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DESPITE THE mugging of the former Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies, on Clapham Common last October, the open spaces of south London hold no fear for the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who regularly goes jogging in Battersea Park. Mr Straw revealed details of his venturesome exercise routine to MPs this week at the Home Affairs Select Committee police recruitment hearing, when he observed that police patrolling required a high level of physical fitness. The committee chairman, Chris Mullin, quipped: "You probably qualify, running round Battersea Park." The Labour MP Martin Linton was sceptical. "I've yet to see you," he said jealously. "I've got witnesses," protested Mr Straw, surely referring to the privately run Wandsworth Borough Parks Police, who have replaced the boys in blue in patrolling the area.

PADDY ASHDOWN, the outgoing Lib Dem leader, has hit upon a cunning wheeze to occupy those who are anxious to fill his shoes. He is devolving many of the huge number of invitations he receives to the leaders-in-waiting. Such invitations include the opening of school fetes and an offer for Paddy to appear in a pop video. There is now a vast number of Lib Dem MPs who are ready to scrap amongst themselves for crumbs from the captain's timetable. Pandora's inquiries have found that the list of wannabes runs to a football team. The 11 are: Jackie Ballard; Malcolm Bruce; Menzies Campbell; Don Foster; Nick Harvey; Simon Hughes; Charles Kennedy; David Rendel; Matthew Taylor; Phil Willis; and a late entry from Eastleigh MP David Chidgey, who was "coy" on the leadership bid, according to his local paper.

PROFESSOR ANDREW Linzey, holder of the world's first academic post in theology and animal welfare, at Mansfield College, Oxford, has had an unwelcome encounter with a dog. Linzey, who outraged Church traditionalists by penning liturgies for animals, was bitten by a resident at Battersea Dogs' Home while filming a programme for the BBC. Nowhere in his book, Animal Rites, does it say anything about prayers for animals who bite others. Has the dog-lover missed a trick? "I think some things are worth discussing but not others," Linzey drily told Pandora.

PANDORA DID not realise that the theory of evolution applied to competitions. The latest issue of Prospect magazine features a piece by Geoffrey Miller, which won the Vivus/Prospect prize of pounds 5,000 for the best essay on sexuality from an evolutionary angle. The judges included Helena Cronin, who runs the Darwin Centre at the LSE. Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at University College London, often lectures at the Darwin Centre. One of the joint runners-up was Oliver Curry, "administrative assistant" at the Darwin Centre. Cronin told Pandora: "I didn't want it to look as if I was pushing Darwinian themes, so I waited to hear what the other judges thought first. I was delighted that Miller and Curry entered the competition and particularly delighted that they won." Pandora supposes this is what is called natural selection.

THE GREAT and the good have all been invited to special showings of the Monet exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. But last Friday, at a gathering for the accountants Ernst Young, one of the sponsors of the exhibition, the gallery was evacuated after a reported water leak. A spokesperson for the Royal Academy told Pandora: "A fault occurred in the control system and the gallery immediately closed. It was reopened the following morning." The spokesperson was keen to point out that: "It was not so much of a leak as a drip." And in which room did this drip occur? "The Venice room."

TRUE COLOURS, a report published by the Institute of Public Policy Research on racial discrimination, has generated an instant response. In the report, the author and Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argues that the law cannot tackle racism on its own. New Scotland Yard is certainly curious to hear why. It was first to call for a copy.

Pandora can be contacted by e-mail at: pandora@ independent.co.uk