The camera cannot lie. Readers who take one look at the phizog pictured left find themselves strangely comforted by the quintessential niceness etched upon it and feel an overwhelming urge to put pen to paper in order to share their worries with me.
Many of my correspondents are teachers, plagued by self-doubt, afraid that they do not measure up to the challenges of life in the modern classroom and nagged by the suspicion that they should be doing still more for their pupils. Needless to say, I routinely forward their letters to the Office for Standards in Education HQ,where eager inspectors are always grateful for the names, addresses and, where possible, the Department for Education and Employment numbers of the profession's lame ducks. I am paid a modest fee for every struggling teacher I can finger. Their scalps - in the form of framed photostats of their tear-stained resignation letters - contrast pleasantly with the Pugin wallpaper in the recently refurbished offices at Arnold's World.
Letters from readers anxious to share confidences of an intimate nature are generally shared among my staff who always enjoy a good laugh. The more indiscreet letters are retained as potentially useful for blackmail but the bulk of my correspondence is either bonfired or grossly misrepresented in this column.
So, first, let me deal with the avalanche of mail from teachers who have been confused by newspaper reports of a paper delivered recently to the Royal Economic Society. It drew attention to a survey carried out in the States. School boys who admitted that they took drugs were tracked down by researchers 10 years later. They had bigger salaries and better careers than most of their abstaining peers. My correspondents want to know whether they would enhance their pupils life chances if they gave them drugs. Of course, the answer is that they should not. Under no circumstances should they give an illegal drug to a school child. They should sell it. At the current street price - or a fraction below, if they seriously want to corner the market.
And a word of comfort for those who have been dismayed to learn that the School Standards and Framework Bill will finally outlaw corporal punishment - even in private schools. Apologists for the cane tell me that, even if using it as "a first resort" is inadvisable, it should be retained as "an ultimate deterrent". The cane, then, could be seen as serving the same function in the running of a school as nuclear weapons do in Britain's ethical foreign policy. We say that we never intend to deploy our nuclear arsenal - and, at the same time, signal to hostile powers that if provoked we just might. It has worked - so far. So it seems only reasonable that teachers should be allowed to retain the capability of inflicting corporal punishment. The fact that there is a stockpile of canes, cat-o'-nine-tails, birches, horsewhips and baseball bats in the staffroom should be enough to keep most pupils in order.
I should clarify that, although caning is barbaric, most sensible people would concede that there is nothing wrong with giving children a little smack. Or - as the report to the Royal Economic Society revealed - a little marijuana, a little speed, or a little crack-cocaine.
I hope that you will continue to write (remembering to quote your DFEE number) to: firstname.lastname@example.org