Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.



THERE IS every need, it appears, for Alastair Campbell's drive for greater coherence in the Government Information Service. During last week's reshuffle, one MP tried to find out who the new minister responsible for disability issues was. The Department of Social Security thought it might be Stephen Timms; the Department of Employment thought it might be Andrew Smith, or Margaret Hodge; while the office of the Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, seemed blissfully unaware of the reshuffle. Finally it was Blunkett's private office who rang the exasperated MP to say that it was in fact Margaret Hodge, albeit temporarily, who was the new minister dealing with disability issues. Government Information Service? GIS' a clue, more like.

WHEN JEFF Rooker, Agriculture Minister, was asked by the MP for Glasgow Maryhill what assessment he had made of the benefits to developing countries from fair trade in bananas, was there an undeclared conflict of interests going on? Pandora is assured that the questioner - Maria Fyfe MP - is entirely unrelated to Fyffes, one of the world's largest banana growers. "They're spelt differently," Fyfe's secretary explained rather tersely. Never in the field of human bananas have so few smiles been raised.

AFTER THE adventures of Mulder (below) and Scully, are the activities of "Area 51", the secret military base in the US, so secret anymore? An item by the American News Service, Scripps Howard, due to go out this weekend documents the known activities of the base, which has done so much to fuel the fire of science fiction, including The X-Files. Area 51 employs 1,850 civilian workers according to Scripps. Aside from the odd alien hostage, Area 51's actual known duties include warning spacecraft against threats of collision and operating military and navigation satellites. Oh yes, and there's that other extra-terrestrial duty of aiding US Customs by tracking aircraft suspected of carrying dope. Hmm, is the truth out there, or is it just a hazy screen?

ELLIOTT GOULD, star of the original M*A*S*H and known to younger readers through his appearance as Monica's dad in Friends, has not lost his sense of proportion in the passing years. When asked to name one of his worst jobs, he told Entertainment Weekly; "As you know I was once married to Barbra Streisand."

LEGENDARY SCREEN star Katherine Hepburn has helped to further raise the profile of clothing outlet, The Gap, already basking in attention from the revelation that the infamous Lewinsky dress was bought there. Hepburn, who, as the New York Post points out, helped to popularise the casual, slack look for women, was shopping in Manhattan recently. Observing a number of young, informal types streaming into The Gap store, Hepburn explained "Oh, I'm afraid this is all my fault."

PEOPLE COULD be forgiven for thinking that Victor Lewis-Smith, television critic for the Evening Standard, gives his opinions away at will. Lewis- Smith has never knowingly been under-opinionated, but when a colleague of Pandora called him to get the benefit of his TV "genius", Victor could only give short shrift. "I'm not going to talk to you about some stupid television programme!" he exploded. Oh sorry, but if you think that how do you manage to do your day job?

HOW SAD that at the height of the rucksack - sorry - tourist season, Pandora has not been enlightened by the views of the Lib Dem's most likely London mayoral candidate, Simon Hughes, on this still burning issue. Despite numerous attempts to cajole Mr Hughes to contribute, Pandora's calls have been in vain, with not even a "no comment" emanating from his office. Surely, having the benefit of hindsight on what the other candidates for mayor have said should tempt Simon to come out decisively on this issue? Pandora's door is always open, unlike the door to the tube which of course is frequently blocked by some inconsiderate person wearing a rucksack...