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SHATTERED STEREOTYPES: Russians are no longer Soviet, United or even Socialist; Britannia does not rule the waves, nor make ships, nor have anyone to sail them; students have short hair, wash all the time and never lay about; France's internationally revered cuisine is typically a ready-prepared convenience meal from a supermarket; the "large" Italian family now includes only one child; the invincible West Indies cricket team lost a series at home to Australia; young men haven't been angry since the Fifties; feminists always wear bras, never wear dungarees and laugh all the time; the healthy outdoor life leads to asthma and skin cancer; the Labour Party is not the party of workers by hand or brain and cannot remember why anyone might ever have wanted to nationalise anything; Berkshire blues are now a different hue while Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells is no longer a Tory.

TODAY is the feast day of Saint Domitian, sixth-century Bishop of Maastricht, a Frenchman who was very persuasive in debate, particularly against heretics. He converted the Meuse valley to Christianity, building churches and hospices as he went. In one hamlet, Huy on the Meuse, of which Domitian remains patron, he slew a dragon that was polluting the water supply. This miracle considerably enhanced his reputation. A famine was causing severe hardship to the poor and Domitian used his new-found popularity to persuade the rich to release the grain they had been hoarding, arguing, correctly, that the famine was about to end.

7 May, 1812: Robert Browning (above) was born in London, son of a Bank of England clerk who none the less kept a 6,000-volume library in his south-east London home. This formed the basis of Robert's education. Here he was inspired by Shelley, Bryon and Keats and by the age of 12 had written his first volume of poems (though he destroyed all but two of them). He enrolled at London University but soon left. He wrote more volumes of poetry, travelled to Russia and Italy, and began a correspondence and then secret courtship with fellow poet, Elizabeth Barrett. Defying Elizabeth's possessive father, Browning eloped to Italy with her. They settled in Florence, had a son, "Pen", and until Elizabeth's death 15 years later remained deliriously happy. After her death Browning wrote his most celebrated works. He died in Venice aged 77 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.