12th September 1997 at 01:00
Up and down the land, school rodents are being closely watched for signs of unwanted pregnancy, after spending the summer hols with a rota of enthusiastic but naive young foster-parents. Fatherhood, on the other hand, is the entire raison d'etre of Durham School's pet, Hamish.

Hamish, you see, is a prize Highland bull, the pride and joy of the school herd. Three years ago he was on the point of becoming mince and onions, but then Durham herd manager Tim Fernyhough - a role he doubles with that of school chaplain - came to the rescue just 24 hours from the abattoir.

"We needed a new bull and I had been searching widely but the price was always too high," he explained. "The farmer sold me Hamish for his meat price - substantially less than his worth."

One-year-old Hamish, on the point of being sacrificed to cut stock numbers, has amply repaid the Rev Fernyhough's faith in him. Not only has his unique contribution led to a rise in the size of the school herd, but he has also won a stream of prizes, the latest being Highland champion and best bull in class at Wolsingham Show in Weardale, County Durham, at the weekend.

Readers are no doubt wondering why Durham School keeps such a large variety of school pet. Apparently an old boy is to blame: in 1978 Major Basil McVay started the ball rolling by donating four Highland cattle from his own stock.

The Rev Fernyhough is delighted, and beams: "We keep them in a field behind the school and I think we are unique in this respect. It provides a most stimulating extra-curricular activity for the pupils."

Depressing news that Gillian Shephard (remember her?) rejected the heart-felt Europe-conquering aspirations of her stalwart National Union of Teachers husband in favour of the little Englander (and probably Millwall supporting) mentality that dominates civil service circles.

Alex Ferguson, the sainted manager of Manchester United (writes a football-mad colleague of Carborundum), has just revealed in his book A Will to Win that last July he found himself appealing against a Government decision to refuse a work permit to Jovan Kirovski, a young American striker.

At the time, Man U were trying to increase the depth of their squad (Eh? Some footballing term, no doubt) and at last conquer Europe. They didn't - and maybe the country should blame Mrs S, at the time the government's perky Education and Employment Secretary.

Young Kirovski had been with the club for three years as a student, with no problem about him staying in this country. Studies completed, he needed permission to join on a professional basis.

Fergie relates in his memoir: "Gillian Shephard, who is dealing with the case, is friendly. She tells me her husband is an avid Manchester United fan, who had faxed her from Belgium that day to tell her to do the right thing."

Fergie hoped for a better result than when he was mucked about by Barcelona while trying to buy Jordi Cruyff (which he did), and more success than when he tried to sign Alan Shearer (which he didn't).

The Government was difficult and ruled that Kirovski should be offered the same terms as United's top players. "That would be ridiculous. The pay on offer is as good as anywhere in Britain for someone of his age, but he isn't Eric Cantona. I get the impression a decision has already been made by the civil servants and Gillian Shephard isn't prepared to go against them," writes the greatest manager of all time.

Sadly, he was right. Man U's main striker, Solskjaer, is now injured and there is no-one to replace him. Odd that the future of English and possibly European football can depend on the vagaries of the (mainly cricketers) at the Department of Education and Employment.

Travel broadens the mind, they say, and one teachers' union president is apparently still reeling from an experience he had on a bus in the US of A.

While on a Washington city tour, Barrie Ferguson, of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, heard the driver "proudly announce that she was 'going to start a teaching career in September'.

"The mainly American audience actually applauded her and whooped their delight," Mr Ferguson added. "This, of course, was rather bemusing to me. "

Still, Mr Ferguson has had enough little surprises during his presidency to cope with whatever life throws at him. June found him addressing a general meeting in Bradford.

"Halfway through the meeting, a cupboard door opened and out came Allan Lamb, former test cricketer, dressed in a tuxedo." Exactly what he was doing in the cupboard is, sadly, not explained by Mr F.

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