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Greek squiggles herald end of silly season

THE SILLY season ended, and the new academic year began with Britain's brainiest Royal, the nation's most arrogant academic and the tale of the tree-house boy.

Prince William got nine GCSEs to add to the three he passed last year, sending the tabloids into paroxysms of delight. He's tipped to go to Cambridge whose Trinity College topped the exam tables again this year.

Trinity, alma mater to Newton and Tennyson, gained notoriety for the behaviour of the English faculty's brightest star, Professor Eric Griffiths. Unlikely Essex girl, Tracy Playle, walked out in tears from an interview for a place at the august establishment. He had allegedly humiliated her by mimicking her accent and suggesting that she wouldn't know what those "funny squiggles" were in a line of Greek from a T S Eliot poem - because she came from Essex. A bit of a cheek from a working-class lad from Liverpool. His 79-year-old mum leapt to his defence. Eric wouldn't have sneered, she said. "He's never forgotten his roots."

Another anti-hero hit the headlines: 11-year-old Mathew Morris-Steward was feted as the new "Swampy" when it was discovered that he was among 20 people, including his mother, occupying woodland in Epsom, Surrey to prevent it from being developed as an access road.

Far from being a hero, some neighbours dubbed him an environmental vandal. The pine tree in the garden of the council house in Kingston upon Thames which they sometimes occupy had been stripped of its branches and family dogs taken into care. The council was not impressed either. They threatened to take his mother to court for allowing him to spend the past four months in the tree-house instead of at school.

Another mother scandalised child psychologists by marching her four-year-old son to the local police station because she couldn't stop him stealing. South Wales police officers gave him a "stern ticking off" and he's now a reformed character. Over-the-top and unhelpful, said a shrink.

What the young lad probably doesn't need, though, is a "naughty book". Tony Blair believes boys will beat book phobia if their dads read them stories with mischievous characters. Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes and Ivanhoe are among the PM's choices. A bit dated, sniffed critics.

But better to read a book than surf the net. Researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that the more people used the Internet, the more they tended to feel depressed and lonely. Virtual communication is no substitute for regular face-to-face contact, they concluded.

Leading high-tech companies and academics were taken aback by the findings. Not least because the future prosperity of those sponsoring the research is linked to the commercial advance of the Internet.

Not good news either for a playgroup opening in London's fashionable Chelsea which will be teaching computer mouse control for toddlers. Parents should first ponder the American findings and the thoughts of one scientist who asked: "Is it because people give up day-to-day contact and then find themselves depressed? Or maybe they are exposed to the broader world and then wonder, 'What am I doing in Pittsburgh?" Would Professor Griffiths care to comment?

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