The return of Phil Harrass private HMI

Suddenly everybody wanted to talk to me. I had reluctantly agreed to inspect Micky, the Artist formerly known as Ferret's, first all-new Cadet Corps. "There's a turf war looming," he'd told me on the telephone, "and it is - just - conceivable my organisation will go under. I want you to set it up so the opposition won't look good if they take it apart again."

"I`m not paid to do that sort of thing."

"Then do it for old times' sake. It hasn't all been bad, has it?" I told him I'd see what I could do. The telephone rang again. It was the Opposition broad who could be my next controller. "I understand you are going to look over one of the new cadet corps," she said. "Since we'll soon be in charge I'd like you to look at ways of making it more community service orientated."

"I'm not paid for that sort of thing."

"You will be when we take over."

I said I'd see what I could do and put the phone down. It rang again. "Look, can't a guy get peace to drool over Gillian Anderson?" I snapped.

"Oh, terribly sorry. We didn't mean to interrupt. We've only just fynde yte your number and it is a bit urgent."

I took a deep breath. I'd never spoken to royalty before. "Hell, it's OK your highness. Just let me slam on the VCR."

"I understand you are inspecting a cadet corps," the Prince still known as Prince said. "These things worry us. We've put so much effort into homework clubs. Frankly, these days they are abyte all we have to shyte abyte."

"I beg your . . . Oh yeah, I get you. What can I do?" "I know you are not paid for this sort of thing but perhaps you could investigate ways of preserving the ethos of our trust work. You could put 'by appointment' on your cards. We know it's not much but it is surely better than nothing."

I said I'd see what I could do. The next day brought the first decent weather after an ill-tempered winter. I drove up to the school with the cadet corps and asked to speak to the teacher in charge. "That'll be the assistant sergeant teacher of science," said the broad in the office, in between wrestling with a 29-page fax that seemed to be the agenda for a council meeting on ways to slash expenditure. She gave him a call.

The AST science was a big, ugly guy with a crew cut. When he saw me he saluted and said: "Troops in the playground, ready for inspection, sir!" "At ease, Bub," I told him. The more I heard, the sorrier I felt for the guy. He'd put in a power of work setting the group up. "Aren't you worried that all this could get torn down if the Opposition get control and set up community service teams instead?" "No, sir, no!" he barked, eyes straight ahead.

"What about pressure from the homework club lobby?" "Taken care of, sir!" We went into the yard. Three dozen smart kids stood to attention, fronted by a banner that said "Braxfield Community Cadet Supported Study Corps". "Commence . . . drill!" bellowed the AST.

"Listen to my physics rhyme," called the sergeant. "Listen to my physics rhyme," echoed the kids. "Distance equals speed times time." They copied him again. "Companeeee . . . halt!" he bellowed. "Picking up litter commence . . . wait for it . . . now!" I raised my hat. They said you couldn't please all of the people all of the time but it was nice to see somebody try.

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