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Empress comes out of her shell

IT WAS a turtle that did it. Empress Michiko of Japan has got her voice back. She spoke last Sunday for the first time since her 59th birthday four months ago when she collapsed, struck dumb, we were told, from sorrow. Speechless she was until she watched a small boy release a pet turtle into the sea on a remote Pacific island.

'When the next wave comes, the turtle can return to the sea, can't it?' she asked.

That's all she said, but the sentence sent waves of joy through the Imperial Court. The empress was reported to have uttered further haikus the next day, but the household won't say yet whether she is back in full conversational mode.

Bitten by love

IN NOVEMBER we brought you the strange case of the Swedish guard dog that failed to bark while thieves got away with works of art worth about pounds 36m from Stockholm's Museum of Modern Art. Last week we found out why the dog did not say vov, vov, which, as we explained, is a Swedish translation of woof, woof.

At first we thought that dogs, like the people of Sweden, had become disoriented after the collapse of the welfare state. But the real reason was simple. The dog's handler was a woman. According to local reports she was seduced before the heist by one of the robbers. By the time the theft took place, the dog was used to his smell.

The woman was questioned by police but no charges were laid.

No laughing matter

MONTREAL'S Museum of Humour was closed after 10 months due to poor attendance. The government had sunk Candollars 13.5m in the project in an apparent attempt to cheer up the country. But Canadians did not appreciate the joke. As a result, the government refused to put up more cash.

Wizardry from Oz

REMEMBER all those fine parliamentary phrases from Australia - scumbag, sleazeball, ratbag, gutless spiv, perfumed gigolos, stunned mullets, etc, that issued from the Prime Minister's lips at question time?

Now it seems Paul Keating is trying to improve his image. Rather than curb his tongue he will cut his appearances at PM's question timefrom four days a week to two.

Ostensibly, the change is to allow other ministers to handle more questions. The real reason, according to our man in Canberra, is that Mr Keating is worried about the negative image being relayed to the Australian public since the televising of parliament began in 1991.

Critics say the Keating plan might be justified if the Australian parliament sat for longer periods. It has the shortest sittings of any parliament in the 'old' Commonwealth - the House of Commons (164 average sitting days), Canada (146), New Zealand (89) and Australia (63.4).

A fair cop?

IT WAS not meant to end like this: the winner of a raffle was put in jail and his prize was taken away. But then it did happen in Manila.

No sooner had Conrado Bacani won first prize - a second-hand car - he drove to the police station to register it. Police checked their records and found it was a stolen vehicle. The car had been donated by the chief of police from another district of the city.