JUST AS Jack Straw is about to introduce a shake up of the system for dealing with asylum seekers, Pandora hears of the arrival on his doorstep of another group of desperate refugees. Hundreds of mice have turned up at the Home Office building at Queen Annes Gate in London, having fled the tyranny of environmental health officers who have driven them out of their home under the nearby Tube station, St James's Park. Straw has remained true to his promises to remain firm but fair to those who come to him seeking sanctuary. Pandora heard that he has installed a network of rodent-friendly traps designed to capture but not kill. A Home Office spokesperson rattily told Pandora: "There has been no evidence of the mice for almost three weeks but I can tell you that there has been no danger to staff."


THE NORTHERN Ireland Assembly is looking for an "Unner-Editor fur tha Chaummer o tha Scrievit Accoont (Hansard)". The "Sellerie will be pounds 13,737 tae pounds 19,215 on a six-month leemited-tairm contraick". In other words, this is the Ulster-Scots or "Ullans" translation of an advertisement that will appear in tonight's Belfast Telegraph for a sub-editor for the Assembly's Hansard report of its proceedings. Pandora is reliably informed that it is the first Ullans advertisement of its kind. An Irish speaker is already in place but it will be hard going to find the Ullans equivalent. As a new, trilingual era beckons, Pandora is told that even finding someone to draft the advert was hard enough.


THERE'S A sort of bizarre symmetry in the appearance of Gants Hill, Essex, which featured in a new report on our suburbs by the Civic Trust. The last time journalists were wandering the streets and writing colour pieces on this obscure suburb was 29 years ago, during the civil war in Jordan, when it was the central news-gathering point for reporters seeking news of the beleaguered King Hussein. All communication links with Amman were down and for a week much of the war news plus interviews with the king were channelled through the dining-room of a terraced house in Gants Hill. Front pages were filed from the dining-room, TV crews from all over the world camped out in the prim suburban street, filming everything that moved, and one night the BBC2 news was even presented live from the house.


VIEWERS OF the Scotland vs Wales rugby match in the Five Nations' championship on Saturday will have caught a glimpse of Donald Dewar and Alun Michael, the respective secretaries of state, watching the game at Murrayfield. Michael certainly deserves some relaxation after a few setbacks in his contest with Rhodri Morgan for Labour's choice for Welsh Assembly leader. Pandora has followed the contest closely and wondered where Rhodri Morgan was for the game. It appears that on Saturday morning both men were campaigning in North Wales. Afterwards Michael was flown out to watch the game live in Scotland, while Morgan chose the humbler surroundings of Wrexham Labour Club TV lounge.


PANDORA SALUTES the Ministry of Defence who appear to have made the most dramatic expenditure saving in history. In 1996/97 the department spent pounds 481,383 on public opinion surveys. But according to a parliamentary answer given late last week, in 1997/98 the department spent only the princely sum of 5p on opinion polls. Pandora would appreciate the name of their accountant.


NEWS REACHES Pandora of the actress Sophia Loren doing a Delia. The screen goddess has just launched her own cookbook - Sophia Loren's Recipes and Memories. While she does not advise on how to boil an egg, she does tell aspiring cooks about her First Communion service, at the age of nine. The service was marred by wartime aerial bombings interrupting the ceremony. One bomb fell about 300 yards from the church. Defiant Sophia says: "I wasn't particularly foolhardy or courageous, but even in the midst of the bombings I would be anticipating, with all the strength my stomach could muster, the pleasure that eating would bring."

Contact Pandora at: pandora@ indepen

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