11th April 1997 at 01:00
Remember "the biggest public information exercise mounted since the war", otherwise known as the primary league tables? Carborundum's pulse is still racing with the excitement of it all. And the blood pressure of one Ralph Surman is in a similarly critical condition.

Mr Surman, a national executive member of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, fancied doing a bit of research on the national tables. He rang the Department for Education and Employment's free number and was promised a complete set within 10 days.

That was in March. A fortnight later, the postman had still not puffed up the path with the full 119 booklets, so Mr S called again. This time, he was told a full set could not be sent because of the cost.

Fuming, he called to speak to someone in authority, and this time was told that "many" headteachers had called to complain about misprints in the tables, and so they would not be available until each case had been investigated by the Department for Education and Employment.

"How many?" enquired Mr S. "I can't let you have that information," replied the anonymous supervisor, adding that a complete set of tables would therefore not be available until the summer at earliest.

Mr Surman calls Carborundum to moan about "the biggest misinformation blitz since the war." Our Man At The Department's investigations reveal that just eight booklets are currently unavailable pending checks and promises to arrange dispatch of the others to Mr S. So what was the original problem? He concludes: "There must have been a cock-up on the helpline."

Cocktail parties in Bournemouth last week were fuelled by the stirring tale of how a gang of lawyers were held hostage in a Chinese restaurant, whilst two of their number were allowed out to find a cashpoint in order to pay the bill (said establishment not taking plastic). Adding piquancy to the tale was the identity of the lawyers in question: Gerry Bartlett, wily legal officer of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, plus the union's solicitors.

Ever-keen on accuracy, Carborundum rang to check. And a very jolly Mr Bartlett, startled to learn that others were dining out on the tale of his dinner, quashed some of its more entertaining touches. "It wasn't a Chinese restaurant. It was called Sophistocats and we got it out of the Good Food Guide," he said.

What about the hostage-taking? "Oh, no. Two of us went out to get cash, but there was no pressure put on us to do so. They were very nice about it. When we discovered they didn't take credit cards, they even suggested we left our business cards and sent them cheques in the post." Carborundum wonders if the restaurant knew it was dealing with a party of lawyers.

One thing you get from a public school education is a better class of exam howler. Or so the current edition of Conference and Common Room would seem to suggest. Of Neolithic man, one child suggested: "They had small families because they only had stone tools." How did the vast chunks of rock which became Stonehenge get across the River Severn? "They may have floated them across on farts."

Nor has social history escaped revisionism. "In the Middle Ages people lived in mud huts with rough mating on the floor." And then there is poor old Elizabeth I, who "found it difficult to formulate policy with the ghost of Mary Queen of Scots hoovering in the background". Even military matters do not escape the penetrating logic of these scholars. "Robert E Lee and Napoleon . .. both these men were tactile geniuses," opined another genius with a finality which brooks no argument.

What vision do the Bee Gees conjure up for you? John Travolta boogieing in a flared white trouser suit? Or men with glistening acres of impossibly white teeth singing in very high voices?

At Oswald Road primary in Manchester, they are those very nice former pupils whose cheque for Pounds 3,000 has bought a decent collection of musical instruments for the current crop of pupils.

Handily, the Bee Gees have just taken delivery of a Brits lifetime achievement award and do have a current chart single, "Alone". Despite this, and although the Gibb brothers attended the school 40 years ago, the pupils - largely fans of the Spice Girls - only recently heard of the Seventies superstars when they visited during filming for The South Bank Show.

But one thing is baffling head Jessica Hallmark: Barry Gibb's admission during filming that he was always in trouble at school. "There was a punishment book in those days and the brothers were either not very naughty or else they never got caught." Perhaps he was just after some rockstar bad-boy street cred.

And Carborundum suspects the Gibbs might not be best pleased by another perfectly innocent remark. "Although many parents can't remember the Bee Gees, the children are keen fans."

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