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IT'S MORNING - and over at London's Evening Standard it's time to select some snaps to brighten up the first edition which the huntin', shootin', fishin' editor Max Hastings hopes will squish Associated's impertinent in-house rival, Metro. The Standard picture editor David Ofield opines that "Benetton's back in fashion". The editor's face brightens. "Really? That's interesting," Hastings says. "Put a top writer on that." Conversation continues about the garment-maker, but suddenly the country-lovin' Hastings' face falls. "Benetton? Benetton?? What's Benetton??? I thought you said `venison'."

CATCH A Falling Star Dept: The citizenry of Buckinghamshire's Chalfont St Giles are not overawed by celebrity. A school auction there this week raffled off Gary Lineker's football (pounds 20) and Noel Edmonds's jumper (pounds 20) - but an evening's babysitting by the local headteacher, Kim Robinson, fetched pounds 100.

HE'S FIT. He's fat. And he's in trouble with the tax man. Luciano Pavarotti is appealing against a pounds 4m tax demand from the Italian authorities, claiming he was domiciled in Monte Carlo from 1989 to 1991. Signor Esattore-delle- tasse doesn't see it that way because the tenor's flat in the principality is "relatively modest". Given that tax avoidance in Italy is a national sport, this one hasn't started until the fat guy sings.

KOSOVO? NORTHERN Ireland? There are weightier matters on the minds of the Tory A-team. "The only possible outcome," says William Hague, "of inclusion of the EU flag on numberplates is European propaganda at the expense of road safety." Excuse me? Will the site of a little blue flag drive Eurosceptics into the red mist of road-rage? Coming Soon: Little Willie takes a tough stand on carpet tiles.

FASCINATING FACT: Robbie Williams (pictured) was once the shrimp-cocktail- eating champion for Whitley Bay. And he's currently "on a diet of baltis and kebabs", he will tell the Carlton Food Network this Friday.

SUBTITLES FOR the Slanguage-Impaired. Today: diplomacy. What diplomats say is followed by Pandora's take on what they mean. "All options are still on the table": the decision-makers involved are unwilling (or unable) to make a decision. "Degrade": bomb repeatedly. "Collateral damage": smart weapons, dumb operators. "Emerging markets": poor countries. "Frank exchange": shouting and table-banging. "Instability": anything perceived as a threat to First World interests. "Intervention force in a hostile environment": get the body-bags ready. "Mercurial," "colourful" or "controversial": beyond our control and probably bonkers. "Multilateral": = US + UK. "We're not ruling anything out": we don't know what to do, and even if we did we wouldn't tell you, because we don't want to telegraph our moves to the other mob.

WHERE WILL you be on 31 December 1999? Those old Labour stalwarts Bob Marshall-Andrews and Brian Sedgemore will be holed up together inside a nuclear bunker. The Medway MP Marshall-Andrews lives in the converted shelter in Kent; Sedgemore says the duo's millennial hide-out is motivated by a desire to be "as far away from the Dome as possible. It was this," he explains, "or Australia."

THE SOMETIME supermodel and Rod Stewart spouse Rachel Hunter was spotted in "tacky" $12 Melody Nails on Los Angeles' Sunset Plaza this week. "It's the cheapest manicure in town, and I should know," says Pandora's impecunious West Coast spy. "It looks as if money's pretty tight for her." Say it ain't so, Rod.

STRESSED? PRESSURED? Too monged even to leave your desk and stagger off to the nearest therapist? Fear not; now the therapist will come to you. Or, more precisely, to your computer screen. The enterprising Birmingham shrink Dr Russell Razzaque's CyberAnalysis Clinic offers a 55-minute preliminary cognitive analytic therapy session for just $65. Book up for a block of treatment and the Surfing Shrink will e-mail you helpful tips between your on-line chats. Pandora was a little edgy earlier this week and called Razzaque for some instant therapy-by-phone, as promised on the website. But, frustratingly, his number rang off the hook. Perhaps the line was feeling down?

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