A FRIEND at the Ministry of Agriculture has brought Pandora word of a new hi-tech departmental office being established in Workington, Cumbria. This office will house a powerful computer whose tasks will include keeping track of every single cow in Britain.

That may sound mildly amusing, but the background to this story is more serious. When the computer complex was first proposed, under the previous government, there was talk of locating it in either Huntington (John Major's constituency) or in Guildford, another Tory heartland. Studies done at the Dept of Ag showed that locating it in the North might actually prove more expensive. But the new government's decision to locate the Cow Computer in the North reflects a "nothing new south of the M4 policy", in the words of one Whitehall source.

Oh, by the way, Workington is not a million miles from Jack Cunningham's Copeland constituency.

Sinn Fein tag

WHEN Gerry Adams left No10 yesterday, he drove away in a Toyota people carrier, closely followed by a Range Rover. Tagging along behind came a scruffy blue Metro with a dent in the back. It was driven by Cherie Blair, blissfully unaware that for a few moments she had joined the Sinn Fein motorcade.

Oh, Barbie!

FHM, the fantastically successful UK men's magazine whose circulation has soared far above 600,000, is being sued by Mattel Inc, the manufacturers of Barbie and Ken dolls, in a Los Angeles court. Their complaint: photographs of the dolls in sexually explicit, "improper" positions were published in the magazine and have damaged the plastic couple's "wholesome" image.

Pandora rang the mag's editor, but his assistant said, "He doesn't wish to comment." Would James Brown, editor of GQ and founding editor of Loaded, ever say that? Come to think of it, after glancing through FHM it appears that one of its editorial secrets for success is exactly this: don't say much but look at those dolls!

Soho country

SOHO HOUSE, the London cinema "player's" answer to the Groucho Club, is joining the countryside movement. The club has acquired an 18th-century manor, Bavington House, for pounds 1.5m near Frome in Somerset.

The plan is to open a 30-bedroom retreat with screening room, editing suite and health spa on August 1st. Soho House has 2,000 members and from what Pandora has seen of them at 2.30am in the club's raucous smoke- filled bar, they could benefit from a bit of fresh air.

Other activities planned for Soho-in-Somerset include riding, cricket and croquet. One member wonders if they'll have outdoor lighting to accommodate the club's many night-owls who might fancy a post-midnight round of competitive mallets. Hopefully, someone will explain to the club's more restless bar regulars that "looking for a fox" has a rather different meaning in the West Country than it does on Greek Street.