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Convention Diary: Men from Auntie show their backs to the hall

WATCHING media commentators in television booths is a favourite pastime for delegates bored with speeches and anxious to see their favourite newscasters in the flesh. Few eyes turn, though, to the BBC eyrie in the outfield of the Houston Astrodome. Not many here would recognise David Dimbleby and Gavin Esler anyway. Even if they did, they might have wondered whether the duo were actually live specimens, or wax dummies sent over by Auntie just to impress.

After sitting through Monday night's proceedings with backs to the hall, the two finally turned their heads just for a second to catch a glimpse of Ronald Reagan's arrival on stage. Then, curiosity satisfied, back to Madame Tussaud's.

THE writing press, accommodated behind tiered desks either side of the podium, was agog not just for Ronnie but also for right-wing rabble-rouser, Pat Buchanan, who provided so much copy with his primaries challenge to George Bush.

But when Pat was getting into his stride, accusing the Democrats of cross- dressing to seem like moderates when they are really still liberals, the mighty pens of the New Yorker and New Republic found themselves distracted by other allusions to smut. Somebody had just found the latest issue of the New York Post with revelations of Woody Allen's love affair with Soon-Yi, the adopted daughter of Allen's long-time partner, Mia Farrow.

THE Astrodome - home of the Astros baseball team - is not the half of it. Attached are two more vast exhibition spaces, the Astrohall and the Astroarena.

The first houses a virtual media city, with working areas for the 15,000 journalists assigned to the convention. The second offers food and a series of exhibitions under the name, The American Spirit.

Appropriately, this is a free-enterprise extravaganza with corporate stands occupied by the likes of General Motors and a company called Limbs For Love, which makes artificial body parts. Helping to model the products are young children with missing arms and legs.

UNDER the same roof are several acres of souvenir and memento stands selling all kinds of political whatnots from tacky Republican keyrings to dollars 500 ( pounds 250) golf bags embroidered with the Convention insignia. Appealing to the super-patriots in town - and there is no shortage of them - one stall offers huge Stars-and- Stripes flags and even collapsible, alumunium flagpoles ready for planting in the front garden back home.

More curious is a stand taken by the Saturday Evening Post Society offering free prostate cancer examinations for hypochondriac male delegates in a barely private area cordoned off by curtains.

THE appearance of Mr Buchanan, whose yearning for racial purity is often only barely disguised, brought wrath from a Jewish group assembled in an area barricaded off specially for protestors a third of a mile from the dome.

Wearing concentration-camp pyjamas and yellow stars, they carried placards with the message, 'Shame On You President Bush For Inviting The Indefensible Buchanan.' On Monday, a march by 1,000 gay activists ended in confrontation with the police. The burning of effigies and chants of '150,000 dead, off with George Bush's head' was too much for officers, who broke it up with batons and horses.