1 AUGUST 1987, Page 45


Peculiar presents


I. N Competition No. 1482 you were invited to compose a speech or letter to accompany a peculiar present from one contemporary head of government to another.

I've seen some pretty funny presents given and taken in my time. I remember being at a Christmas house party near Dublin at which presents were expected all round. There were two men who detested each other. My friend X gave his enemy Y, who had fought for Hitler with Franco's Blue Division, a Guards tie. Alas, the irony went unnoticed. Y's return was a record (which I later watched X pulverise with a walking-stick) entitled 'The Speeches of Our Beloved President'. Fifteen-love, it was generally agreed, to the shit. I have seen my father unsuccess- fully struggle to find words to express his gratitude for a tiny machine for stamping Your very own initials on your very own golf balls. Once, through a lapse of mem- °rY, I gave my mother-in-law the same wastepaper basket on two birthdays run- ning. When she asked why, I still think I did well to reply, 'Because you said you loved the first one so much.'

The postal strike semi-decimated this competition and I was left with few more than a score of entries. Masterpieces may lie mouldering in jute or plastic bags. But the early posters did well enough, and I'm happy to award £15 each to the winners below. The bonus bottle of 904 Gran Riserva from La Rioja Alta, the gift of Mr David Balls of Wines from Spain, goes to Basil Ransome-Davies.

Dear President Reagan, In presenting to you the body of the founder of the Soviet state, I wish to signify to you by the most potent symbolism that the spirit of glasnost is alive. Lenin, of course, is not, and my colleagues and I feel that to retain a mummified relic of the bad old days of class warfare would be to encourage our people to cling to old, revolutionary ways..

You will observe that our former comrade is in perfect condition. Furthermore, instructions for the regular embalming process are enclosed. We hope that you will find some suitable place of exhibition for the casket, and perhaps reflect On the power of a lifeless centenarian to sway men's minds and rule the present. It is strange, is it not?

Incidentally, if there is a slightly artificial look to the features, it is probably the result of cosmetic measures taken to disguise the disfigur- ing effects of a gunshot wound. It is reported that he was never quite the same after Dora Kaplan's assassination attempt, though whether all policy mistakes can be ascribed to this is doubtful.

Sincerely, Mikhail (Basil Ransome-Davies) (Mrs Thatcher speaking) In presenting you with this tea-cosy, Mr Prime Minister, let me explain why we chose it. Firstly, because it is British; invented in Britain, made in Britain by British people. Secondly, because it seems to me to embody the virtues of thrift and family life that we in Britain increasingly hold dear. And thirdly, because I believe it is right for Europe. The meetings in Brussels that you and I attend, Mr Prime Minister, are sometimes re- freshed by a cup of tea. But too often, you know, as the discussion warms up, the teapot gets cold. That must never never happen. If we are to tackle our common problems with cool heads, we must see that the teapot of Europe is kept hot.

(David Heaton) Dear Mr Mulroney, On behalf of my government and in the name of refugees everywhere allow me to thank you and your country for its humane and generous policy towards the disadvantaged and displaced peoples of this world.

The political courage shown by you and your ministers in accepting to your nation's heart first the boatload of Sri Lanka Tamils and now the Sikhs from my own country has earned the eternal thanks and respect of a grateful Third World. Please may this letter serve as an introduction to its bearer, Haroon, who is my nephew, being the eldest son of my sister and her husband. Please accept him with our warmest thanks.

Yours, Rajiv Gandhi (Hartley Steward) President Mitterrand, On behalf of the British Government and nation I have great pleasure in presenting you with this beautiful galvanised zinc wheelbarrow.

You may wonder why we have chosen such a gift for you. Let me say first of all that it casts no aspersions on your ability to carry office, or even the confidence of your electorate. No, it is rather a symbol of the joint effort which is needed to remove, once and for all, the moun- tains of surplus food that put such a burden on our resources in their maintenance and storage.

You will notice that the wheelbarrow is sturdy and even, if I might be forgiven for saying so, old-fashioned, matching the reputation of the French farmer — reliable, slow, but sure. Slowly, grain by grain, the mountains have risen before us. Surely, barrow by barrow-load, we must take them down.

But you say, why no shovel? Of course, we British shall play our part, as befits a nation that is not averse to having a dig.

(Katie Mallett) (To Mrs Thatcher) Dear Prime Minister, Your visit to Ethiopia in June and the very deep esteem in which I hold you both personally and politically prompt this gift. An elephant's right foot fashioned as a wastepaper basket may puzzle you. (The left one, similarly designed, stands beside my cutlass in my office.) Our differing political positions are, of course, represented by the respective feet. You may find, furthermore, your foot a useful receptacle for any clauses in our recently ratified treaty discovered subsequently to be unacceptable. Please feel free to use it in this way, as I intend to do myself. It will doubtless be a satisfaction to both of us to be united through the aegis of this rogue elephant, whose age — 112 years when shot — coincidentally makes up the sum of both our ages.

Yours sincerely, Mengistu Haile-Mariam, General Secretary Workers' Party of Ethiopia (Lettice Buxton)