Peer pressure sparks bust-up at Blackfriars

CITY DIARY

Last week Lord Stevens's United Newspapers and Lord Hollick's MAI announced that they were proposing to merge. Soon afterwards a bronze bust of Lord Stevens disappeared from the lobby of the Express building on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge, London. Was there a connection, wondered staff? Would he be repalced by a bust of Lord Hollick, who is widely seen to be coming out on top in the deal? Or would there be two busts from now on?

A United Newspapers spokesman last night insisted that there was "nothing sinister" in the removal of the bust. "They're re-jigging the front hall." He did not know of any plans to add a bust of the Labour peer.

Skiers beware. An estimated 2,000 plastic cards were lost or stolen on skiing holidays last year, according to Card Protection Plan, a company which insures against such losses. CPP has drawn up a table of the top 10 card theft resorts from last season, which Britain's 575,000 skiers may want to ponder:

1. Val D'Isere - France

2. Kitzbuhel - Austria

3. Verbier - Switzerland

4. Chamonix - France

5. Cormayeur - Italy

6. Soldeu - Andorra

7. Jackson Hole - USA

8. Aviemore - Scotland

9. Cervinia - Italy

10. Les Arcs - France.

Whether this makes any difference to your holiday plans is up to you. CPP offers "10 top tips for card safety", one of which is: "Don't lose sight of your credit card at all if it can be avoided or, if not, for too long - many people have their cards used or even copied without their knowledge." Staring at your flexible friend while shooting down the black runs should add spice to your trip.

Amtico, which makes a range of upmarket vinyl floor coverings, has appointed a non-executive chairman now that its December management buyout is out of the way. The new top man is Brian Allison, who founded BIS Group, an information technology company, in 1964, which was then sold to Nynex in 1987.

Last night the staff of Amtico held a dinner at Leighton House to celebrate the pounds 53m MBO. Leighton House has a world-famous collection of Arabic tiles, although whether it will prompt Amtico to come out with an Arabic range of floor coverings is too early to say.

"We knew that passengers' taste buds are 30 per cent less effective in flight so the challenge was to develop really distinctive flavours. It took us weeks of testing with different spices and oils before we got it right." So says Rina Clarke, co-owner with husband Tim of Zest Foods, a pasta-making company from Powys, Wales. British Airways has chosen the Powys pasta for its pasta bars, which allow passengers to tuck in when they like. BA says over half a tonne of the stuff is consumed at 35,000 feet every week.

The US $100 bill is undergoing a fundamental redesign for the first time in nearly 70 years, and many Americans are worried that the venerable greenback will in some sense be devalued. The big change in the new look is that the portrait of Benjamin Franklin is moved off-centre and enlarged. The US Treasury wants to combat high-tech forgers with new microprinting and watermarks on the note.

The programme better work, as 600 million notes have already been printed in advance of the launch this spring. So concerned is the US government about negative reaction to tinkering with the currency that it has launched a charm offensive spanning over 200 diplomatic missions world-wide. Some American embassies have printed explanatory literature in languages including Latvian, Egyptian-Arabic and Tagalog. Reassuringly, the buck will still be green.

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