11th October 1996 at 01:00
Question: What do you call an organisation which commissions an independent and critical history of its last quarter-century, spends up to Pounds 20, 000 on the project and then (at the eleventh hour and in secret) apparently abandons any idea of publication? Answer: the National Union of Teachers.

Author Stephen Bates is baffled by the saga, whose underlying moral has the simplicity of Catch 22: if the union didn't want a critical history, why employ a Guardian journalist who made it "repeatedly and abundantly clear" that this was his intention?

"They couldn't expect no criticism given the mistakes of the past 25 years. I did tell them I must be allowed to have my opinion, but I was happy to have factual errors corrected," moans Bates.

Originally the book was to be released on an expectant world during the Easter conference. In classic NUT style, as the Diary went to press Bates was relying on little more than a puff of black smoke to inform him publication was finally off. A source on the national executive committee told him members had decided it "wasn't in the NUT's interests" to publish. Official word appears to be following - literally - by snail mail.

However, the union appears to have made one further error. No contract was signed, and lawyers assure Bates he still holds the copyright. So it may still see the light of day, as The Book They Tried To Ban - if the libel lawyers let through stuff on politicians like John Patten, who fares far worse than the union officials.

TBTTTB makes an entertaining read. For non-NUT members, that is. The first page - which begins: "It has been a very great fall" - explains how the book "charts this uncomfortable history". It says "the NUT and its leadership have been the hapless authors, if rarely the masters, of their fate".

Later: "The NUT changed its logo, from a militant flaming torch, redolent of the old Soviet Union, which some members irreverently said looked more like a wilting plant in a flower pot, to a strangely disjointed open hand ... there were also those who said that the fact that none of the fingers connected with any other made it indeed symbolic of the union's unity."

There is gleeful description of the "festering" five-year battle between president Doug McAvoy and his deputy Mary Hufford, and detailed chronicling of the constant warfare between Left and Right.

Oddly enough, it is not this which appears to have upset the union. Two complaints were made to Bates. One was that Max Morris, former president, was quoted describing how he liked "to shit from a great height" on the Left at conference (inappropriate language which should have been bowdlerised, apparently).

And then there was the description of McAvoy's predecessor, Fred Jarvis: "He never was a man who believed in using one word where 30 or 40 would do and his long-windedness became a legend."

Ungrateful little beasts, children. Or so megastar architect Sir Norman Foster must think on reading the opinions of 10-year-old son Jay, in the current Architects' Journal.

Foster junior on the family's London pied-a-terre: "My dad has this thing where he painted all the walls white. After a while you get so bored."

On Sir Norman's day job, the most notorious manifestation of which is his plan to build Europe's tallest tower - described curiously as an 'erotic gherkin' - in the City of London: "I don't really like the buildings my dad designs. They're all so boring - made of glass and steel and that's it. I'd prefer it if this was a normal house like the one over the road.

"When I'm in the mood I say, 'Dad, tell me about architecture.' There's not a lot to it. You've just got to get a piece of paper and a pencil. He wants me to grow up to be an architect, but I don't. It's boring. I want to be in something like the police force, something exciting."

There may be one glimmer of hope for fatherly ambition. "I'd quite like to design a house myself. I'd put a go-kart track around it and have a big satellite dish." Just what the Millennium Tower needs.

Moving house ranks with divorce, death and childbirth in the stress ratings, so spare a thought for Education Minister Eric Forth, who upped sticks not once but twice last week, shifting his London pad to Kennington and his constituency abode to Chislehurst in Kent, whose electors he hopes to represent after the next election. (His current Worcestershire seat evaporated in boundary changes).

A little damp problem in the London residence could be the least of his difficulties. For the constituency house is in Bromley, where schools and parents are in uproar over the intention of Hayes secondary to impose 25 per cent selection if agreement can be sought from the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. And guess whose desk the request is likely to land on?

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