A DICK like me finds the school holidays a quiet time. Teachers who once dreamt of fronting punk bands go home to trim lawns with power tools and Joe Strummer becomes Joe Strimmer. Some head abroad in caravans, all the better for loading up with cut-price hypermarket hooch. Others simply crash out.
Sometimes I felt that I owed them. They had enough to do without a fifty-a-day plus expenses HMI gumshoe picking them apart. Hell, I had even performed small acts of atonement when my job made me feel like a low-life. One summer I stood facing the Scotsman building with my thumb at my nose for three days until I got fed up with people asking me for a Big Issue.
I was in the same street today, wandering aimlessly past the Dynamic Earth dome. Heavy cranes swung with almost balletic grace over the site that was going to be my bosses' new HQ. The place gave me an idea. I found a phone booth and called in to see if there was any work going. I got Jack the Mortar Board himself and it transpired that I was in luck.
"CPD is one of the keys to McCrone," he said. "There are a couple of pilot schemes running just now. You could check them out."
The course I had to inspect was held in a box-shaped white hotel with what looked like a stubby bell tower on its roof. The joint put me in mind of a monastery in a spaghetti western. All that was missing were tumbleweeds and a laughing bandit.
"CPD," I said to the broad on the desk. What I could see of her was cute. Her legs were hidden by the counter but I reckoned they were worth picturing. I almost choked when she appeared to swing one on to the top beside her notepad. It was clad in a white stocking. "Would you like a pair of these?" she asked.
Fighting for breath and a snappy comeback, I realised that the leg was from a tailor's dummy and that she was asking me if I would like some surgical stockings.
"Some of these in-service talks can go on a bit," she explained, "and the seating is a little cramped. We wouldn't want anyone to get deep vein thrombosis."
I shook my head. It was a new one on me. The dame gave me directions to the conference room and I made my way in. To my surprise Q, the short-tempered technician who worked for the Special Teaching Service was already there, attempting to help himself to coffee from a flask whose operation seemed to baffle even his engineering genius. I asked him what someone from the elite, covert wing of the GTC was doing in a place like this. By way of a reply, he pulled a pair of odd-looking spectacles from his pocket.
"I'm testing these, Harrass," he said. "They're anti-Powerpoint glasses. They subdue the colours and shut out excessive motion sequences from some of the more over the top computer-generated presentations."
"With some of the ones I've seen, you'd be better off with a blindfold," I told him, and he treated me to a rare, tight-lipped smile. "How's the automatic job-sizer coming along?" "We're having trouble automating the pupil-contact part," he replied. "Until the Executive lets us fit a radio transponder chip up each kid's nose."
Fortunately, he was halted from going on by the arrival of the main speaker.
She was a shoulder-padded power dresser whose suit top was the shape of a large, foil-wrapped cheese portion. It turned out that I was on a course about how to get the best out of CPD courses. After an hour I was quietly begging Q for a loan of his glasses.
An hour after that and I had fallen into a disturbing reverie involving the triangularly torsoed broad and a pair of white stockings. But some of it was good. Some of it would stay with me. In particular, I reckoned I would never forget her first rule of in-service courses - always get to the buffet before the technical teachers.
Gregor Steele Discover more about Phil Harrass - Private HMI this summer. Click on www.steele3.freeserve.co.uk.