"LIFE IS like an old biscuit tin full of discarded radioactive sources," said Q. "You just never know what you're going to get."
I looked at the Special Teaching Service's irritable technical genius to see if his face betrayed what the hell he was on about but he had turned his back to fix a concealed video camera to the '94-plate Favorit I was using for the mission.
On paper, this was strictly a reconnaissance job. I pulled up at the gates and paid my entry fee to the broad in the booth. "Keep your windows closed," she advised. "They're always clambering over cars trying to get their hands on any arrangement documents you might be carrying."
"Is it just assistant principal teachers you have on this reserve?" I asked.
"No, we've got quite a few senior teachers too. It's odd. They see the rangers as sort of surrogate AHTs and are always trying to write papers for them."
I drove on. The APTs were housed in a large compound surrounded by high fencing. There were mocked-up staff bases for them to shelter in, but most seemed to spend their time clambering over a huge photocopier. The majority were 30 and 40-year-olds, though there were a few magnificent older specimens who had been passed over for promotion because their faces didn't fit. I had seen enough.
I gunned the Skoda's engine and sent her straight through the perimeter fence. At first the APTs did nothing and I realised they would not leave before the bell. "This way to Ian Smith's Inset on effective teaching," I yelled, pointing to the hole in the fence. They took the bait and hurried off.
"Well, I hope you can live with yourself," said the broad from the booth. "Of course I can, sister," I replied. "How could you live with yourself, keeping those guys locked up? This is no substitute for their natural habitat."
"Natural habitat?" sneered the dame. "Haven't you heard of the Millennium Proposals? APTs and STs are an endangered species. If these plans go through, they'll be wiped out altogether." She leant towards me. "How would you like it if the only place your grandchildren could see an APT guidance was in a book or on television?"
I looked beyond the torn fence to the assistants roaming free. Some were already rediscovering long suppressed instincts as they assumed responsibility for S1 and S2 courses. At the foot of a tree, an ST had begun to organise a European Awareness Day.
"They'll survive," I said, "because they have to survive. Imagine a world without them." I tipped my hat and headed back to the Favorit, which was remarkably unscathed by its ordeal.