Diary: Conflict takes over from terrorism

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STEPPING down from his post as head of the country's leading counter-terrorist centre - without, some might say, impeccable timing - is Professor Paul Wilkinson, secretive expert on the IRA. His sudden departure as director of the Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism after four-and-a-half years has sparked much speculation within the world of intelligence.

Although a 'disagreement' with colleagues has been mooted, Wilkinson will only say that he has resigned to 'devote more time to research at St Andrews University', where he is a lecturer. An adviser to Western governments (including our own) on terrorism and hijacking, Wilkinson narrowly escaped being blown up four years ago at an anti-terrorist conference at the Royal Overseas League in St James's, London. The IRA hid 3lbs of Semtex beneath the lectern, timing it to go off as he spoke, but the bomb was defused.

Wilkinson's successor (not yet officially announced) is Professor William Gutteridge, whose expertise lies not in terrorism but in 'conflict'. Some observers anticipate a change in emphasis at the Institute, although researchers will continue to monitor the IRA. Wilkinson, I'm told, will still advise in an 'unofficial' capacity.

ALTHOUGH some MPs - particularly Sir Edward Heath and Dennis Skinner - are more fussy than others about where they sit in the House of Commons, seating arrangements are not exactly tailor-made. Not so in Paris: representatives not only have their own seats, but, according to The Oldie magazine, each seat is neatly crafted to fit each individual derriere.

CEREAL KILLER

Unrecorded by the forthcoming BBC 2 documentary on the Foreign Office, True Brits, is a breakfast at Brockett Hall, Hertfordshire, where a group of European ministers were discussing the previous day's talks. The French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas - clearly a croissant man - picked up his Weetabix and reached for the butter dish. The rest I leave to your imagination. But itcan be difficult eating abroad. A colleague recalls being distinctly unenthusiastic at the prospect of steak diane at 8.30am on his first visit to New York. He was about to eat it though - when an American couple came to his rescue, recommending that he choose from the breakfast, rather than the dinner menu.

A PEACOCK named Pete is at the centre of a rather distressing battle between the residents of Clifton, a suburb of York, and the York Museum: the residents once loved the bird, but the affection has worn thin because of his early morning singing.

Back to your home in the museum gardens, they have told him. But he doesn't belong to us, says the museum. The Diary isn't taking sides, although the residents have a good eyewitness on their side. Margaret Ireland swears she saw the peacock leaving the museum gardens and boarding a bus at the end of last year. 'He must have jumped off when he got to Clifton,' she says.

NUDGE NUDGE . . .

Thirty-odd years after the Monty Python team made their profession a laughing stock, accountants are still getting stick. The latest persecutors are Scottish Opera, which portrays some of its more loyal clients in this season's brochure. Whereas Stan Mrugala, tradesman, and Roger Edwards, zoo consultant, are photographed eating an outsize sandwich and posing beside a huge tortoise respectively, Ian Lee, chartered accountant from Ernst & Young, is snapped beside a cast list for that well-known opera by Alfred Schnittke: Life with an Idiot.

A DAY LIKE THIS

15 April 1904 Rilke writes to Lou Andreas-Salome: 'It is beautiful here in the garden, even when nothing much blooms in it and the atmosphere of Rome is rather too loud, too obtrusive to be called spring. Even the fields of anemones and daisies are too dense, too heavy, too close-meshed, and in the sky there are none of those grey days behind the empty trees, none of those wide transfiguring winds or softly falling rain which for me are the essence of spring. It is a spring for foreigners with little time to spare, loud, blatant, and exaggerated. There is, however, one tree in the garden that might well stand in Tuscany, in an old monastery: a lofty, ancient cypress, completely overgrown with wistaria which lifts and dips its pale mauve hangings out of the tree's darkness - it is a joy. That and the glorious fig-trees which stand with raised, curving boughs like the altar-candlesticks of the Old Testament and slowly open their light-green leaves.'

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