Pandora

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The Independent Culture
BAITING JACK STRAW, if Pandora's experiences and postbag are to be believed, has become something of a national sport. Pandora recently bumped into a one-time student radical who claimed he helped Straw into his early seat of power as president of the National Union of Students 30 years ago. Sadly, he had not a good word to say about our Jack: "I was president of a vociferous college union," he explained. "Jack begged me for support and I gave it. When I greeted him at the theatre recently, he behaved as if we'd never met." Pandora's advice to the aggrieved is: watch it, he may get a curfew imposed on him.

TWO YEARS on, the latest Diana conspiracy theory is coming from a former friend of Sarah Ferguson, Allan Starkie. In a new book about the European "jet set", Starkie says that he has been shown an Italian intelligence report suggesting that Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed may have been assassinated by a former Scotland Yard detective and accomplice. "I think Mohamed Al Fayed should hear it," said Starkie, while talking to the New York Daily News yesterday. When the newspaper called Fayed's security chief, John McNamara, the theory was dismissed, but McNamara reiterated that Mr Fayed "firmly believes his son and Diana were murdered" by British agents, and "will never give up". More good news for Mr Straw.

A RANGE of personalised coffins called Art Caskets has hit the US market, offering lucky punters the chance to die in style. Golf fans can have a fairway scene printed on their box, sun-worshippers get a beach scene, while Elvis fans can depart in a coffin made to look like a parcel with the words "return to sender" tastefully emblazoned on it. Those gothically inclined may like to stick with the more traditional black boxes.

AUSTRALIAN GLUM-ROCKER Nick Cave and Pandora are kindred spirits when it comes to appreciating cinema. The link is Geraldine Swayne's new Brit short film, East End, which was premiered last week to production moguls and movie buffs at the Imax cinema in London's Trocadero. Narrated by the actress Miriam Margolyes (noted for her work as the Cadbury's Caramel rabbit) and part-scored with music from Cave (pictured), the all-too-brave work tries to focus on the life and times of London's Spitalfields area, but somehow the messages seem as deliberately grainy as the film's Super 8 texture. In a show of honesty beyond the call of duty, the film-makers spoke of Cave's reaction after viewing the film: "It looks great, but what is it about?" he asked, taking the words right out of Pandora's mouth.

THE LIB DEMS are in the dark. The House of Commons authorities have shunted the hub of the Lib Dems' parliamentary operations into a basement room with no windows and no air-conditioning. Quite apart from the consternation this has caused to the humble researchers and secretaries in the leaders' and Whips' offices, Lib Dem MPs have also been thoroughly confused. Apparently, in yet another outbreak of efficiency from the Commons authorities, the notes informing members of the new basement location of their pigeonholes have been placed in, yes, you guessed it, the newly moved pigeonholes. Ah yes, the well-oiled wheels of Westminster...

HE ONCE was a household name in astronomy to rank alongside Patrick Moore, but the world knows little of Carl Sagan's astral view of drugs. Sagan became an international star in the Eighties with a television series called Cosmos (attracting 500 million viewers) and, according to his biographer Keay Davidson, often relied on marijuana for inspiration. Sagan was gripped by the drug after he hallucinated a Volkswagen car on a friend's living- room ceiling. Rather than impairing scientific work, it seems, his experience was quite the opposite. He wrote: "I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of Gaussian distribution curves. At the end of an hour... I found I had written 11 short essays."

Contact Pandora by e-mail: pandora@independent.co.uk

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