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All the new year stories about plans to open a balti house at Spaghetti Junction could make life much more agreeable for one of Carborundum's favourite union officials.

Any attempts to contact Paul Mackney, NATFHE's Man in the West Midlands, invariably find him on his mobile phone patrolling the M6 somewhere near Birmingham. Indeed, the Voice of the Lecturer in that area confirms that he practically lives in the inside lane of Spaghetti Junction, henceforth to be regarded as NATFHE's West Midlands HQ.

Which has led to some incidents. As Mackney tells us (from his carphone, naturally): "When I slag off principals for having company cars they say 'yes, but you've got one too'. I tell them that I do, but they don't have to work in theirs."

So it's confirmed. Buried deep in the Department for Education and Employment is no one with even a glimmering of a sense of humour.

A press release on the six new members of the Further Education Funding Council which Carborundum received on December 23 confirms this theory. The chosen ones include Mary Curnock Cook, director of the British Institute of Innkeeping and Colin George, formerly Group Personnel Director at Guinness plc.

Nothing remotely odd about that, except the following day saw the dismissal without notice of Neil Preston and Helen Chandler, the director and assistant director of Stoke College. Remember them? The pair caught running the Dymock Arms in Clywd whilst on sick leave with stress-related illness from their college posts. No doubt the new members of the funding council can provide a useful early-warning system of principals going AWOL.

On the subject of wits in Sanctuary Buildings, Mrs Cheryl Gillan, junior minister of this parish, has recently given a fascinating interview to House magazine, the organ of the Commons. She confides: "Someone asked me to sum up the other day what it is like being a minister. I said it is like this - two weeks ago I was in Oman being driven around in a cavalcade of cars and being called Your Excellency and yesterday I was scrubbing the kitchen floor and there is no doubt that it is a life of contrasts."

And ambitions, Mrs Gillan? "All politicians are ambitious but I don't think I am overtly so. I will do what is asked of me when I am asked to do it. But I would also love to get a golf handicap worth having, in single figures, and I would like to make sure all my geranium cuttings survive so I have a good display next year. I would also like to become a better cook and not present my husband with what I call Lucretia Borgia cooking."

Those ubiquitous A4 conference packs caused about the only frisson of excitement at last week's North of England conference. Each delegate was solemnly issued with a natty little briefcase in which to stash conference bumph, business cards, etc - plus a stern warning not to mix them up, as chaos could ensue. Predictably, whose briefcase should get switched but that of Lib Dem education spokesman Don Foster? And, of course, it contained his soon-to-be-delivered speech.

Under strong suspicion of harbouring the missing folder were Sheffield's chief education officer Jonathan Crossley-Holland and Education Secretary Gillian Shephard. Happily for the darkest, deepest secrets of Lib Dem education policy it was the former rather than the latter, and the folders were swapped back in plenty of time for delivery of said speech. "It still had all the old jokes in it, though," remarked a conference cynic.

Mucky books are something you might expect to find when turning out a teenage boy's bedroom, not the office of a director of education. Even more unexpected, then, is the discovery of such a book 51 years overdue for return to the library.

Well, OK then, it's not a very mucky book. But Sex Education: A Guide for Parents, Teachers and Youth Leaders by Cyril Bibby (published 1944) was a state-of-the-art publication when the Macmillan and Co Lending Library for Teachers sent it to FF Potter Esq on a 10-day loan.

That was the last they saw of it.

Being Cheshire's director of education, Mr Potter must have been very busy and somehow simply forgot to return it. More oddly, the book simply disappeared from view in his office, not to surface until the current education director David Cracknell finally had the offices redecorated.

Mr Cracknell, considering that the book would not be terribly useful in formulating Cheshire's current policy on personal and health education, wrote to ask Macmillan if they wanted it back. "It is," he wrote,"perhaps a comment on the way education has changed that chapter 3 of a practical book on sex education is headed with a quotation from Plato - in Greek with no translation!"

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