind their malt whiskies about a loose cannon, she planted the thought firmly in the minds of millions of people around the world that there may be no justification whatsoever for the manufacture and use of anti-personnel landmines, and that any government that defends their manufacture and use is a disgrace. After all, who is the greater expert on the effects of landmines, the politician imbibing in his club, or the 13-year-old girl who had her leg blown off on the way to the well?

Bull shines

Where children and princesses cannot ask awkward questions, dumb animals sometimes manage it. On Friday, South Korean marines ventured into the de-militarised zone between North and South Korea to rescue a stranded bull that had drifted downstream in floodwaters last summer and washed up on the islet of Yoo-do.

The two Koreas waged a fierce battle over the islet at the end of the 1950-53 Korean conflict. The battle ended in a draw, and the islet has since been part of the two and a half-mile-wide DMZ. The bull lived on the islet for six months, oblivious to human frontiers and the hatreds of brothers. As winter set in, though, its fate gripped national attention. TV stations showed the emaciated animal hobbling from an injury, and something had to be done.

It is the Year of the Ox in Asia, a year that supposedly brings bumper crops and harmony. After the rescue, officials dubbed the animal a "Bull of Peace", and put a pink ribbon on him.

Tip-top tips

Everyone knows that people who live on the street are there out of choice, and just have a strange aversion to warmth, dryness and home cooking. But even for them life without a mortgage isn't all roses, so here are a couple of handy hints, picked up from places where people are even poorer than they are.

Tip for would-be pickpockets: plant a couple of your friends in a busy street, and get them to start a disturbance saying that a selected passer- by has made their penis shrink or disappear simply by shaking them by the hand. As a crowd gathers, insist that the passerby is a sorcerer, and incite them against him. As the mob gets more and more excited, pick their pockets. The scam worked so well in Accra last week that two "sorcerers" were beaten to death for snatching penises by witchcraft. On examining the alleged "victims", police found their genitals intact.

And a tip for underpaid prostitutes: try asking the wives of your customers to give their husbands a little something so that they can give you more for your services. Prostitutes in the Zimbabwean town of Masvingo have raised their charges by 67 per cent and through a local paper they appealed to housewives to give their husbands the money to make up the difference.

"We are not married but we need to survive and send our children to school," a spokeswoman for the Prostitutes Association of Zimbabwe said. Masvingo punters must now pay Z$50 (pounds 3) a night, up from Z$30 (pounds 1.80).

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