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THE LONDON Evening Standard has been running a tough campaign all week against overcrowding on the London Underground, exposing Government inertia and the smug ministerial types in their chauffeur-driven Mondeos... Max Hastings, the paper's notoriously London-phobic editor, shrewdly decided he'd better brave the Tube himself to avoid accusations of similar ivory- towerism. Perhaps that's why he was spotted - sweating freely in his blue stripy shirt - among the broiling urban biomass in the unfamiliar terrain of Bank station in the 6.15pm rush hour on Wednesday. But Max, was that a cigar you were lighting, on the stairs to the escalator? Newsflash, baby: the Tube's been a no-smoking zone since the Kings Cross fire 15 years ago.

OH, AND it's rumoured that, on these little London Transport reality rides, Max takes his chauffeur.

SO YOU can't afford one of those swanky new cowboy hats? Substitute an inexpensive traffic cone instead.

STEVE MARTIN (pictured) and Clare Short (emphatically not) - what could they possibly have in common? Both enjoyed strawberries and sunshine at the Serpentine Gallery's summer party this week. As did Elle Macpherson, Tim Jefferies, David Gilmour and Polly Sampson, Oliver Tobias and Arabella Zamoyska. People played ping-pong and drank cocktails mixed by bar stars from Che, the Met bar, Match and Alphabet. Although Bridget Riley's pictures were on show in the gallery, the talking-point was an igloo on the lawn - created by Ron Arad - that seemed to be constructed from polystyrene and ping-pong balls.

TONY PARSONS was wearing chinos to launch his debut novel Man and Boy this week. Chinos? They're pants. "They're in danger of turning into the new Levi's; I'm thinking of moving out of chinos into jeans," Parsons said. "I haven't had a pair of jeans in 20 years."

WHO WILL stop this senseless chino madness?

KELVIN MACKENZIE, that celebrated editor of bus tickets, hasn't been on a bus in two years.

MARCO PIERRE WHITE hit his Titanic this week, accompanied by a talent escort of two. Around midnight, the boite's power shut down. Generators kicked in - White and his friends walked out. Float your own boat gag here.

NO 1 GUY shows two faces. Tony Blair (18 March) "I will set out our historic aim that ours is the first generation to end child poverty for ever." Tony Blair (8 July 1999): "I think big families are great!"

IS WALES the cradle of invention? No. Check out two innovations from the quarrelsome Cymric nightingales, showcased recently in the metrop: a motorised Zimmer frame and an illuminated clipboard - for night-time use. Go figure.

AN IDEAL HUSBAND? Jeremy Northam suffers from thesp rage. He calls in to deny that he loathes Cate Blanchett: "She's got this special thing. It sounds like rabid fan mail, but she just kind of breathes in front of the camera." So you admit you said you "can't stand her"? Yes... but Pandora quoted him "out of context". OK, here's more on the context, darlings: Northam was talking to a drag queen at a post-premiere party. And when he said "Can't stand her", the drag queen said, he did so "with a devilish grin".

FIRST IT was ashes being shot into space. Then it was holograms on tombstones. Now Eternal Reefs, the brainchild of an entrepreneur in Atlanta, are being made by mixing cremated remains and concrete to form a 1.57-ton artificial reef. This subaquatic urn is shipped out on to the water, unloaded, makes a big splash and plunges down before, with a muffled thunk, hitting the sea bed so (drum roll, Maestro)... "they sleep with the fishes".

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