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The tottering stack of dog-eared curriculum documents which normally forms Carborundum's bedtime reading have this week been displaced by possibly the most important tome to hit the bookstands this year: Things To Come, former education secretary John Patten's magnum opus on The Tories In The 21st-Century.

For students of Pattenology, it is a fascinating read, although the price - Pounds 17.99 a copy - may deter many of those who would derive the most innocent pleasure from the contents.

He admits ("not surprisingly") that "mistakes have been made and not everything has worked wonderfully . . . we ran into turmoil over school testing". Not quite a full-blooded admission of poor handling, but possibly the best which can be expected under the circumstances.

What else does it contain? Well, there are some fascinating suggestions for the future, including his views on the future of bloodsports: that such pursuits should not be attacked by a Tory government because of the party's natural constituency in the countryside.

But best of all are Dr P's opinions - which are nothing if not trenchant - on Life, the Universe, and Everything. The constitution needs no reform, because the closeness of life in Parliament militates for good working. "In the Tea Room, crammed with sleeping, gossiping, reading, arguing, plotting members, rank with the smell of humanity, bacon sandwiches and cocoa during a late-night sitting, there is an extraordinary sense of businesslike proximity. It is the same when the discreet doors in the linenfold panelling are penetrated to the still surprisingly neo-Victorian plumbing of the place. There much effective Parliamentary and government business is transacted while hands are washed. " Not, presumably, if you are Gillian Shephard or Virginia Bottomley, unless they just plot with each other in the Ladies.

Then there is the success of privatisation. "I cannot remember food rationing; but I certainly can in my adult lifetime recall telephone rationing with the dreadful queues to get connected that were there in some parts of the country even in the 1970s. Then, when you did eventually get a line, it was sometimes only to enjoy the extraordinary conflicts and chances of a shared, so-called 'party' line . . . BT's past is not a pretty picture to conjure up in one's mind's eye - with one exception only to the rule that privatisation gives better results. That is the stark contrast between modern telephone boxes and those old red ones which, like warm beer, still do seem decent monuments to good British taste and production. Tories should be concerned about aesthetic matters in our crowded little island. There always used to be red phone boxes in most places, just like the red pillar boxes or grey-stone parish churches which stand inviolate still."

So just why did Dr P choose to spend the early months of his enforced exile from Cabinet building up a callous in his forefinger ("I can't work computers") composing his tome? He told the Daily Telegraph that it was the best way he could find of "resting" - like an actor.

However, the book's first words tell another story. "My dear wife Louise suggested, in the autumn of 1994, that, having been in the House of Commons since 1979, and a member of some of the administrations since for a number of years, I might write this book." Was this, Carborundum wonders, after Dr P had lost his ministerial salary and was forced to agree to pay some Pounds 90,000 to Birmingham's education director Tim Brighouse after some allegedly libellous comments made at a Conservative party conference?

More fascinating developments in the world of further education, as an eyebrow-raising appointment is made to a new agency intended to provide colleges with a pool of self-employed lecturers.

Education Lecturing Services should apparently make it easier and cheaper for principals to use part-timers with hourly pay rates starting at just Pounds 10 and no need to fork out for little luxuries like holiday, sickness or redundancy pay to such employees.

The board includes one Roger Ward, better-known in his other incarnation as supremo of the Colleges' Employers' Forum. The expensively-tailored Mr W is already well-known for his cunning, but it is being whispered in the further educational circuit that he may just have pulled off his most audacious master-stroke.

In March, Richard Eve, the assistant secretary of lecturers' union NATFHE, told The TES that he was less than ecstatic about the ELS deal, which will cost colleges some Pounds 12,000 in the first year. "No way should there be a rate of Pounds 10 per hour . . . I would prefer to see a greater emphasis on fractional appointments, where part-time staff are paid pro-rata with full-time lecturers." Last week, he took his leave from NATFHE - for a fortnight's holiday just before starting his new job with the ELS.

Mr Eve was, apparently, made an offer he simply couldn't refuse. The ELS will no doubt be delighted with their new London regional officer, but NATFHE may find it rather trickier facing the college employers in their pay talks at ACAS without the presence of their wiliest negotiator. If it is the purest coincidence - as no doubt it is - then Mr Ward is being unfairly (and grudgingly) congratulated in many quarters.

A heartfelt wail comes to the letters page of The Psychologist from a disgruntled interviewee for a senior post at an unnamed university. Apparently said applicant was ultimately unsuccessful because his overall interview performance was judged "too intellectual and too analytical". He wonders: "If you can't be intellectual and analytic in a university where can you be?" Answers on a postcard, please.

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