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The Independent Online
House valet

THE TORIES were pleading poverty in front of the Niall Committee yesterday during its hearings on party funding. First Gillian Shephard, shadow leader of the House, appeared; she was followed by Lord Cranborne, Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords, elegantly dressed in a blue suit, silk tie and natty yellow hose. Some smug onlookers chuckled at what they perceived as the irony of the resplendent Viscount testifying to his party's penury. Then he crossed his legs. Clearly visible in the material of the heel of each sock was a large threadbare chasm. Pandora wonders if the noble Lord, always well dressed for every occasion, could have asked his tailor to run up a "distressed" pair just for this committee appearance?

Missing ring

The evidence is mounting: Robin Cook is not a New Man. Since his Tunbridge Wells registry office wedding to Gaynor, the Foreign Secretary has conspicuously not been seen wearing a wedding band.

Tongue-twister

How do you pronounce "Wim Duisenberg" - the name of the Dutchman who, after a diplomatic brawl this weekend, was appointed head of the European Central Bank? Yesterday Tony Blair tried two different approaches. First, it was "Doo-zenberg", then it became "Doy-zenberg". MP William Cash has been calling the distinguished banker "Dwee-zenberg". Now Pandora has contacted a friend in the land of Gouda and wooden shoes for the absolutely definitive rendition. Sorry, Tony and Bill, but you weren't even close. It's "Dow-zenbairk".

Joke abuse

Wanted; a new joke writer for David Blunkett. The Secretary of State for Education has a lively sense of humour, often joking at his own expense. Yesterday, for example, speaking to a group of pre-school educators at London's Mermaid Theatre, he told a story about visiting a nursery school and having to sit down on a tiny chair. Turning on his warmest paternal charm, he put his arm around one child and asked her age. "Twenty-four," was the answer. That was funny, Dave, the first six times they heard it. But the pre-school circuit is a tough one so you'd better find a new joke.

First comic

Why do some American presidents and their wives shine so much more brightly once they've left the White House? Remember the awkward preppy President George Bush and his dowdy First Lady Barbara (right)? On Monday, Mrs Bush revealed a new stand-up comic side to her personality. "How come nobody thought I ever had an affair with anyone?" she asked an audience in New York. "When George was President, a lot of people thought I looked like his mother - or George Washington." Pandora wonders if Hillary Clinton will start cracking self-deprecatory jokes once she leaves Washington. Surely she's got all the material she needs.

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