Fast forward on designer fads

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THE year is 2003. Shoppers at the Battersea Power Station branch of Sainsprix fill their trolleys with goodies such as pre-peeled bananas, factor-105 sun block, diet lard, Alreddyrinz shampoo and packets of mountain air.

It's true. I've got the till receipt to prove it. Also a 21st century cigarette - two-thirds filter to one-third tobacco. And a sachet of sugar from the Buckingham Palace Motel.

The producers of these ephemera from the future are design consultants The Partners, who celebrated their 10th birthday last week by sending their clients - who include Minorco, Costain and Commercial Union - a time capsule to be buried in 10 years.

The tins also contain a decimal watch and a northern hemisphere travel card ('Note: crossing the Tropic of Cancer may incur extra fares').

There is a colour postcard of the 5,814-kilometre Atlantic Bridge, from Land's End to New York, complete with Charles III postage stamp. The pounds 12 stamp suggests the designers are none too optimistic about control of inflation over the next decade.

Then there is the instant knowledge patch: one hour to absorb information on trigonometry, algebra and simultaneous equations. And the instant meal pills.

It was a labour of love, according to art director Shaun Dew. 'It's been a complete nightmare,' she says, confessing that the project has cost rather more than the pounds 6,000 budgeted.

My sympathies go to the art students drafted in to hand- roll 600 cigarettes, hand-perforate 600 postage stamps and rub 'steak', 'chips' and 'peas' transfers on to 1,800 Smarties.

BAD news for Lord Gowrie. You may recall how the poor lamb had to give up politics because it didn't pay well enough. In 1985, he exchanged his pounds 30,000 salary as Arts Minister for the more rewarding chairmanship of Sotheby's, the auctioneers.

Now he has suffered another financial blow, according to the list of creditors of TEL Ltd, which has come into my possession. TEL was the Maxwell company that owned the European newspaper, before it was rescued by the Barclay brothers.

Lord Gowrie, who is currently ploughing through 111 novels to help choose the Booker Prize winner this year, is owed pounds 53 by TEL, which is now in administration. But the plan to pay creditors an initial dividend of just 4 1/2 p in the pound means he will collect just pounds 2.38, according to my calculations - enough for half a paperback.

The creditors list shows hundreds of journalists out of pocket because of the collapse. But apart from other Maxwell- connected companies, it is Midland Bank that takes the biggest hit - pounds 7.3m.

Others out of pocket include Labour MPs Robin Cook, owed pounds 400, and Roy Hattersley ( pounds 300). One person, alas, who definitely won't be at the creditors' meeting this Thursday is the arch anti- European Nicholas Ridley, who went to his grave owed pounds 881.

FANS of travel shows are about to be, well, transported. Landmark Communications, the American group responsible for the mind- numbingly compulsive Weather Channel on US cable television, is to launch the Travel Channel in the UK.

Richard Wolfe, formerly of the Children's Channel, has been appointed md. He expects the service to operate for eight hours a day, bringing tasters of exotic locations, international food programmes and a teletext service giving details of roadworks, train delays and cancelled flights in Western Europe. Wolfe says he does not expect people to watch the channel for long periods, but to dip in when they are planning holidays or just dreaming about getting away.

If it's anything like the Weather Channel, where the tedium of the programmes is soothingly addictive, expect a whole new breed of armchair travel junkies.

IN THREE weeks Clare Spottiswoode, the super-intelligent former Treasury official and computer software entrepreneur, replaces the feisty Sir James McKinnon as chief tormentor of British Gas, aka director-general of Ofgas. I understand she is not quite the gas virgin she has been made out to be.

Although she has no direct experience of the industry, as the critics have been eager to point out, she does have access to some expertise in the shape of David Spottiswoode, her uncle. He spent 29 years with Shell, 19 of them working on natural gas, and is now a director of the energy consultancy EconoMatters and its subsidiary Gasistance.

SORRY to return to the subject of CREST, the Bank of England project to find a way of moving to paperless share trading. I've already been ticked off by the Bank for taking the mickey out of its CREST newsletter, which referred to CREST 21 times without explaining what it stood for. I was firmly told that it did not stand for anything, despite the relentless capital letters.

However, a source not a million miles from Threadneedle Street points out that the words Certificate Replacement by Electronic Share Transfer miraculously fit this non-acronym. The only unanswered question is why the Bank is so desperately trying to suppress the fact.

DOING the City rounds is a rather unkind collective noun for a group of bankers - a wunch. (Think about it.) Regular travellers to Italy report sighting a substantial wunch every Monday morning on BA's flight 552 to Rome from Heathrow. The business class cabin is awash with merchant bankers. It's a positive melee of pinstripes and brogues.

Italy is about to launch a series of mass privatisations and London's bankers have been quick to scent fees. Warburgs and Credit Suisse First Boston are advising on the sell-off of the state bank IMI; Schroder Wagg and Goldman Sachs are working on the sale of INI, the state insurer; and Kleinworts has clinched the electricity utility ENEL.

Sadly, little work gets done on the plane. No one dares do any paperwork, for fear of being spied on by their next door neighbour, who is almost certainly from a rival bank.

MY SNIPPET last week that a Brummie entrepreneur wants to sell advertising space above urinals in the toilets of pubs, hotels, airports and shops has generated a lot of interest. But the Blackwell Grange Moat House hotel in Darlington has gone far beyond this already.

Every day it sticks up in the Gents the news pages of the local paper, the Northern Echo, in the Gents in special glass cases. One case is reserved for the latest Beano. Seems a brilliant idea, though the hotel manager's secretary sounds a bit doubtful. 'It does get rather crowded in there sometimes,' she warns.

HERE'S a funny thing. Last week peace appeared to have broken out between underwriting members of the Lloyd's insurance market, the so-called 'names', and the institution's managers.

On Thursday, the Association of Lloyd's Members, representing 8,000 individuals in the market, said it was going to support plans for the introduction of companies as investors in the accident-prone market. Linked with the pledge of support was the Lloyd's Names Associations' Working Party, backed by around 17,000 names who are in legal dispute with companies at Lloyd's over their pounds 5.5bn of losses.

What a difference a day makes. Come Friday the LNAWP said officially it had not endorsed the corporate capital proposals. But then the ginger group's chairman, Christopher Stockwell, rang to say there had been 'kisses' and everyone had 'made up'. Surely that meant the Thursday statement was correct? 'Not a bit of it,' argued the intriguing Stockwell, who says he needs further assurances before he gets behind the Lloyd's plans.

He is relying on proxy votes offered to his organisation by members, possibly to vote against the plans later this month in order to force Lloyd's to compensate names.

All in all, a magisterial example of trying to have one's cake and eat it.

PERHAPS the recession really is ending. I detect a subtle change in London's cabbies. For three years they have been docile, pathetically grateful for any fare they could get. Yet in the past four days I've been refused a receipt, refused a ride, and told where I could stuff my poxy tip. Now that's what I call green shoots.

MICHAEL MILKEN, the former junk bond king jailed for securities fraud, started a new career last week - as a professor. He is teaching a finance course at the University of California. The students seem rather in awe of him, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. 'He made dollars 550m in one year: it blows your mind,' said one breathlessly. 'He's the best finance guy since JP Morgan,' was another view.

Quite a rehabilitation for a man who only doffed his overalls with the distinctive arrows in January.

(Photographs omitted)