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The Independent Culture
PRIME MINISTER Blair's unerring ability to ingratiate himself with whichever country he is visiting appears to arise from the fact that, at some point, he spent his family holidays there. Pandora notes that the trend (somewhat akin to the Pope's kissing the ground of whatever country he visits) started before Blair became Prime Minister.

During a Blair visit to Scotland in 1996, the Daily Record reported that "the Blairs have returned every year [to Scotland] on holiday or to see his auntie in Giffnock". When Blair addressed the Irish parliament last month he said he and his family had spent "virtually every childhood summer holiday" in the "beautiful countryside of Donegal" before the troubles started across the border in 1969. The young Blair's holidays must have prepared him well for the hectic life of premiership; let's not forget that he "watched the 1966 World Cup Final in a bar while on a family holiday in France". Sadly, Italy appears to have missed out on the young Blair's crusade to familiarise himself with every country in Europe before taking power.

On holiday in Tuscany in 1996 Blair remarked: "A lot of British people come here every year", but he made no mention of his own well-travelled family.

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YESTERDAY'S ARTICLE in The Sunday Times relating the story of Britain's wartime plan to fool Hitler's U-boats by building motorised icebergs is short of one amusing detail. The operation, code-named Habakkuk, won the approval of Churchill and the Combined Chiefs of Staff (Army, Navy and Admiralty) but not without mishap. In Marilyn, Hitler and Me, the memoirs of the author and critic Milton Shulman, the story is told of one meeting of the Chiefs of Staff where Lord Mountbatten of the Admiralty demonstrates Pykrete, the reinforced ice from which the icebergs were to be built. Mountbatten chose to demonstrate the material's resilience by shooting at it - but he didn't bargain for the rebound. The bullet missed the Air Chief Marshal by an inch.

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AS STAFF of this paper look forward to their Christmas party this evening, Pandora has heard some interesting details of the festivities elsewhere. This year's Christmas bash for The Express seems to have a come at a cost. Held at Babushka, just along Blackfriars Road from the United News & Media building, the happy event cost the princely sum of pounds 5 to enter. One Express insider told Pandora that, to add insult to injury: "Only the first drink was free."

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DR EVAN Harris MP, a Liberal Democrat health spokesman, has proved that he is something of a liability as far as spreading illness is concerned. Dr Harris stands accused of infecting a large number of his colleague's computers with a virus. Apparently the errant member for Oxford West and Abingdon has a habit of going into the nearest Lib Dem MP's office and popping his diseased disk into their computer slot so that he can polish off some last-minute work. Is there a suitable penance for the disruption to the Lib Dems' computer hardware? "I think it's a case of physician, heal thyself" quipped a party insider.

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STELLA McCARTNEY (pictured) has been letting loose some of the pressure of being a celebrity offspring. The fashion designer, daughter of Paul and Linda McCartney tells W magazine she is "sick of this `my parents' thing... It's not my fault. It was just the sperm that went to the egg." In the interview Stella, whose mother, Linda, died from breast cancer earlier this year, explains how her father's fame was all-pervasive: "When I would make a good drawing in primary school, it was because my dad was famous. What do I do? Do I become a smackhead and live off my parents' fortune, or do I have my own life?"

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AT LAST week's Human Rights Awards, sponsored by the Law group Liberty and the Law Society Gazette, there was some levity before the serious business got under way. The journalist and legal affairs expert Marcel Berlins was master of ceremonies during an evening that saw the parents of Stephen Lawrence accept the Human Rights Award with composure and dignity. The first prize awarded was for the Human Rights Lawyer of the Year; introducing the nominees, Berlins quipped: "These people are people who have worked hard for no money, which I know is not a description that is usually attributed to lawyers."

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