The Further adventures of Phil Harrass Private HMI

11th March 2005 at 00:00
t was dark and raining the way it rains in the movies. I popped the lock on the Shuma, flipped my sodden hat into the back seat and kicked the motor into life. Palming the auto-box shifter to "drive", I stood on the throttle and watched the mysterious chapel diminish in my rear view mirror.

Steering with one hand, I used the other to slip the folder of evidence from under my trench coat. My three-year investigation was over and soon I could get back to being a 50-a-day plus expenses, two-bit private HMI.

Hell, after months of interpreting mysterious symbols on some of the country's oldest schools and deciphering obscure clues in shrunken newspaper editorials, I was almost looking forward to it.

My paymasters called it "deep cover". I had infiltrated a sect of fundamentalist science teachers who didn't like the way the subject was going. They had members in almost every school in the country and were about to unleash an unholy trinity of initiatives. I had dug the dirt on these scams and had given each a code-name. As I hit a straight stretch, I ran through them in my head.

Cognitive Retardation through Ancient Pedagogy (aka Thoughtless Science): this was a worksheet-based course, reduced to A5 to save paper, where kids did experiments and were then told what should have happened. The pupils didn't seem to mind it because they could talk about television or sport while they were at the benches, but when the practical work was over they might as well have been in individual booths.

Contraceptive Cartoons: reduced to A6 to save paper. These featured a line-drawing of a boy in a blazer and tie. From his mouth came a speech bubble containing a scientific fact. Three peers of identical gender and ethnic background agreed with him. Guaranteed absolutely sterile.

Assessment is for Discipline: realising that even the kind of brat who would leave a horse's head in his science teacher's bed tends to take tests reasonably seriously, the sect had come up with a course that was heavy on the testing of recall. They were selling it by claiming that the numerous quiet times generated by the proliferation of assessments could be used to mark the kids' work. All material was reduced to A7 to save paper.

The rain eased as I hit the city, but the cobbles retained a threatening wetness. I felt the Shuma's slush-box upshift as I backed off the loud pedal. There was poison in my folder, but the antidote was out there.

People walked these mean streets who were not themselves mean and, with schemes similar in name but diametrically opposite in philosophy to the ones I had discovered, they would join the battle.

I was back, and this time it was personal.

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