22nd November 1996 at 00:00
The patron saint of union leaders appears to be smiling upon the ubiquitous Nigel de Gruchy at present. Never known to be lost for words, the supremo of the ferociously newsworthy National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers was pleased to accept an invitation to talk to the sixth-form general studies group of his local school. This just happens to be St Olave's Grammar in Bromley, Kent, infamous for the ructions it has caused within New Labour.

Anyway, a date was set and Mr de G spent a happy afternoon talking about trade unions and getting an answer to his questions: "Should people have the right to go on strike?"

Imagine his feelings on discovering that had the date been set for the following week. Mr de G might have found himself being marked for effectiveness, value for money (and no doubt rigour and vigour as well) by a team from the Office for Standards in Education.

"A week later and Chris Woodhead could have got his hands on me," muses Nigel cheerfully. "The afternoon was a great success. I might have got a one or a two. I was told I certainly wouldn't have been a six or seven." Such modesty.

* Still, Nigel de G and the Man Who Inspects Schools For The Queen meet quite enough as it is. Their last encounter was in the Breakfast with Frost studio at the height of the rioting schools saga, with fellow quest Sir Rhodes Boyson completing the jolly band.

Just before transmission, a minion breezed into the hospitality room, powder puff and pancake foundation in hand and said: "Right, who shall I make up first? You?" The hirsute-below, balding-above Sir Rhodes, to whom the remark was addressed, replied indignantly that he had already been done, while his charitable colleagues collapsed with laughter in his wake.

The next time a politician makes some sneering crack about academics in ivory towers, he should be introduced quietly to Michael Shayer, Professor of Applied Psychology at King's College London School of Education.

Professor Shayer - co-instigator of the successful Cognitive Acceleration Through Science Education project - is a white-haired, ascetic type. So just what was he doing with a torch and pickaxe handle in the Cambridgeshire countryside last Saturday night?

It turn out that Mrs Shayer, driving home in the dark, had hit a hare on the road. Being hotly pursued by a queue of traffic she had been unable to stop to ascertain the beast's condition and so her husband went out to have a look.

"The poor thing has a broken leg and wasn't going to survive, so I went home and got the pickaxe handle and finished it off," he explains, miming a couple of sharp taps to the head. Being a country bod, he then loaded the hare into the boot and went home.

An academic quest from the North was due for dinner chez Shayer the following evening, and the couple debated as to whether their newly-acquired hare (which the Americans would refer to as roadkill) should feature on the menu. Eventually, and with regret, they decided that it might be a tad on the strong side for their visitor.

Still, all was not lost. The following day Professor Shayer paid a visit to his local game dealer, and swapped the hare for a trout, which duly appeared at dinner to the approval of all concerned.

* Hitherto a Duchess of York-free zone, the Diary is about to make a brief mention of the ex-Royal for good reason. Please forgive us.

In one of her many interviews last week, Fergie apparently explained that the infamous holiday shots of her with financial advisor John Bryan did not, as the world believed, show him sucking her toes. On the contrary: "We were playing Cinderella."

Is this what they mean by further education being the "Cinderella" sector? And if so, did Sir Christopher Ball, the RSA's Director of Learning, know about it when planning his opening address at the Association od Colleges' inaugural conference in Cardiff this week? His subject? "Learning sucks."

* Andy Warhol's soup cans may ultimately be forgotten, but his throwaway comments about 15 minutes of fame appear unlikely to go the same way. The last manifestation: step forward Bob Fisher of Property Services at the University of North London, whose job takes up the whole of page five in the institution's latest magazine.

He says - and we quote: "I've gone down in the halls of fame as being a person who security-tagged all the toilet rolls in the Learning Centre. We have been losing up to a 20 a day, and it was becoming a problem. The library staff loaned us some of their tags, which we stuck in the toilet rolls and caught the culprit."

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