Online's veteran columnist explains why he's logging off
What a week! Hardly a day has passed without another pantechnicon wheezing to a hydraulic halt in the grounds of Hang-ups Hall, the gothic extravagance in which, down the years, I have both lived and overseen the compilation of this celebrated column. So opulent a residence, and so lavish a lifestyle has been made possible by the unflagging generosity of readers (who rarely fail to include a postal order with their fan mail) and the munificence of the computer industry which has been only too happy to reward the sterling efforts I have made to promulgate the use of technology in schools.
It is this industry that has despatched the unending convoy of pantechnicons. They are all laden with banknotes - the sort of payout usually reserved for Lottery winners, Mick Jagger's former wife and Ofsted's Chief Inspector. It is the industry's last - and, I am afraid to say, futile - attempt to encourage me to re-consider my momentous decision to make this the last Hang-ups that will ever appear.
I know that the announcement will have come as a shock to my readers who unanimously testify that, were it not for the inspiration offered by this column, they would be quite unable to face the daunting challenge posed by new technology. Indeed, the Teacher Training Agency believes that it might have been rumours that Hang-ups was to cease that triggered the recent catastrophic exodus from the profession. Apparently, one word from me and legions of the early retired would abandon their Saga breaks and rose gardens and race back to the classroom in order to help the government to meet its target of creating computer-literate schools by 2002.
I dare say that delegates from the TTA are among the throng that now occupy the Hall's rolling acres. There are teachers, consultants, inspectors, ICT co-ordinators and advisers who have made the pilgrimage here in the hope of hearing one final bon mot which they can cherish through the arduous days and months ahead. "Speak, speak to us!" they cry.
How unlike the mute stoicism of the trusty staff who have so diligently served me over the long years. They work in conditions of abject squalor, confined to the unrenovated wing of the Hall where they are in constant danger from falling masonry and the worst symptoms of sick building syndrome. I pay them a pittance and expect them to work an 80-hour week. They have found these conditions quite acceptable, proving, I think, the wisdom of my decision to recruit exclusively from the ranks of the teaching profession. The poor dears seem to accept without protest that if money is to be spent, it should be on new technology - not on anything as old-fashioned as a decent working environment.
It was with particular regret that I gave notice to the team who actually undertake the messy business of writing the column: the punctuators, paragraphers, alliterators, phrase-turners, metaphor mixers and infinitive splitters who have had to bravely recognise that their life's work had come to a summary end.
And it was with a heavy heart I shook the trembling hands of the lads and lasses at the menagerie who, without a regular Hang-ups to write, will no longer be called upon to give dogs bad names, release bulls in china shops, worry the hind legs off donkeys, put cats among the pigeons, pursue red herrings or - a speciality of this column - flog a predictable string of dead horses.
"You are all surplus to requirements," I told them as my pack of Rottweilers marshalled them sobbing towards the tradesman's door. "We on Hang-ups must graciously accept that we have served our purpose and must move on to other things. I dare say, you'll be able to find a pitch where you can sell the Big Issue. Or, failing that, you can always take up a teaching post."
Hang-ups has survived for so long simply because everyone involved in educational ICT - whether supplying the resources or trying to use them effectively in the classroom - has always had so much to be hung up about. But something happened. And nothing will ever be quite the same again.
I tried to explain this through a loudhailer to the crocodile of former employees making its forlorn way towards the main entrance (or the Bill Gates, as they are affectionately known). "You were made redundant," I bellowed, "because Hang-ups itself is becoming redundant. In future we won't be able to fill our allotted space cheerfully grizzling about underfunding when the government has already pledged to spend a billion pounds on ICTx in education.
"We won't be able to moan about teachers being unskilled in computers when the TTA is busily organising the biggest in-service training programme ever undertaken in British education. We won't be able to complain about a lack of adequate resources when the National Grid for Learning will give every school in Britain more teaching materials than any of us ever imagined possible. Things, damn it, have only gone and got better" The Hall is empty now; the crowds have dispersed; the flogged horses have been laid to rest. I've put out the lights and locked up. All that's left for me is to wait for the next bandwagon to come along on which to hitch a ride. I suppose that it's just possible that in 2002, we might find that the government has failed to meet its ambitious target. Hang-ups Hall will then be in urgent need of a new tenant. I hope not. But, just in case, I've left the key under the mat.
email@example.com Arnold Evans returns with a new column next month