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A NEW "currency" will soon start changing hands in the nation's shops and supermarkets. The currency, which refugee groups have dubbed the "asylo", is a voucher system about to be introduced by the Home Office as a means of giving cashless refugees the opportunity to obtain food and basic toiletries. The notes are being designed by Home Office staff; one wonders whether they will be able to resist the lure of using the likeness of our great leader, Mr Blair, in place of the

more traditional image of

Her Majesty.

THE ROYAL Opera House chairman Sir Colin Southgate's speech at the House's topping-out ceremony yesterday was interesting not only for his continual use of the phrase "topping off" instead of "topping out". He also lavished praise on the award-winning ROH orchestra; several of its soloists gave recitals to "top off" the ceremony. Can this be the same orchestra that Sir Colin wanted to stand down for a year, under his cost-cutting plan?

THERE WAS an other-worldly feeling to the EMI Songbook launch at the Abbey Road Studios. Ralph Steadman, the cartoonist, and the author Iain Banks were among the celebrities who regaled the audience with their wordy wit, while examples of their ideas for album compilations adorned the walls. But in the heavens, or at least in the upstairs studio, Pandora was told, the composer John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra were fine-tuning the music for the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace. Checking back with the studio, she was told by a spokesperson: "We can't say anything this week; maybe next week we will." However, the force behind the LSO confirmed the sessions - which ended last night.

THE INDUSTRY Minister Ian McCartney doesn't mince his words. The former chef was recently grilled in a Commons corridor by the Tory MP John Bercow over why restaurant owners should pay a minimum wage to staff who receive sizeable tips.

"My goodness, I often give waiters a pounds 5 tip," Bercow reportedly bellowed at the minister.

Bringing his catering experience to the fore McCartney growled: "Listen son, pompous idiots like you got a damn sight more than soup in their soup."

THE BROADCASTING Monitoring Company, a sister company of the Financial Times, is not living up to its name. Yesterday it sent some information to the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, addressing it to Charlie Whelan. The high-profile spin doctor, who enjoyed a spot of publicity recently when he resigned as press secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, left the union about five years ago. Perhaps someone ought to provide the monitoring organisation with a cuttings service.

THE FORMER lover of President Clinton, Gennifer Flowers (pictured) is to dine with the Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford - where Clinton was a Rhodes scholar. The dinner is expected to take place tonight, two days before Flowers is due to address the Oxford Union on "Surviving Sex, Power and Propaganda". Pandora would love to be a fly on the wall at this function. Given that Gennifer described Clinton as "lusty and passionate and insatiable in the bedroom" her after-dinner banter with the mighty academics of Oxford could be highly educational.

IN A moment of madness, a friend of Pandora's bought a rabbit from a butcher. When he got it home, he realised that he had no idea how to cook it. Taking his life into his hands, he called up the Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsey, not usually noted for his charm. When Pandora's friend was asked to identify himself, he meekly replied that he was a member of the public. The line momentarily went dead before Ramsey answered, and spent the next 15 minutes giving instructions.

Pandora wonders whether Mr Ramsey would be kind enough to give her advice over the telephone on how to boil an egg. Or would that be pushing it?

Pandora can be contacted by e-mail at: pandora@