Pandora's box

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Irish feng shui

Having removed the Union Jack from his office wall, refused to toast the Queen at his official inauguration dinner and launched the first St Patrick's Day parade in the city's history, Belfast's mayor, Alban Maginness, would now like to redesign the city's council chamber. Currently Unionists confront nationalists on opposing red leather benches, but Mr Maginness, the first Roman Catholic lord mayor in Belfast's history, wishes this could change. Yesterday he told the New York Times: "I'd like to make this a horseshoe. People are in the same room, but they're not really engaging." Perhaps a lucky horseshoe is not an inappropriate format for the Northern Irish debate.

A terminal degree

Are you a very, very mature student? The University of Reading is initiating the world's first masters degree course in death and society. That just might prove of interest to anyone who is contemplating life's ultimate frontier. Pandora was intrigued to read that the course will bring together a wide range of scholars to study "the social aspects of death". Could this include dates with death, death dances, perhaps even deathly dull parties? The university says "the course can be taken full-time or part- time". Mercifully, there is no mention of final exams.

Lib Dem cured

When Brian Cotter, Lib Dem MP for Weston-super-Mare, could not obtain any relief for the symptoms of a mystery illness some time ago he turned in desperation to a Chinese herbalist practitioner. In a matter of minutes, his complaint was diagnosed as kidney trouble. Traditional Chinese remedies were prescribed. Not only was he soon feeling better, but Mr Cotter found that his thinning hair was becoming thicker and healthier. This week he is part of an all-party visit to China. No doubt his souvenir shopping will include a visit to a local pharmacy, but not for tiger balm. Mr Cotter recently tabled an early day motion urging the European Union to halt the importation and sale of tiger bones. Don't you just love those Lib Dems?

Standing Scot

The new Scottish parliament is proving to be a powerful magnet for the international Hibernian diaspora. Pandora has learnt of a long-distance bid for the Labour candidates' list from Mike Elrick, currently in Capetown serving as adviser to the African national Congress chief whip in the South African parliament. He has impeccable credentials, having previously served the late Labour leader John Smith as a special adviser whose duties included sharing a "wee dram". Mr Elrick hails from Aberdeen, a fact that his curriculum vitae will not require an electron-microscope to reveal.

Young slackers

Hamley's, the Regent Street toy emporium, released its results yesterday (profits up 10 per cent at pounds 7.6m) and, along the way, revealed an insight into the latest thinking of the nation's pre-pubescent girls. Apparently, the Sporty Spice Girl doll has fallen below the Scary Spice doll's record in sales; only one in twelve of the "girl power" toys sold is now Sporty. Watch out for a slump in health and fitness shares as a new "slacker" generation seems to be on the way.