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DR KIM Howells, New Labour MP for Pontypridd, and the DTI's Consumer Affairs' Minister, aroused the wrath of the Association of British Travel Agents last week. Having flown down to the Abta Convention in Marbella on Thursday, Howells was scheduled to speak on Saturday morning. When the conference ran an hour late, Howells abandoned his speaking commitment in order to rush and catch his 1.10pm flight home. Pandora rang the DTI yesterday for a reaction to an angry press release put out by Travel Weekly headlined "Minister Wastes Two Days in Spain", and quoting Ian Reynolds, Abta's chief executive, as saying that he was "very disappointed". The DTI spokesman expressed indignation that Pandora should think this was an "attack" on Kim Howells. Worse, when Pandora suggested that the terse DTI statement about Howells's failure to honour his speaking engagement - which included neither regret nor apology - was taking a "hard line", the DTI spokesman demanded to know just where Pandora was "coming from?". Not Spin City, that's for sure.

FORTY YEARS ago, in November 1958, another MP resigned in disgrace after an encounter in a London park. The late Ian Harvey was a junior Foreign Office minister, and Tory MP, when he was caught with a guardsman in St James's Park. Harvey later published his memoirs, To Fall Like Lucifer, in which he offered some words of advice that seem as germane today as they did when published in 1971: "To those of them who have met with similar disaster I have no particular message, because each man is his own island. I would, however, say to them that whilst it is impossible to forget the past, it is wise to avoid dwelling upon the future which might have been and now never can be. Sterile dreams purify the mind and destroy the mental processes. That is the road to further catastrophe."

HURRICANE MITCH has now killed at least 9,000 people in the Caribbean, but there's something rather worrying about the informal colloquialism of the name "Mitch" for such a murderous storm. Who wants to suffer at the hands of a Hurricane Phil, Patsy, Trev or Toni? Natural disasters shouldn't be named after the characters in comics; they deserve awesome names. Hurricane Margaret, for example - who could argue with that?

THE EROTIC Review goes from strength to strength, but WH Smith still refuses to stock this magazine of benign literary and artistic titillation. A quarterly journal only a year ago, ER switches to monthly publication with its December issue. Despite a circulation of 25,000, WH Smith insists that it doesn't stock top-shelf material, and that it can't see a potential demand for ER in its shops. This is hardly convincing: WH Smith's stores are piled to the rafters with lubricious men's magazines such as FHM and Loaded. ER editor, Rowan Pelling, notes that it took WH Smith 20 years before it agreed to sell Private Eye and vows: "We're very patient." Forthcoming issues include an excerpt of Arnold Wesker's new erotic novel - containing "every sexual folly you can imagine", according to Pelling - a short story by Simon Raven, and Naim Attallah writing about knickers.

OLD LABOUR he may still be at heart, but Christian Wolmar's credentials look a bit frayed following publication of his new book, Stagecoach. Having set out to investigate Brian Souter and Annie Loag, the brother and sister team behind the company which now seems to control most of Britain's trains and buses, his book reads in places more like a fan letter than a financial expose. At Tuesday night's launch party, at Politico's bookshop in Westminster, a Stagecoach company rep was even present and singing the praises of Wolmar (once this paper's transport correspondent). The dome-coiffed author was a trifle upset when someone described his book as "Hagiography `R' Us". It didn't help when others began jokingly to call Wolmar "clippie".

NOT LONG ago, Martin Amis wrote an article proclaiming John Travolta the "coolest guy" in Hollywood, but Pandora still believes that, when it comes to true "cool", there's nobody who can compare to Michael Caine (pictured). The latest proof of this came at a Hallowe'en party held in New York's super-trendy Moomba nightclub last Saturday night. Watching the director Oliver Stone, dressed up in a Zorro costume, in a passionate embrace with his female companion, Caine threw some verbal cold water Ollie's way, remarking: "You can't do that with your pants on!"