THE CASE began, as ever, with a telephone call. I had a new boss, whose street name was Brain Surgeon. Deciding that saying "What's up, Doc?" would be rather unsubtle, I asked if he would mind calling me back on my mobile. All the school dicks had them now, as part of a drive to modernise the profession.
"We have a problem," said the Surgeon. "One of the councils has recently given every school a state of the art computer network with full multimedia and Internet access. Unfortunately, someone has written a very sophisticated virus programme that is infecting all the machines. We reckon it's an inside job, because it seems specifically designed to beat the system's protection."
I did not know a lot about computers or computer viruses but had the reputation as an ICT expert ever since I was linked with a computer game called Donald Dewar's Street Racer, where the object was to drive through town without getting a speeding ticket.
The brainwork was done by Q and a couple of the SSERC boys but I got some of the credit, if that's the right word. "What does the virus do?" I asked.
The Brain Surgeon paused and gave an embarrassed cough.
"It puts a dancing Helen Liddell on the desktop and flashes up the message: .ac addresses for teachers."
I said I'd get on to it and hung up. I checked the cubes of meat and slices of onion and pepper I'd threaded on the mobile's antenna. They were uncooked. So much for my plan to make a kebab during a phone call. I reckoned that there was no point in trying to trace the virus directly.
Instead I called Q and asked him what ".ac address" might mean. "It's the part of an e-mail address that indicates that the person in question works at an academic or higher education centre," he said.
"So don't teachers already have .ac addresses?"
"No," said Q. "Teacher e-mail addresses contain .sch, for school."
I thanked him - then called a few informants. It was almost too easy. Who did they know who was an expert on computers but had a chip on his shoulder about not having the status of an academic?
Since most computer experts had chips on their shoulders about not earning as much as they could in industry, the culprit stood out.
I was there at the bust. The poor sap was living a fantasy life as a university lecturer, fuelled by late night BBC2 programmes made in the seventies. We confiscated a Pentium 400MHz computer, a 56k modem, three corduroy jackets and an orange polo-neck.