17th May 1996 at 01:00
What, Carborundum wonders, did pressure groups do before the invention of the fax machine? And we're not the only people thinking along these lines. Spare a thought for the MP who arrived home recently after a hard week at the Commons to discover 58 pages scattered around his home like confetti, requiring not only to be picked up but put into order and then - possibly - read. To add insult to injury, the fax had been completely purged of paper, thus preventing the irate MP from getting the important information he did want.

No discussion of the 1996 crop of campaigners would be complete without the name of Charles Bell, a tireless proponent of the "blind 'em with science" facsimile. The indefatigable Mr Bell - responsible for the aforementioned fax marathon - is to obsessive education statisticians what Steve Davies was to snooker: thorough.

Mr Bell's achievement is in the scatter-gun approach. Everyone who is anyone in education policy has had at least one of his computer-generated faxes at some point, generally using copious statistics and reams of convoluted prose to prove that failing schools aren't.

The office of Lib Dem education man Don Foster has been practically wall-papered with Bell missives. His researcher told Carborundum, coyly: "His information was fine. It was just the way he did it."

The wily office of David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, has found more constructive uses for Mr Bell, getting him to draft parliamentary questions which appear impenetrable, but apparently elicit some useful information. Imagine their surprise, therefore, to discover why his questions have such an impressive hit rate. It seems that Mr Bell rings officials at the Department for Education to discuss the wording of such questions to ensure that they will not be refused "on grounds of disproportionate cost", that great new catch-all.

But, oddly for a man so obsessive about providing every cough, spit and grunt of alternative educational statistics, Mr Bell is rather more elusive about his own personal details. Fond of using the royal We in conversation, he claims to belong to a pressure group called Article 26 concerned with human rights in education. Other members? "It's not a membership organisation." His own background? "That's not important."

But the curiosity of Carborundum and the educational Establishment grows apace. Who is this man? Can anyone out there tell us?

Congratulations to the Roehampton Institute, which triumphed 2-1 over Edinburgh in the British Universitites Sports Association Football Final, sponsored by Vaseline. Vaseline? Carborundum's mind boggles at the thought of the uses to which the goo traditionally used for lubricating babies' bottoms could be put in a game of soccer.

Roehampton's PR outfit is soothing. "People always associate Vaseline with petroleum jelly but they make a lot of toiletries and I think that's why they sponsored the tournament." Are aspersions being cast?

There are some terribly uncharitable people about. The proper response on learning that poor Andrew Turner is now plain Mr and not Councillor should be gentle commiseration.

After all, the leading light of the Grant-Maintained Schools Foundation and former Sheriff of Oxford (once photographed, memorably, in an official capacity and his city suit whilst waving his arms at a field of cows) was overdue for his Buggins' Turn mayorship of the city when unaccountably dumped by the electorate earlier this month.

Still, at least those beastly people ringing Chateau Carborundum to crow over Mr T's personal downsizing are trying to see some good in the situation. Every one of them has mentioned ex-Councillor Turner's nuptials - which may have taken place by the time the Diary goes to press - before commenting, sweetly: "At least now he'll have a family to spend more time with." Sour grapes at not being invited to the wedding of the season, no doubt.

Remember Peter Dawson OBE, the general secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers who took the no-strike union through the glory days of the 1980s? You do? Good.

A pity that memories are apparently not so long in the organisation to which he was so loyal.

He tells Carborundum: "You reported that my successor had installed a new computer system at PAT headquarters. You will see that, as a consequence, I am now, as an honorary life member, addressed as Mr E."

No doubt retirement is giving Mr E time to brood. He concludes: "I have heard of leaders wishing to diminish the identity and memory of their predecessors, but this is ridiculous!" Guess where the following appeared: "There is nothing quite like good home life. A happy marriage; mother at home to welcome the children back from school in the late afternoon; father home early enough each evening with the time and energy to play a game with the children instead of leaving them to slump in front of the television; parents taking it in turn to read a story at bedtime; school close enough to home to guarantee no daily grind . . . ballet and music, riding and swimming on the doorstep; and plenty of friends living in the immediate neighbourhood for the children to play with under the caring but not interfering eye of parents. Yes . . . there's nothing to beat it. If only one could find it."

Feeling guilty yet? That edifying snippet appeared in Boarding School, the house organ of the Boarding Schools Association.

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