So now it's the homeless that are fit for heroes

As Labour celebrates six months in office and David Blunkett considers the White Paper consultations, we learn of an ace academic jape. As scholars mourned the end of the domed reading room in the British Museum-a great pick-up joint apparently- it transpired that a number of professors had behaved badly for years by inventing a late 18th-century polymath. Joseph Crabtree, was unmasked this week as the longest-running academic joke.

No joke for asthmatics, though, as a Government study found that rural air was just as smoggy as that in city centres. Sibton in Suffolk (population 150) was almost as bad as Royal Leamington Spa, the country's worst ozone blackspot. What's in a name?

Just as Home Secretary Jack Straw gets to grips with gating young thugs, he's faced with another hazard - laser pens, a new teenage craze. The pens are meant to be used by lecturers to pinpoint features with a red beam, but have become popular at clubs and football matches. A teacher, a Methodist minister and a fireman have been injured when the light was shone into their eyes. Experts are calling for a ban as they could cause permanent damage.

Opticians too are worried by the enduringly negative image of "Speccy Four-Eyes" as latest research shows that children are still likely to be bullied if they wear glasses. And their parents are often shocked by their child's "disability". It's all the fault of those ugly NHS glasses, said Dolland and Aitchison, sniffily.

The hunt is on, not only for top graduates who are being offered "golden hellos", but for 5,000 army recruits. In an exercise reminiscent of techniques popular in the last century, the Army is scouring the nation's homeless hostels for eager 17 to 26-year-olds whose country needs them.

"Homeless people are often seen as the dross of the community, but there are a lot of young people who have been kicked out of home and deserve another chance," said Captain Paul Larkman, a careers officer. Their survival skills built up from their independent lifestyles could be an asset, he believes.

Let's hope that they don't have to undergo psychometric tests which have been found wanting by an industrial tribunal when used for vetting applicants for London Underground driving jobs. Other recent court challenges have condemned them as biased, inaccurate and discriminatory. They might not even pick the right person for the job.

In Australia, that's just what they are trying to do to win the maximum number of medals for the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000 via a talent-spotting programme in the country's high schools. Children are selected, then tested for their aptitudes before being channelled into certain sports. Around 40 per cent of the rowing team has come from the scheme which began in 1991 and now involves more than a thousand youngsters. Given the success of the Oz cricketers, we should take note.

Millionaires Paul McCartney and Andrew Lloyd Webber have offered to help musically talented youngsters who are facing a crisis shortage of instruments and tuition in schools.

They are supporting the idea of a national schools music trust being considered by the Government. It is not yet clear whether the support is moral or financial.

Sombre stories: from Southampton, Leicester and Cardiff with outbreaks of meningitis among students and sadly, three deaths; a tragedy in Plymouth University with the suicide of a student who dropped out after six weeks, but pretended to his parents that he was still studying for more than a year; and the accidental death of Dr John Pimlott, head of the war studies department at Sandhurst, caused by a Second World War souvenir hand grenade which exploded in his home.

Cherie Blair took time off from the Commonwealth summit in Edinburgh to launch the new premises of the Dunblane Kids' Club in the grounds of the village primary school where 16 children and their teacher were murdered last year by the crazed Thomas Hamilton.

On a lighter note, Enid Blyton is in the news again. One of her best-loved creations, Noddy, the sweet-natured boy in the blue hat, is facing more than a severe makeover: he's undergoing a nationality change to appear on American television. "Oh dear," becomes "Gee whiz," "wicked" is watered down to "mean" and chocolate biscuits are turned into cookies. But sixpences remain untranslatable. Toytown still operates on a single currency. Eat your heart out, Gordon Brown.

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