Staffroom uproar is being caused up and down the land by a mysterious new drugs craze sweeping the nation's schoolchildren.

They are becoming hooked on tiny white pills marked with a raised P, L, or O, which tend to spill out of pockets at inconvenient moments. They look just like - oh, the discarded middle of a Polo mint. And that's exactly what they are, give or take an advertising campaign and a manufacturing process.

Unfortunately, some adults fixated by drugs are tending not to jump to the innocent explanation. "They assume it's LSD or Ecstasy. They always think the worst with these things," says John Ramsay, head of the Toxicology Unit at St George's Hospital in London, who edits a computer-based drug identification package called, er, TICTAC.

He tells Carborundum; "We have had many requests from schools to identify them, usually because they have been found in the playground or the canteen. Much anxiety and time has been wasted, including an exhaustive laboratory analysis (the only significant finding of which was that the 'tablet' smelled of peppermint)."

Up in York, Nestle Rowntree is pretty laid back. "Oh yes, they're a limited edition - we won't be making them for much longer - and they're very popular. We say they're the holes from Polos, but between you and me they're not, " explains the person in the Press department helpfully, adding that he has had "a few calls" from local papers on the subject.

Mr Ramsay, who has done his best to quell the uproar - caused by what his Rowntree moles describe as a marketing gimmick - by placing photographs and dimensions on his Web site (http:www.sghms.ac.uktictac) as well as in the next TICTAC bulletin, is painfully aware that his problems extend beyond tablet-shaped mints. "Candarel sweeteners get found in school satchels, usually by parents who didn't know their daughter was dieting. They are small white pills as well.

"And then there's Smarties." Smarties? "Nestle Rowntree make Smarties as well, and they do promotions. There are 35 different sorts, but at least they are usually recognised as sweets because they are not uniformly round.

"The trouble is that the printing on Smarties is not very good. There are a couple of people I have got out of police custody because they had in their possession the special edition, printed with 'HELP'. The trouble is that the P doesn't come out very well and nobody believes a Smartie would say 'HEL' on it. And if you look a bit disreputable, nobody believes you when you say it's a Smartie in your pocket."

Deep Thought, the mega-computer of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, appears to have been temporarily plugged in to the Internet if the joke sheet downloaded at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority is anything to go by.

The subject: philosophers and social thinkers answer the eternal question: "Why did the chicken cross the road?" Plato: "The ideal chicken would never cross a road unless accompanied by a guardian."

Karl Marx: "The thesis and antithesis of the opposing pavements made it an historical necessity within which the chicken was the unconscious agent of class forces."

Machiavelli: "So that its subjects will view it with admiration, as a chicken which has the daring and courage to boldly cross the road, but also with fear, for who among them has the strength to contend with such a paragon of avian virtue? In such a manner is the princely chicken's dominion maintained. "

Thomas de Torquemada: "I don't know, but give me 10 minutes with the chicken and I'll find out."

However, Carborundum's favourite is the contribution on behalf of SCAA chief executive Nick Tate: "The fact that no-one knows why the chicken crossed the road is an indication of just how far our society has lost touch with its traditions and heritage, and just how far our sense of national identity has been eroded by the all-pervasive relativism of our times, in which no one considers it in the slightest bit unusual that a chicken can choose which road to cross - or indeed whether to cross a road at all - when in fact the chicken should know that such choices are really not just a matter of individual taste, comparable to whether you prefer beluga to sevruga caviar, or Bollinger to Dom Perignon, but should be determined by reference to those absolute values which we can all agree on and which our recent initiative, much commended by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi ..."

A delightful fax from Gunter Primary School in Birmingham. "English and American are not always the same language," it says cryptically, enclosing an excerpt from a US adventure programme: "Flying Spiders (group juggling). Participants toss rubber spiders in a sequence as thrower announces the person being thrown to, and the catcher says thank you and repeats the tosser's name." Could lead to an international incident, that one.

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