28th July 1995 at 01:00
As the dust settles on the Civil Service's own refugee crisis - the problems caused by uniting in unholy wedlock the departments of Employment and Education, followed by a hasty setting-up of home in Sanctuary Buildings - the new landscape is beginning to look less rather than more clear.

On Monday the most senior mandarins will learn who has been selected to head the seven new directorates - decisions which are bound to put some noses out of aristocratic joint, particularly since some 25 careerists have applied for the posts.

But then again, it can only add to the general bewilderment within Sanctuary Buildings. Not only has everyone been told to reapply for their own jobs, with no guarantee of success, but the overall blueprint for how the new department will actually work has yet to be finalised - a task made more difficult by the general feeling of impermanence. For once, Ministers are enjoying more job security than the average civil servant.

Even the two permanent secretaries know that in the not too distant future one will be packing his briefcase and, with luck, heading off elsewhere in Whitehall. One, Michael Bichard, is understood to regard this as A Good Thing for morale further down the chain of command, since it can be seen that everyone is in the same boat.

Adding to the general hilarity is the ubiquitous presence - in opinion, if not in person - of the former perm. sec. Sir Geoffrey Holland, who has been telling all and sundry how he would organise things were he to be given the opportunity. "He should have thought about that before going off to Exeter, " snipes one senior bod in Sanctuary Buildings, adding that coded messages to that effect have been winging their way towards the West Country.

Meanwhile, as the long hot summer in Sanctuary Buildings continues - overseen by the benign presence of universities minister Eric Forth, who claims to be eschewing trademark 100-decibel ties to gain a more statesmanlike mien - gossip continues about exactly what prompted the DFEE merger.

Opinion is united that it all happened very quickly, with the first indications a "shaken" Michael Portillo (the just ex-Employment Secretary) sighted at 11am. Rumours started to circulate madly, to be confirmed by Michael Bichard to his staff during the afternoon.

The reasons are more difficult to pin down. One school of thought says that Michael Heseltine's elevation to Cabinet rank as deputy prime minister meant that one portfolio had to go. Another firmly believes that Cabinet Secretary Sir Robin Butler was keen to streamline the whole operation.

But as various cynics have pointed out, the only surprise about the merger is that everyone is surprised by it. "It must be the first time that people haven't been predicting that the two departments would merge," says one source, wearily. Mr Forth adds: "I remember during the election campaign of 1992 when I was at Employment that we were all absolutely convinced that a merger was imminent. But as usual, nothing happened."

Rather a subdued meeting of the Professional Association of Teachers in the scorching badlands of Derby. Most enlivening came from Carborundum's old pal, Margaret Morrissey - The Voice Of A Nation's Parents - who, sunning herself in the gardens of the conference hotel and perusing the seating plan for the night's grand dinner, was overheard sighing with relief to be located opposite Peter Downes of the Secondary Heads Association. "At least he's from one of the unions which is still speaking to me," she wailed.

Apparently rude letters from Nigel de Gruchy of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers have become something of a fixture in the Morrissey postbag.

Carborundum is reluctant to mock those who have improved their lot through sheer hard work, and is full of admiration for those whose stories feature in a new book on the Open University and women's opportunities. But it's hard to strike the right note of reverence towards a chapter headed: "From Jobbing Gardener to Specialist Salad Grower".

New technology is likely to spawn a whole new generation of urban myths, ideal material to slot neatly into the Diary on a slow summer's afternoon. After the hot story of last month - the one about the amorous teachers who accidentally videoed an unusually gymnastic session on the wall bars of the school hall, only for the tape to be discovered some eight years later - the current spate of tales seems to involve mobile phones.

This week one Merseyside school banned the use of mobile phones after one teenager took a phone call from his girlfriend during a lesson, while there was uproar at a London school earlier this year after a kid answered his phone while sitting an exam.

Tales of telecommunications during examinations also reach us from Hong Kong, where a pupil at an exclusive private school was apparently caught in the act of dialling.

Other exam-hall bans this year have involved not only programmable calculators, but those flash personal organisers which can transfer information by infra-red communication.

Frankly, Carborundum is pining for the days when gonks and mascots were outlawed and a strict check was made up shirtsleeves before the order came to turn over the question papers.

The best urban myth seems yet to come. Researchers reckon that the latest disease to come on-line is cybersickness - motion sickness caused by the use of virtual reality systems. And, apparently, the symptoms are all too real.

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