11th August 1995 at 01:00
Ever since the enforced departure of J Patten from the Department for Education a year ago, characters have been few and far between in the rarefied air of Sanctuary Buildings. In fact, much of the task of relieving dullness has been left to Eric Forth, the minister with the bite of a pitbull terrier and a taste in jewellery and other accessories which might do justice to a Christmas tree.

But all that, it seems, may be about to change. Step forward new girl Cheryl Gillan, whose first junior ministerial position comes after just three years in the House, an apprenticeship which led one sketchwriter to christen her, acidly, "the Percy Thrower of the planted question".

Her days on the backbenches also threw up the following information: that she plays cricket, is a keen EastEnders fan, and was televised in her (unsuccessful) bid for the High Peak constituency being grilled by a female member on the selection panel on why she was still using her maiden name despite her married status.

But the fact that not one, but two freshly-minted anecdotes are circulating about her after something like a month in the job indicates to Carborundum that Ms G is one to watch as an up-and-coming Diary star.

First of all, there is the little matter of Sanctuary Buildings' air conditioning, which proved unequal to the power of London's heatwave and smog and wheezed to a halt. The cry went out for maintenance staff to open the windows, but at first none could be found. Where were they located? Installing an aquarium in Ms G's office, that's where.

Meanwhile, tales are also legion about the lady's hound, a Jack Russell which apparently spends its days under her ministerial desk. Presumably the member of her staff detailed to walk the beast twice daily in nearby St James's Park is now getting used to the barrage of jokes and insults encountered on trips in and out of the building.

But perhaps not. One member of the press office, pressed for the name of the mutt, asked blankly (or loyally) "What dog?" Maybe Ms Gillan is about to launch a new campaign on an unsuspecting nation. According to one of the organisers of the first Office Dog of the Year competition, wily Japanese employers actually pay to have mutts in the office. She explained: "They claim it reduces absenteeism."

Still, the minion in charge of walking the unnamed Gillan ratter may take comfort in the knowledge that it is not the world's most embarrassing job - quite. That honour must go to Prince William's detectives, whose duties when the lad goes to Eton will apparently include checking the tops of doors for buckets of water and the tops of lavatory bowls for that horribly deceptive (and potentially messy) sealing of Clingfilm. Surely it should not be beyond schoolboy ingenuity to come up with a detective-baffling prank?

And back on the subject of J Patten: remember his Whither Conservatism tome, on which the ex-Secretary of State lavished his empty hours in the first flush of post-Ministerial enthusiasm? Carborundum's belief that we were among the very few to have actually read Things To Come is rather borne out by news reaching us this week. Said book has apparently been spotted on the remaindered pile in a leading bookshop, bumped down from the Pounds 17.99 cover price to a rather more realistic Pounds 2.

Shakespeare, despite being unavoidable exam material, was himself innocent of degrees, diplomas, NVQs, key stage 3 tests and GCSEs, relying on the small helping of Latin and even smaller one of Greek (according to Ben Jonson) acquired at Stratford Grammar School. But what would he do in 1995?

Mark Rylance, newly appointed artistic director of the Southwark Globe, says he may well have had to rely on his mum writing begging letters to well-known actors such as himself. Standing in the splendidly reconstructed theatre, cradling red and white roses (red + white = Tudor rose) and some reeds from the roof thatch, Rylance regretted the difficulties encountered by some students who had the talent to win drama school places but not the money to take them up. The lack of discretionary grants may be depriving us of the next Edward Alleyn.

There's nothing quite like a good urban myth. But today, like the proverbial buses, we have two of them coming along at once, both of which, Carborundum is assured, afflicted the same school.

Some years ago, School X had been lucky enough to scrape together the funds to build a new extension, and plans were well advanced. The architect had done his work, pupils and teachers alike were excited about all this lovely new space, and things were going swimmingly.

Until, that is, the head took a phone call from the builder one day.

"This extension," he said. "Do you want a roof on it?" The head blinked and checked the calendar. It was not April 1. "Of course we want a roof on it," came the testy reply. "It's just that it's not on the plans," explained the builder with more than a hint of malice. It was not long before the architect was recalled to rectify matters.

After that incident, you might have thought the school would exercise more caution in matters constructional.

But apparently not. It has just taken delivery of a spanking new labs complex, which is unaccountably lacking any mains electricity or gas. Strange, but - we are assured - true.


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