The Scene: Room 437 at The People's Guest House Ltd, the upgraded room for the present Sino-British talks; the one with all the lace doilies on the seats, plus an extra brass spittoon for the British side, who are hawking incessantly from the Five Dragonsbrand cigarette smoke clouding the air from across the table: SIR Robin McLaren: Gentlemen, greetings from the British people on this the 197th day of the present round of discussions. You will by now have read the bitter criticism of our private negotiations from those who would accuse us of speaking in cliches. Particular reference was made to our weekly media interviews. Statements such as ''The future stability and prosperity of Hongkong'' and ''The talks have been useful and cordial'' have been mentioned. Three-legged stools and new kitchens also came up. Now I know old habits die hard, and one man's meat is another man's poison, but I do believe we should try to be less proverb and cliche-ridden and try for more open and honest communications. Remember, there is no time like the present. Chinese spokesman: I agree with Sir Robin on this point. We must remember that fine words and appearances are seldom associated with virtue. We have a long way to go in these discussions. The highest towers begin from the ground. Perseverance makes all things easy. Sir Robin: Thank you. Now, on the subject of more elected representatives in Legco from next year . . . Some people tell me we are flogging a dead horse. However, Rome wasn't built in a day. Patience is a virtue, and we must not cut off our nose to spite our face. Chinese spokesman: Forgive me for saying so Mr Ambassador, but your Mr Patten has behaved like a bull in a china shop. Remember, those who sell dog meat often display a lamb's head. As you are aware, in our two nations' relationship it is easier to visit friends than to live with them. The Patten proposals are like trying to catch the moon in the water; it is a waste of effort polishing a brick to make a mirror. It is useless to climb a tree to look for a fish. Sir Robin: Sir if you live by the river, you understand the nature of fishes. Chinese spokesman: You hurt me, Sir Robin. The tongue is a sharp sword which slays though it draws no blood. Sir Robin: I just want you to understand the British position on Hongkong. You say you want a prosperous Hongkong after 1997 but no more democracy. Well, you can't have your cake and eat it. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Chinese spokesman: Sir Robin, we understand your point of view. But what about the spirit of the Sino-British Agreement? A pen cannot write two words simultaneously. Sir Robin: Believe me, we are as sincere about the spirit of the agreement as you are. But sometimes you must lose a fly to catch a trout. Chinese spokesman: Sir Robin, it was you who has been telling us we must understand the nature of fishes. The fish sees the bait but not the hook. Sir Robin: And it was you, sir, who was adamant you cannot find fish in trees. Let's be honest here. Your agreeing to a little more democracy in Hongkong after 1997 would be a sprat to catch a mackerel, unless of course you have bigger fish to fry. Sir Robin's chief assistant: Maybe we should just open a Harry Ramsden's in Beijing . . . Chinese spokesman: We can return to this debate at another time. Meanwhile, it is important that we do not derail the through-train. Sir Robin: Very good then. Beggars can't be choosers. Your Government will no doubt do as it sees fit in '97 and beyond. It takes all kinds to make a world. Meanwhile we will hope for the best and expect the worst. Chinese spokesman: Sir Robin, all our government wants is a smooth transition. Sir Robin: That's exactly what I'm trying to say! For Hongkong it is better to be a cock's beak than a bull's rump. Let us take the bull by the horns. Together, through democracy, Hongkong can continue to be as strong as an ox. Chinese spokesman: Of course! But there is no need to use an ox knife to kill a chicken. One needn't devour a whole chicken to know the flavour of the bird. McLaren's assistant: (thinks) . . . And a Texas Steakhouse . . . Kentucky Fried . . . Peter Sherwood is managing director of Edelman Public Relations Hongkong.