Pandora

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The Independent Culture
The absence of John Prescott's barn-storming speech from this year's Labour Party conference is a great loss. Who could forget the moment last year when the Deputy Prime Minister urged the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to marry his girlfriend, Sarah Macaulay? Sadly, no repeat this year, although recent dents to Gordy's prime-ministerial chances may force him to speed that issue along. On marriage-making Prescott could have had even more fun this year, given the boss's tentative moral crusade. John might have urged the Downing Street duo Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell to take their partners (and their partners' children) down the aisle.

ALUN MICHAEL, Welsh Assembly First Secretary, is to take part in "Asia Nite" - a rally for racial equality at the St Michel Brasserie, Bournemouth, tonight. Issues raised at this Labour conference event may include why the Welsh Assembly currently contains no black or Asian members, and why Labour had only one ethnic minority candidate in a winnable seat. Just a suggestion, to help the evening go with a swing.

Honorary Welshman and Hollywood actor Michael Douglas is very worried about communication difficulties with the parents of his girlfriend, Catherine Zeta Jones. Douglas confesses that: "Catherine's family has such a thick accent that I don't think I'm going to understand anything they say." Zeta Jones sympathises. Recalling the first time Douglas heard her parents down the phone, she confesses: "To him they must have sounded like people from Mars."

THAT OTHER-WORLDLY talent Ken Russell is back directing. Honoured last week in the British Film Institute's Top 100 British movies, the eccentric director is to turn his hand to the theatre. Ken will be making his mark on a play about the stormy relationship between the German composer Kurt Weill and singer/ actress Lotte Lenya. The part of Lenya will be played by Judith Paris, who worked with Russell on early cinema exploits and is responsible for cajoling the white-haired one to take on the project. Ken usually appeals to a niche market; luckily the venue, New End Theatre, Hampstead, north London, seats only 80.

Lord Lloyd-Webber and the former Abba star Benny Andersson are set to go head to head at Newmarket races today. The Houghton Sales Stakes features Benny's horse Cabriac against the Lloyd-Webber nag Pissarro. First prize is a modest pounds 147,000. Looking good for Pandora's money, though, is the amusingly named Fanaar.

THE RECLUSIVE novelist JD Salinger has his shotgun up against the stockade again. After an attempted biography (butchered in the courts), the sale of his private letters (rescued by a benefactor) and the memoir of a former lover, this latest assault on the octogenarian's New Hampshire hideaway is from daughter Peggy. She plans to publish her own recollections, under the title The Dream Catcher. According to her brother Matt, neither he nor JD is speaking to her. "I guess she's got a lot of anger," he said. "But to write a book - and put the word `catcher' in the title - just isn't right." Salinger's defences may struggle to prevent publication this time: Peggy's book will be the seventh Dream Catcher published in the US in the past four years.

Hot on the heels of tabloid stories about copulating couples at last week's Lib Dem conference come more revelations about Charlie Kennedy's barmy army. On the last night of the conference, Harrogate's Majestic Hotel bar took pounds 17,000 - an all-comers record. Clearly some of the delegates, inspired by the town's famous Turkish baths, had been soaking in champagne. The advertised programme of fringe meetings on renewable energy, local government finance and the like was obviously a cover story.

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