Raising a valedictory glass to Boris

Farewell, then, to the late, great Boris Yeltsin. And by way of a last raising of the glass, here’s the story of when he visited John Major at Chequers (the UK Prime Minister’s country residence)…

After a series of lengthy meetings with the Russian premier, John Major suggested that they go for a walk to get some fresh air. And so the two world leader, their wives and a large entourage of diplomats and security officers set out across the Buckinghamshire countryside.

Within a few hundred metres, however, it became apparent that the Russian president was not one of life’s great walkers, and he began to look decidedly grumpy as they climbed up to the brow of a hill. At the top, Major presented Yeltsin with three choices: walk back over the fields to Chequers – to which Yeltsin grunted; climb down the hill to the waiting cars and be driven back to the estate – another grunt; or walk on to the old-fashioned English pub, the Bernard Arms, in the village of Great Kimble.

At this final suggestion, Yeltsin perked up considerably, shouting gleefully, “Gins and tonic! Gins and tonic!” Arriving in Great Kimble, however, they found that the pub was shut. Yeltsin started hammering on the door, yelling, “Open up! This is the President of Russia!” To which the dry reply came from inside: “Oh yes? And I’m the Kaiser.”

When the pub was finally opened, Major ordered a pint, while Yeltsin asked for a bottle of vodka, only to be refused such a large measure by the nonplussed barman; a diplomatic incident was only avoided when the Russian president agreed to drink his vodka one glass at a time like everyone else.

These are sad times for fans of hard drinking at the top: as if Yeltsin’s sad passing weren’t enough, we face the imminent prospect of French politics without Chirac. Let’s refresh our memories about that New York Times interview one more time:

The president had a different demeanor during the two encounters.

In the first interview, which took place in the late morning, he appeared distracted at times, grasping for names and dates and relying on advisers to fill in the blanks. His hands shook slightly. When he spoke about climate change, he read from prepared talking points printed in large letters and highlighted in yellow and pink.

By contrast, in the second interview, which came just after lunch, he appeared both confident and comfortable with the subject.

Sigh… Not much hope of any of this from Gordon.

[Hat-tip for Yeltsin story: Rough Guides]