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A NEW voice is making itself heard in Californian lecture halls where the planet's most cerebral physicists gather. The voice is a "substantial baritone, round and full; the accent borderline Scottish or Welsh, but schooled well short of a full brogue," according to one whitecoat at the Fermilab near San Francisco. The owner of this voice knows his stuff, too - he is Stephen Hawking (pictured), author of A Brief History of Time, and the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University.

So it's goodbye to the clunkily synthesised Swedish-robot-with-adenoids speech familiar from TV commercials. Thanks to a more powerful new processing chip, the computer-generated voice sounds closer to Hawking's original, which went south when Amytropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) struck him as a 21-year-old in 1963. Hawking's greatest achievement? "Being alive today," the 57-year-old told the Fermilab crew. "I am happier now than before my condition appeared. My ALS ruled out most careers except theoretical physics."


GET ME rewrite. Graeme Le Saux's exciting new Evening Standard column this week had the attention of every red-blooded footie fan. We're all gagging to get his side of the gay taunt spat at Liverpool last week. So? "At this point in time," he begins magisterially, "I have absolutely nothing to say about the subject." What a fridge.


CHANNEL 4'S POLITICAL editor Elinor Goodman must be quite unhappy in her present job. So rhythmic is her relationship with the Department of the Environment that it has been lobbying for her to get the head honcho's job at the new Countryside Agency. But Goodman, currently separated from the Prime Minister's pet economic wonk, Derek Scott, seems to have more reach than grasp. Others within Downing Street vetoed Goodman's appointment. Don't give up the day job just yet, Elinor.

CHERIE BOOTH QC has been leading a large - and legally aided - High Court case. The defendants, mostly unemployed since October 1991, are embroiled in litigation with the defunct bank BCCI. In her opening statement, Booth felt she should explain her clients' reluctance to take part-time or temporary jobs. Booth blamed the benefits system which was, she told the court, "becoming harsher". The benefits system, she added, punishes unemployed people with a mortgage who take on anything other than permanent full-time work. Isn't this a subject she could mention over breakfast to her Number One Guy?


STOP HIM before he writes again Dept. In next Monday's New Yorker, American literary colossus John Updike offers an ode to genuflecting geisha Monica L. It accuses her of being "Bill's Delilah" and, flying in the face of all the evidence, ends "You're his-tor-y now, Monica/ In your little black beret." Not just yet, baby.


ASTOUNDING TRUE fact: You know what the most popular spirit in Scotland is? Vodka.


IT WAS cognac that flowed at the K-Bar's first birthday party this week. Piers Adam, owner of the glitzy six-venue chain had arranged for Moet Hennessy to cater the event with triple shots of frozen XO brandy. Revellers walked through a long laser-lit tunnel to a VIP room guarded by two six- foot-tall blonde amazons. Moet Hennessy's main board had flown in specially from France. And which A-list celebutantes met their astonished gaze? Renegade fashion muse Miss Trixie, Coronation Street micro-icon Chris Quinten and expansive Tory club owner Peter Stringfellow. That chilled cognac kicks hard, and Pandora's enquiries about the event were met with glassy smiles and gallic shrugs. Let's put it down to Global Cooling.


BUT THE winner of Pandora's saucer of milk this morning is the K-Bar rockchick who was slagging off the Beatles tribute band Oasis. One of the Gallagher wives, Meg Mathews, abandoned her "column" in the Sunday Times recently, so she could spend more time running her party business with her friend Fran. "They're so over," the rockchick sighed, "We call them Freg and Man now." Miaow!

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