AS I OFTEN did when things got slack, I paid a visit to Q in the secret basement of the new General Teaching Council building on Corstorphine Hill. The short-tempered technical genius worked for the organisation's elite branch, the Special Teaching Service, building equipment to help ease the lot of teachers.
"Sit down and don't touch anything!" he snapped. It was his way of being friendly. "I'll finish adjusting the laser scanner on the paper dispenser of this robot invigilation system then think about making us a coffee."
Q made good coffee but tended to spend a lot of time weighing the ingredients using a three-decimal-place digital balance. It always tasted the same to within 0.05 per cent. I took a sip and asked the ex-science technician what was new.
"This!" he said gloomily and held up a large, thick book. "Things You Can't Do In a Science Class Anymore. It lists thousands of chemicals, pieces of apparatus and procedures deemed too risky for school kids.
"I remember when I was a lad I was always rushing to physics and chemistry in the hope that there would be some sort of spectacular explosion or electric shock in the lesson.
"If we broke a thermometer we always played table football with the mercury and we only liked biology if we got to cut something up. Now some wet fart somewhere has decided that even dissecting bulls' eyes is out in case the brats get BSE!"
"You know what I think?" I said. "For every kid attracted to science by explosions and dissections another one was repelled. Using destruction and gore to attract pupils to science would be like loading the English curriculum with books about football hooligans."
"That's a reasonable suggestion, Harrass," said Q. "As long as they were fairly literary books about football hooligans, I'd imagine not a few young lads taking a renewed interest in that subject."
"One, you seem to forget that broads go to school as well. Two, what about the whole ethos of subjects, the ways of thought teachers try to develop?" "That's heck of a serious for you."
"Damn, you're right, Q. I don't suppose you've got your model nuclear chain reaction set up?"
Q led me to a room the size of a gymnasium. On the floor, hundreds of balloons were ranked, each with two airguns strapped on top. If a balloon burst, the guns were arranged so that they would fire into the next row.
He handed me a spare pistol. I sighted up and squeezed the trigger, no doubt looking as satisfied as Q as all hell broke loose.