GOVERNOR Chris Patten should not have been surprised last week when his call for China to endorse the ''simple things'' in his political reform package was widely interpreted as an offer to split the talks on the 1994 and 1995 polls, and so allow negotiations to continue. For, after the passing of two previous ''deadlines'' - the July 21 Legislative Council summer recess and October 6 policy address - there are more than a few suspicions about the validity of Mr Patten's assertion that there are ''only weeks rather than months'' left before negotiations must be brought to an end. That explains the misplaced enthusiasm with which the Governor's comments were greeted last Thursday, when all he actually did was urge Beijing to approve his proposals for next year's polls, while stressing this was ''a red herring'' that would not makemuch difference to the date when even talks on the 1995 elections had to be broken off. Like the famous fable of the boy who cried wolf so many times that when one finally arrived nobody believed him, the Governor is having trouble getting his message across now the moment of truth is looming. For, despite all the justified scepticism caused by memories of past deadlines that did not exist, the signs are Mr Patten is right this time, at least to the extent there are only weeks left before preparations must begin for the 1995 polls, regardless of whether or not talks on the two sets of elections are split. Preparations which may well lead to the breakdown of the negotiations, although that depends on Beijing's response. While the Government has so far refused to release publicly any detailed timetable for these preparations - in case it jeopardises this month's two remaining rounds of talks - it is possible to piece together the sequence of events that must take place over the coming months. No one denies the time left to prepare for the September 1994 district board polls is fast running out. Indeed, the Boundary and Election Commission Bill, the only part of the Patten package that has made it into the statue books, stipulates the boundaries of no less than 338 constituencies must be drawn up by December 31. These will partly depend on the voting system to be used, something the two sides are still far apart on, with Beijing pushing for the multi-seat, single-vote system, something Britain is highly unlikely to accept. It has also yet to be decided whether or not to reduce the voting age to 18, something China has opposed. Yet that should not prove too difficult to resolve, with Beijing widely expected to eventually give way on the issue, and most local leftists supporting such a move. Similarly, Mr Patten's proposed abolition of the appointed membership of the district boards does not affect the number of seats available in September's polls, meaning this contentious issue need not be resolved yet. But the case of the Urban and Regional Councils is much more urgent. Although these elections will not be held until May 1995, by law the boundaries for both polls must also be drawn up by the end of the year. With the Governor's plan to increase the number of elected members of both bodies still in dispute, it is already clear this will not be possible, and the Government will have to ask legislators to pass a special law allowing for a delay. Perhaps, more surprisingly, the timetable for the September 1995 elections is almost as tight. The only firm deadline Mr Patten has publicly set is July 1994, the latest date that provisions for these polls can be enacted in order to comply with another provision in the boundaries bill. As the Sunday Morning Post first revealed three months ago, this means preparation of the necessary legislation must begin by mid-December, which will allow seven months to complete the whole process. A process that begins, according to Mr Patten's policy address, with an initial discussion of the issue by Legco, possibly followed by the drafting of new legislation, which will then be sent to Legco, for scrutiny and passing, possibly with major amendments. Government officials have previously predicted heated debates in Legco over any such bill, suggesting it will take about four months to get it through the council chamber. That means the remaining three months of the period between December and July appear to have been set aside for the other major step of the process, that of Government law draftsmen preparing an electoral bill. Mr Patten has repeatedly hinted that, if and when he goes it alone, it will be with his October 1992 blueprint for functional constituencies with an electorate of 2.7 million, rather than the compromise July 1993 proposals that reduce the number of voters to less than one million. Yet the lengthy time earmarked for the law draftsmen suggests he is unlikely to proceed with that blueprint in its original form - since that has been drafted and is ready for immediate introduction to Legco - and will instead amend it, perhaps after listening to the views of Legco. Alternatively, Mr Patten may want to see his compromise proposals also drafted into legal form, if only to keep his options open. Either way, that is why preparations for the 1995 polls must begin within weeks. China might allow the talks to continue even after such preparations have begun, but it is more likely to denounce them as more ''little tricks'', especially if there is a high-profile Legco debate on the issue. In any case, attempts to reach a negotiated agreement will become increasingly irrelevant as time passes, since it will become increasingly difficult to draft them into law in time to meet the July deadline.