Charity begins

21st November 2003 at 00:00
IT fever hits St Brian's and the head is about to overheat

It's a big day for St Brian's. Our new IT network, the central plank of our bid for technology status,is going live and the head, Dr Alastair Scarlett, is in a state of high anxiety. He's decided to turn the hardware roll-out, as he insists on calling it, into a grand occasion. Someone from the local authority - "a big wheel at the National Grid for Learning" - is going to make a speech, the chair of governors has agreed to take some pictures with his digital camera to post on the school website, and the local vicar will bless our modem. "This is history, Miss Casement," Dr Scarlett said to me emotionally at the last meeting of the ICT working party. "You never know, Mr Miliband might even drop in."

Only two things are missing: Stoyan Radovich, education liaison manager for St Brian's PFI partner, Tbilisi Technology; and the computers. "I don't understand. The cheque cleared last week and Mr Radovich was adamant he'd be here," says Dr Scarlett. I remember a story the local paper ran about Chechen mafiosi penetrating the LEA to launder money through the performance threshold budget.

Suddenly a shout goes up. "The van's here!" It's Saeed, the IT co-ordinator. We go outside and see three men in combat fatigues unloading large boxes from a jeep. "There's been a mistake," Saeed shouts at one of the men. "We're expecting a consignment of PCs, not mainframes." The men carry on unloading in silence, then lock up the tailgate, jump in and speed off.

We peer at the battered-looking boxes, which are covered in a thick layer of dust. Saeed wipes away the dirt to reveal faded writing: "Warsaw Pact 1974. Long live Comrade Brezhnev, father of the international proletariat".

Saeed and a group of boys unpack 25 machines that look - and sound - like small fridges. "Right Mr Rashid, let's get this school hooked up!" commands Dr Scarlett. Saeed looks grief-stricken.

The head's grand ceremony is heading for catastrophe. The IT team manage to start up the computers but the software installation code is all in Russian and, anyway, John Baller, the union rep, says the giant keyboards are a health and safety hazard. Amy Studds, the bursar, is in tears because the new machines have crashed her beloved PowerPoint programme.

Dr Scarlett sends for a flip chart and some marker pens. Sandy McSniff, my sometime mentor, digs out a CD, Music to Inspire, and suggests "Fanfare for the Common Man" to accompany the head's presentation. Luckily the council bigwig has flu and the person who's been sent along as stand-in thinks he's here for a Food Safety Week promotion stunt.

A baffled Year 7 file into the hall and a clutch of Year 12s selected for their communication skills (they're up to four words a minute) mingle with the dignitaries. Dr Scarlett makes a rambling speech that we can just make out above the din of Emerson Lake and Palmer while, behind him, a still-tearful Amy Studds scrawls random phrases such as "Let's log on!" and "It's mega!" on the flip chart. The vicar flicks some water at a box with a huge hammer and sickle stencilled on the side, and that's it.

Thanks a bunch, Stoyan.

Next week: Is it the end for Graham Love?

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