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What a difference a billion makes

IN LESS than eight hours on Wednesday the Government spent pounds 10bn in the failed attempt to save the pound from collapse - making a loss, on paper at least, of pounds 1bn, slightly more than the GDP of Botswana. So what else could it have done with a thousand million pounds?

Paid for the Royal Family for 102 years (Civil List, pounds 9.79m).

Given the Save the Children Fund more than 10 times last year's income (pounds 99.6m).

Built nine new prisons (Belmarsh cost pounds 109.5m).

Hired George Carman QC for 1,370 years (pounds 2,000 a day).

Bought 50 Tornadoes (pounds 20m).

Given pounds 101.62 in tax relief on every mortgage (pounds 9.84m).

Built four, nearly five, new general hospitals (the Westminster and Chelsea, opening in the new year, has cost pounds 206m).

Paid the salaries of all MPs until the year 2039 - assuming they keep inflation down (bill last year, pounds 21.5m).

Enjoyed 40,000 after-dinner speeches by Baroness Thatcher (pounds 25,000 a go).

Sent 4,166 million rude postcards to Helmut Schlesinger, President, Deutsche Bundesbank, Wilhelm Epsteinstrasse 15, 6000 Frankfurt 50, Germany.

Made 833 million three-minute telephone calls to same

(010 49 691581).

YESTERDAY was the feast day of St Lambert, the seventh-century bishop of Maastricht, gruesomely martyred in AD 705. Butler's Lives of the Saints notes that he suffered his fate 'with patience and meekness'. Norman Lamont, please note.

Hacks in armour

SINCE journalists became targets in Bosnia, a German firm called Asbeck has found a lucrative new market. The armoured saloon cars once used by executives to thwart terrorist attacks are now being sold to the media. A recent purchaser is Reuters, the London-based news agency, which picked up an armoured Opel Senator once used to ferry a Siemens executive to and fro. Other Asbeck customers include Austrian TV and the European Broadcasting Union. The vehicles, which look relatively normal from the outside, are said to stop even AK-47 automatic rifle rounds. The Reuters vehicle has already taken three hits in two incidents but appears to have done its job: the agency men suffered nothing more than a strong urge for a glass of slivovitz. Licence-fee payers will be relieved to hear that the BBC has settled for a cheaper, semi-armoured Land Rover - one bullet has already pierced it, slightly bruising a booted Kate Adie foot.

NOT SELLING like hot cakes at the Royal Horticultural Society Great Autumn Show in Pimlico this week: a flamboyant orangey- red rose called 'Sarah, Duchess of York'. A patio variety, it would be ideal next to a swimming pool and is said to look most fetching when viewed through a zoom lens.

Just the ticket

IT'S NICE to be a power in the land. A few weeks ago we told you about the Arts Council's exciting conference, The Odd Couple, in Brighton at the end of October, at which small arts organisations were going to meet big TV companies and work out mutually beneficial projects. The only problem was that it was going to cost the small arts organisations pounds 300 a ticket, and very few of them could afford to go. Now, the Arts Council tells us, it has joined with Carlton Television to provide 70 'bursaries' to help the impoverished arts people attend. Meanwhile, we hear that Arts Council officers have been told to ask those of their clients still not packing for Brighton - why not?

IT MUST have been a coincidence, but yesterday's post brought a communication from the Masters of Europe. 'Dear Madame, Dear Sir,' wrote Dorothe Bittner, under a fetching photograph of herself. 'Why are you getting post today from Germany? The reason is that you are one of the first Englishmen for whom we can grant a long-desired wish: Are you really going to be a millionaire now? Maybe you will start to laugh . . .' Maybe. But this offer from the North-west German state lottery is enticing. 'The prize,' Frau Bittner continues, 'will naturally be paid in the hard German mark, and the choice of how you receive the money is entirely yours.' Oh, ecus, please]


18 September 1886 John La Farge, an American artist in Japan writes to Henry Adams: 'We have come to Osaka to spend an entire day in bric-a-brac: to arrive early at the big shop; to have tea offered us in the little back room of the merchant, which looks out upon his garden of a few trees and little pebbly walls and some stone lanterns. Then cigars, and pieces of porcelain brought from the storehouses; then more tea, and an inspection of the many rooms full of odds and ends. Then more tea, and more pieces slowly and reluctantly drawn from the storehouse, as if we could not be so unreasonable; then lunch and tea, then visits to other rooms full of wares not spoken of before; then more tea, and the last pieces grudgingly produced from the same occult storehouse; purchase amid final bewilderment; tea again, and departure.'