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Pembroke: Within our Ken

GILLIAN CLARKE, wife of our cuddly Chancellor, has been an Oxfam trustee for 14 of the past 16 years. Her experience is as a fund-raiser - she spent 10 years hard at work running one of the charity's shops in Nottingham.

(In the autumn edition of Oxfam News she speaks of life as the Chancellor's wife: 'The public have quite odd ideas . . . I mean we quite often go to the supermarket together - Ken quite likes it. But people are amazed.')

All of which helps explain why, at the numerous press conferences given by Ken Clarke at the IMF meeting in Washington, his audience couldn't help but notice how super-animated he was about Third World debt reduction. Much more animated, indeed, than he was about (to take a wholly random example) domestic taxation . . .

COMPANY FAILURES are causing a great deal of pain, but money is also being made. The Page 1 Report - yours for pounds 195 a year - is a weekly newsletter of all companies going into liquidation or receivership. It gaily advises: 'Many are making an excellent living solely by trading in liquidated stock.'

Still, let's not be harsh. Page 1 Report also lists winding-up petitions, thus helping 2,000 subscribers avoid bad debts.

WE'RE PREPARED to give Page 1 Report the benefit of the doubt when it comes to ghoulishness. One of the UK's leading insolvency practitioners, however, was recently asked whether he feared redundancy after company failures fell by a fifth in the third quarter against the same period last year.

Ah, but this is only a lull, he says. 'The bombing has stopped but they haven't got round to bayoneting the wounded. And I,' added the benevolent practitioner, 'am Florence Nightingale, the lady with the lamp.'

PETER MIDDLETON, chief executive of Lloyd's of London, threw a metaphorical teddy out of his pram this week when he threatened to resign if the beleaguered members fail to support his plans to create a brave new future. If he carries out this threat, at least he shouldn't end up on the dole.

'Celebrating' a year in office on Wednesday night, Mr Middleton confided that he gets regular offers of prominent positions elsewhere. After 117-hour weeks at Lloyd's, the temptation must be great.

RICHARD PALMER, chief executive of European Motor Holdings, sells the latest BMW, Audi and Rover models through his dealerships, but his heart only really goes pitter-pat when he spies a motorcycle. Alas, he has now confined himself to riding a trail bike around his five acres in Berkshire since a bad accident three years ago. He admits that while he was laid up after that crash his doubtless distraught wife got rid of no fewer than seven of his grown-up mean machines.