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Hang Ups

There are often times especially when the deadline for one of these columns looms when I yearn for those halcyon days when I earned an honest crust as an English teacher.

It isn't the lure of all that marking that excites me. Indeed, I've almost forgotten what a thrill it must have been to zap errant apostrophe's or to lovingly heal a split infinitive. I can contemplate a future in which I'll never listen again to classes of earnest adolescents presenting the case against fox hunting or Lady Macbeth. I'm even beginning to manage a whole evening in the theatre without feeling an overwhelming urge to check that the 30 people sitting beside me aren't laden with Cheesywotsits and Coke cans.

What I can't stomach is the prospect of having to spend my days writing Hang Ups while my erstwhile colleagues are having a whale of a time playing with all the high-tech wizardry that has come on the market since I handed in my chalk and duster.

I daydream of being back in the classroom, perched behind a giant 486, its hard disc laden with the latest version of PageMaker, a comprehensive selection of exotic fonts and a megabyte or two of clipart. For the first couple of weeks back at the chalk face (as I'd quickly learn to call it), I'd restrict myself to desktop publishing worksheets. But once I'd mastered the software, I'd embark on producing whole books. It's now possible to do so without having to type a single word.

The texts of many of the classics, for instance, are allegedly lurking somewhere on the Internet. I've never actually located them myself, getting hopelessly lost every time I venture on to the information superhighway. So I intend to delegate the task of downloading the text to one of those young computer addicts who, the newspapers insist, are to be found in every school busily distributing digitised porn or hacking into BT's list of Royal telephone numbers.

There is also an abundance of great literature on CD-Rom. For instance, the mail order company, Schools Direct, has among its hundreds of titles the complete works of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and, inevitably, William Shakespeare. Indeed, so keen are the software houses to get Shakespeare into digitised form, you get the distinct impression that if he were alive today, he wouldn't waste time fooling around in the theatre but get his plays straight on to CDRom.

HarperCollins, which intends to issue all his major plays in this format, has just launched a Romeo and Juliet package. As well as the complete text, the CD-Rom contains video snippets from the BBC production; the complete audio recording; interviews with actors and acres of critical opinion.

Shakespeare also features on Chadwyck-Healey's English Poetry Plus, but he has to share the megabytes with 274 other poets. As well as biographies, portraits and recorded readings, the CD-Rom contains 5,000 of the greatest English poems from the 14th century up to when the publishers would have to start paying royalties.

What makes the discs so attractive is that text can be copied from them and pasted into any word-processing or DTP package. So I'll be able to keep myself fully occupied through the short school day would that it were longer editing definitive versions of the plays and customising my own anthologies.

"And what," I hear you ask, "will your pupils be doing while you are thus occupied?" I'm rather hoping they might like to try their hands at writing a few of these Hang Ups columns.

Schools Direct, The Green, Ravensthorpe, Northampton NN6 8EP. BBC Shakespeare on CD-Rom (for PC and Mac), HarperCollins (Pounds 75). English Poetry Plus (for PC), Chadwyck-Healey, Pounds 250

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