Pandora

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The Independent Culture
Take two Michaels, Heseltine and Portillo. The public perception is of two bouffant-haired politicians on opposing sides of one party, especially on the thorny question of Europe. But current rumour inside the Tory party suggests a rapprochement. The two men became close when they worked at the DTI, and the chemistry seems to have lasted. Now Hezza is privately telling friends that the resurrected Portillo is "the saviour of the euro". Gosh. If Portillo is outed as being soft on Europe, it'll be a lot more disturbing to his blue-rinsed followers than any revelations about his college antics with Nigel and Madge.

THE CHELTENHAM Festival of Literature is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Wednesday saw the launch of the 1999 extravaganza - and a birthday history entitled Speaking Volumes. The book confesses to some picturesque disasters - including the Worst Event Ever, in 1986: a discussion of the future of literary magazines, with Auberon Waugh of the Literary Review, the comedian Peter Cook and the novelist Paul Theroux. The trio bombed in spectacular fashion. Cook sat with his back to the audience; Waugh used the occasion as a sales pitch. And, uniquely in the festival's history, the audience got up and walked out. Pandora notes with interest the event scheduled for the last day of this year's festival: a discussion of the future of literary magazines.

And speaking of Peter Cook, the bon viveur and gentleman joker is celebrated in Pete & Dud, published by Andre Deutsch. The author, Alexander Games, has been regaling Pandora with tales of the comedy duo. One titbit not in the book is Cook's legacy to South Park, the cult cartoon series. Games says that friends still recall Cook's habit of producing a pencil from his pocket, named "Mr Stick" and insisting that all remarks be conveyed through his inanimate friend. The similarity to South Park's teacher Mr Garrison and his pet spokesman "Mr Twig" is uncanny but apparently coincidental.

AS THE stale smell of beer and sandwiches clears from the TUC conference, one monument to the Labour movement in Wales unveils its makeover. Transport House in Cardiff, shared by the Transport & General Workers' Union and the Labour Party, has been modernised Millbank-style. The reception area, once stridently, Red-Flaggily, carpeted in crimson with fiery orange chairs, is now decked out in New Labour royal blue. The final flourish was to rename the reception after the TGWU's former leader in Wales, George Wright, who helped the Blairite Alun Michael to win the nomination as Welsh Assembly leader. All the HQ needs now is a bronze bust of Boyo Tony himself.

Survival training for the Fourth Estate. Expecting a visit from Hurricane Floyd, intrepid Washington journalists have been had a lesson on windy etiquette. A memo sent to Washington Post hacks reads: "Take the following (in addition to your usual supplies): slicker or poncho, hats and boots, credentials (important in martial law situations); pencils (pens won't write on wet paper); toilet paper (you never know when you'll find a bathroom); sun screen and a hat (the day after usually is boiling)."

DISNEYWORLD HAS already suffered from Hurricane Floyd in Florida - closing for the first time in its 30-year history. Meanwhile, lesser casualties include cancelled Backstreet Boys gigs and disruption to the filming of the teen soap sensation Dawson's Creek. Now do you believe in divine retribution?

Staying with hot air, Pandora notes the promotional material for Amanda Platell's new book, Scandal. Among reasons for booksellers to stock this tale of newsroom ambition from the former Sunday Express editor (now Tory director of communications) is: "Author is very influential in the media and well liked." Well, it is in the fiction section.

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