Diary

4th November 1994 at 00:00
Carborundum is seriously considering paying a visit to Essex University after learning of not one, but two bizarre incidents which have occurred recently within the confines of the campus.

The first took place during a dog-training course: no, not a new scam to boost student numbers for funding purposes, but a summer vacation money-raising scheme. The university authorities considered - rightly - that their 200 acres of park would prove attractive to a motley kennelful of mutts and their owners, but the vast number of bunnies around tested the dogs' obedience skills well beyond their limit.

One lady, rising early to let her dog out of the car, watched in horror as Bonzo disappeared over the horizon, deaf to her entreaties. "Uttering cries of 'Come!' she joined in the chase, clad only in a nightshirt, to the complete bemusement of passers-by," reveals the university magazine, Wyvern. The dog, exhausted and unsuccessful, reappeared later that morning.

Meanwhile, the fire and safety officer - one John Donaldson - is less than happy about the behaviour of the postgraduates while experimenting with alcohol.

Well, one in particular, who, Mr Donaldson says, "returned to a laboratory late in the evening, accompanied by a friend. Whilst there he carried out an unauthorised procedure involving liquid nitrogen." Eh?

"Putting it bluntly, he was messing around. The liquid nitrogen came into contact with two glass bottles containing cider. The thermal shock caused both bottles to explode . . . all surfaces in the laboratory were contaminated with fragments of glass . . . How the student or his companion were not severely injured or blinded is unbelievable. Amazingly, the only injury was a minor laceration."

Carborundum can only surmise that at the end of a long evening the student and his companion were overcome by a desire for ice-cold cider, and being at a university were unable to find a working fridge. What better way to do the job than a blast of a chemical which, at -290C, is cold enough to sever every limb from a brass monkey?

No sleaze in education, it seems. The updated list of Members' Interests reveals that Mrs Shephard and her ministers Eric Forth and Robin Squire have precisely nothing to declare. And higher education minister Tim Boswell has nothing to declare but his farm, an annual study visit to Europe and a lecture tour in Germany. The other side of the house is slightly more interesting: shadow education secretary David Blunkett is a Unison parliamentary candidate and gets an office from Sheffield City Council and his sidekick, quango-hunter Peter Kilfoyle, is also in receipt of a one-off grant from Unison. The only one of the whole lot with a decent suntan is Labour's higher education man, Bryan Davies, who this year has enjoyed fact-finding trips to Pakistan and Cyprus. Yawn.

Fascinating brochure for Sancton Wood School, a private establishment catering for children from reception age to 16. Under the section on school dinners (pupils bring packed lunches) it says: "Most children in the infant and junior departments enjoy a third of a pint of mild at break time and this option is paid for in advance . . . at the beginning of every term." Well, it sounds preferable to lukewarm milk, and presumably it keeps the little darlings quiet for an hour or so.

By one of those happy coincidences, here are two stories with rather similar punchlines. In the first, the Funding Agency for Schools was negotiating with Centrepoint in London for office space. Told the lease would be for a minimum of five years, the FAS bod allegedly replied: "Can't do that. We don't know how long we're going to be around."

Tale two: Education Secretary Gillian Shephard, talking to the National Union of Teachers in Norfolk, divulged how excited she was with her new job. But - allegedly - added that she did not know how much she would be able to do as she "did not know how long she would be there for". Sadly, Carborundum's enquiries have revealed that the FAS is still negotiating on Centrepoint and are confident of a successful outcome (although they can't confirm anything about lease length). We can't bear to make further enquiries in Norfolk.

Oh, dear. Just when we thought all the teaching unions were working in harmony, along comes a missive from Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Ass-ociation of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. Helpfully, he encloses a page from the rival National Union of Teachers' publication, devoted to its reception for delegates at the Trades Union Congress annual bash.

Circled is a speech from NUT bigwig Malcolm Horne on the Government's drive for efficiency savings. "I'll tell you what that means in education. Fewer teachers, tattier books, broken-down computers and dirty, rarely decorated and unsafe schools."

What's so remarkable about that? With obvious glee, Nigel scribbles: "He actually said 'dirtier' and it's been redrafted to read 'tattier'."

School parties have been gaining much innocent merriment from the information leaflet given to visitors at the French battlefield of Agincourt. Unusually helpfully, the leaflet is bilingual for the benefit of English visitors.

Pity the English section is bilingual in itself. "France xas sufferenting one of those which give cause for concern for the future of the contry . . . Then Henry V, King of England since 1413, a devious politician and cliver general decided to take advantage of all these problems . . . At the beginning of 1415, the faction of Armagnacs, at that time in power, refused this big concession. This is rift. Now we are coming to the arms."

Everyone got that?

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