COMMENT: Pandora

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The Independent Culture
Alastair Campbell met with some unwelcome attention during Tony Blair's "northern tour". During a walkabout in a Bootle shopping centre, one pensioner chose to ignore the PM, rushing past him to throw herself at Blair's embarrassed but handsome spin doctor. "That Tony Blair's all right, but you're great," the elderly lady exclaimed, in a scene that could have come straight out of one of Campbell's risque stories. When the excited lady had finished heaping praise and affection on Ali, she told him how much she hated the Daily Mail. At this point, worried that perhaps he had found another stalker, Campbell saw his chance to escape. "Look," he said, pointing to the nearby press pack. "There's the man from the Mail." The lady duly went over to the unlucky mid-market hack to give him a good old rebuttal with her handbag.

THE LABOUR MP Martin Salter also went walkabout this week. Going through the Commons voting lobby, the Reading West MP was so engrossed in conversation with a fellow member about government plans to privatise air traffic control that they both ended up voting for a Tory amendment. Despite the failure of "Ground Control" to put the duo on the correct path, they decided to taxi on through the other lobby, voting against the Tories and thus cancelling their initial mistake.

Customs officers at Cairo Airport recently handled a hairy situation with razor-sharp awareness. They caught a "bushy-bearded sheikh" with diamonds worth more than pounds 10,000 tucked away in his whiskers. Does this mean the game is up for Santa?

HAS MOTHERHOOD become too much for poor Jodie Foster? "I've lost any sense of competition. The truth is, you can't have it all; you have to do some things badly," the actress has confided. She believes that her work "definitely suffers", but her new responsibility to her son, Charlie, has made the Oscar-winner philosophical: "I think I finally accomplished my finest ambition, which is to be the most boring person on Earth. And that's fine with me."

Martin Sheen, however, can't stop doing things. The 59-year-old actor has been busy helping the high-profile group Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to launch Tofurky - a meatless (and pointless) turkey substitute. "I have to confess that I'm not a vegetarian, but I used to be," he says, blaming fast food for his undoing. When the Apocalypse Now icon is not talking fake turkey, he is campaigning against nuclear testing. Sheen, who has been arrested on many protests, plans to spend New Year's Eve at the Nevada test site. "I'm thinking maybe I'll start the year in jail," he told The Washington Post. "You want to do something you can talk about to your grandkids: Be there or be square!"

THE CARDIFF Bay Development Corporation and the Environment Agency are messing about with water. The agency says there's too much of it in the man-made lake, centre-piece of the corporation's scheme to regenerate the area. With flooding a possibility, the EA is bobbing up and down for action. But corporation chairman Sir Geoffrey Inkin, one-time commander of the first battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers, is having none of it. The Welsh Assembly, from its offices on the banks of Cardiff Bay, has told the quangos to get their act together. It'd have more chance of getting them to walk on water.

`Garrulous", "gregarious" and "great fun" are descriptions of Steven "Nozzer" Norris, the Tories' best hope for London's mayor. But not so at this week's Prince Michael of Kent Road Safety Awards at the Savoy Hotel. Lord (Larry) Whitty had been meant to address the function, but at the last minute the debonair Nozzer , as chairman of the award ceremony, was asked to say a few words. An expectant audience was rather disappointed that he could muster only two words: a toast to "The Queen".

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