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To be taken in the event of a meltdown

GOOD news for the people of Barrow-in-Furness. The local council, in cahoots with the defence authorities, is to distribute tablets of potassium iodate for you to keep in your medicine cupboard in the event of an accident at the nearby shipyards, where nuclear submarines are built and serviced. In the rest of the country these tablets, which help to protect the thyroid gland against contamination by radioactive iodine, are held by the police for distribution at the time of disaster. The chemical is more normally used for the treatment of goitre; we're told that pregnant mothers should be very careful in its use. Now, you wouldn't want to say that this idea - welcomed yesterday by Medact, the grouping of medical campaigners against nuclear weapons - supposes there's any real likelihood of nuclear horror in Barrow. But the only other place in the world where potassium iodate is distributed to the population at large is Three Mile Island in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where the local nuclear power station staged a rather nasty bang in March 1979.

THE KUWAITIS have chosen to buy the speedy American Abrams M1A2 tank over the better-armoured British Challenger 2 - the former, said the Defence Minister, Sheikh Ali Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, 'is the most responsive to Kuwaiti army requirements'. Says a bitter defence industry insider: 'Given their performance in August 1990 you should not be surprised that the Kuwaiti army chose a tank to run away with rather than a tank to stand and fight.'

Suffering for art

OPERA bulletin. Welsh National Opera has at last managed to get a cast on stage for its touring production of Tosca. Suzanne Murphy will be singing Tosca, replacing Marion Vernette Moore, who injured both her legs in rehearsal while leaping off the stage battlements. Maurizio Saltarin will, after all, play Tosca's lover, Cavaradossi. He had withdrawn because of a death in his family, but bravely agreed to replace his replacement, Dennis O'Neill, who has not yet recovered from injuries to his back sustained after fainting during a visit to Italy.

HOW DISTURBED is your average American voter by George Bush's contention that Bill Clinton was a no-good, draft-dodgin', Vietnam War-knocking peacenik? One voter around at the time says that the American army during the 'debacle in Vietnam' was 'ethically and morally bankrupt' and he himself 'agonised' over whether to resign his commission. That was General H 'Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf, Bush's Gulf war pin-up, in his autobiography, published this week.

Stir-fried nuggets

THE CITIZENS of Achill have yet to see claim jumping, saloon brawls and brothels, but the normally sleepy island off the Mayo coast is experiencing its very own gold rush. This follows the recent find of a gold and titanium nugget there, washed down a stream by recent torrential rains. It has attracted droves of hopefuls keen to ease their mortgage worries by some timely panning. What really fascinate the locals is the modern accessories of today's Klondikers. Out has gone the old frying pan, beloved of the original prospectors, to be replaced by the wok. The area is thus now dubbed not the Yukon, but the Wokon.

WE TOLD you of the sticker spotted in the back of a Rover 800 reading 'Buy Blitish'. HJ Richards, of Norwich, suggests this is more serious than we had at first imagined - throwing out an old jacket recently, Mr Richards found a Union Jack woven into the lining with the legend 'Britisch Made'. And another reader helpfully sends a packet of Party Poppers supplied by the Tom Smith Group Ltd - 'Britain's Best Since 1847'. On the back of the packet: 'Made in China'.

A lot of people know

AND NOW, exclusive to the Diary, our very own extract from Michael Caine's (brilliant, explosive) autobiography, What's It All About? Sadly, we can only afford this bit from the index. After 'Mason, James' and before 'Matchmaking' is: 'Masturbation; prodigious, 29; and poor eyesight, 42; distance trials, 42.'

A DAY LIKE THIS

13 October 1861 Mary Boykin Chesnut, wife of a Confederate general, writes in her diary: 'We went in the afternoon to the Negro church on the plantation. Jim Nelson, the stateliest darky I ever saw, tall and straight as a pine tree, with a fine face, and not so very black but a full-blooded African was asked to lead a prayer. He became wildly excited, on his knees, facing us with his eyes shut. He clapped hands at the end of every sentence, and his voice rose to the pitch of a shrill shriek, yet was strangely clear and musical, occasionally in a plaintive minor key that went to your heart. Sometimes it rang out like a trumpet. I wept bitterly. It was all sound, however, and emotional pathos. There was literally nothing in what he said. The words had no meaning. It was the devotional passion of voice and manner which was so magnetic.'

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