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Something peculiar has happened to the Tory faithful. It appears to be missing - presumed disillusioned - if last weekend's Conservative Local Government Conference is anything to go by.

For a start, there was the strange case of the education debate, apparently called to reclaim the high ground on grant-maintained schools from the Labour opposition. Plenty of meat there for a fire- and-brimstone debate from sturdy education chairmen and women from up and down the land, you might have thought, but who should open the batting but one Andrew Turner?

Granted, he is an Oxfordshire councillor - but his day job finds him actually paid by the Government to promote opting-out as supremo of the Grant-Maintained Schools Foundation. The next bod was someone called David Senior, apparently a prospective parliamentary candidate for Cheshire, while bringing up the rear was, finally, a real councillor - Toby Eckersley, a non-voting observer on Southwark's education committee. And that was it. Don't Tory education chairs believe in their party's policy on grant-maintained schools?

The curiously empty conference hall at the QEII Centre was also somewhat unusual for a Tory grassroots gathering, but at least a fascinating insight into the black arts of politicians was to be had. Just before Prime Minister John Major was wheeled on to speak, the hall mysteriously filled with swarms of fresh-faced young people, apparently rapturously bent on hearing the words of the leader.

The mystery was swiftly solved. A conference of true-blue students had been taking place at nearby Conservative Central Office, and they, no doubt, were itching to hear a Major speech. Carborundum simply cannot believe the cynics who suggest the students were imported for the benefit of the television cameras, to fill up those embarrassingly empty places while the charismatic PM was speaking.

There are at least a few characters left in the increasingly grey world of politics, and one is Schools Minister Eric Forth. His Sanctuary Buildings office has long been legendary among civil servants and visitors, but one recent summonee found himself far more transfixed by the eclectic artwork on the walls than anything the Minister had to say.

For a start, there are the caricatures - all three of the office's inhabitant - which make various play with his fearsome haircut and Hatton Garden tendencies. Then there is the Athena poster of Elvis - or so it seems on first glance. A longer, increasingly horrified stare reveals that the Forth features have been cleverly superimposed upon those of the King.

The final straw for our astonished visitor, however, came on closer inspection of the cinematic poster featuring Humphrey Bogart in an epic not unadjacent to The Maltese Falcon. You've guessed it. Between the trilby and the raincoat. . . the unmistakable face of Eric.

You just can't stop universities banging on about research these days, and so Carborundum was fascinated to receive a missive from Bradford on how a team of scientists have used "state-of-the- art technology" to help cure Hard Plastic Dolls' Disease. Yes, you have read this correctly.

"It sounds like something from a horror film . . . a valuable collector's doll, stored in an airtight display case with other dolls, begins to warp and buckle, its face becomes bloated and discoloured and a sticky brown liquid starts to build up inside it. And more sinister yet, the dolls stored with it begin to 'catch' the disease," enthuses the press release.

It took a doctor, a professor, a postgraduate student and their Raman spectrograph - a laser examination method - to discover that the problem is caused by tiny iron hooks used to hold the dolls together reacting with the cellulose acetate plastic of their construction.

The cure is somewhat less high-tech: either remove the iron widgets from Dolly, or wash her in soap and water to remove the acids caused by the reaction. But, advises Dr Howell Edwards: "Collectors must take care to dry them thoroughly afterwards, since remaining traces of moisture would rust the iron and speed up the onset of the disease." So now you know.

Likely to find yourself seated next to Mrs Paddy Holmes, new chairman of the Independent Schools Association Incorporated? A useful conversational clue. "After a hectic day at school I read Thomas Cook's Continental Timetable to relax," she confides.

Hollow laughs from those increasingly desperate types responsible for balancing school budgets at the latest publication from the Samuel Smiles Appreciation Society (aka the Department for Education). Helpfully, it explains how a 20 per cent saving can result from school energy efficiency. Not only does this tip emerge from Sanctuary Buildings - a less than cost-effective environment - but the booklet costs Pounds 3.95.

Carborundum is, frankly, baffled, by Hillingdon Council's guidelines on a moral framework for sex education, which contain the following thoughts on the spiritual dimension of life: "It is a recognition of the transcendence and it can be found in quiet as in noise, in self as in others, in order as in chaos, in community as in solitude. It is a sense of self as part of a greater whole. The ability to respond with others, to reflect, to interpret and evaluate experience and to cope with paradox and difference and difficulty are all important skills related to a developing spirituality."

Having typed this twaddle, the Diary echoes the response of the council's opposition leader: "They've all gone mad."

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