Read all about lost register drama
It is the "Chicken Licken" phenomenon. Any piddling story about education will soon be blasted across the land as further evidence that the sky has fallen in and that the whole country has gone to the dogs. Only the most drastic measures, like a return to thumbscrews and the rack, can possibly save us from moral collapse.
So the message is clear. Try at all costs not to mislay your dinner register. In these neurotic times, it could move from a minor mishap to a national tragedy within hours, for the steps to notoriety are as predictable as they are unstoppable.
Stage 1 is that "Teacher loses dinner register" will immediately be a front page headline in the Swineshire Globe.
"A fresh disaster has hit crisis-torn Swineshire schools. Late yesterday Mrs Mavis Scattergood, 42, Year 2 teacher at Swineshire County primary, mislaid her dinner register. 'I don't know what happened exactly,' she confessed, 'I gave it to Darren Rowbottom to take to the school office and it just seems to have disappeared'.
"Mrs Scattergood was said to be distraught last night and unwilling to comment further on the incident. Friends said she had gone into hiding. Chairman of the school governors, quarry owner Ned Nock, 59, assured reporters that no stone would be left unturned.
"Swineshire Primary School headteacher Bill Scroggins (48, looks 78) said that as far as he was concerned it was a one-off. 'Mavis Scattergood is a very professional teacher who has never been in any trouble before and I shall be standing by her,' he said."
Stage 2 is that the story is then picked up by the national press under headlines like "Another school in chaos", "The shame of our lost dinner registers", and "Trendy teacher loses vital papers".
The Daily Bazooka leads off with "Sexy brunette Mavis Scattergood, 42, has lost her kit . . .", while the Weekly Bore puts together a four-page special on how teachers have failed the nation.
"On the surface it may seem like a trivial matter, but the loss of dinner registers is symptomatic of the deep malaise affecting the whole of the teaching profession. No longer can teachers be relied upon to collect and report culinary statistics. This once proud profession, dominated by a post-Plowden progressive ideology, has finally reaped the consequences of its anything goes philosophy. Anything does indeed go, including the dinner register."
By now the greatest circus of the late millennium is irrevocably on the march. Only the bishops, bless them, remain sane. The rest of the acrobats cartwheel all over the stage.
The Society for Raving Prejudice Against Anything (president Charles Farnes-Barnes, spokesman Charles Farnes-Barnes, sole member Charles Farnes-Barnes) fulminates on every channel. Dead politicians are disinterred and propped up against a radiator in the studio to nod posthumous disapproval of the 20th century.
Meanwhile a group of MPs issues a statement that caning should be reintroduced for teachers who mislay dinner registers and that none of this would have happened if Mrs Scattergood had worn a crinoline and her headteacher had been dressed in spats, a waistcoat and a top hat.
The Government, desperate to retain power until May 1, promises to consider adding clauses on caning teachers who mislay dinner registers to its Education Bill. Press speculation mounts over whether this will be sufficient to appease the Euro-sceptics and whether John Major still has a grip on his party.
Ministers assure us that the loss of any document, let alone one as important as the dinner register, has always been close to its heart, and the great Kenneth Baker might even be brought out of the cupboard to add a few more clauses to his Dangerous Dogs Act so it covers teachers as well.
Opposition parties claim this is not tough enough and is too little too late. The Lib Dems are prepared to put up taxes to cover proper collection of gastronomic data, but Labour will do it within existing resources. The Referendum Party promises to hold a referendum on "Should teachers lose their control of dinner registers or . . . (add you own form of words)".
There are one hour in-depth specials on the matter on Newsnight, Panorama, World in Action, and a breath of fresh air in Floyd on Dinner Registers ("Who gives a toss about the bloody dinner register, this is a damn good claret").
Wars, famines, disasters, the machinations of dictators in faraway lands are all displaced from the top of the news agenda as the nation contemplates the greatest issue facing mankind - what happened to Mavis Scattergood's dinner register and how could it have been prevented?
Finally the Swineshire Globe discovers that the dinner register has turned up in Darren Rowbottom's schoolbag. He had put it there by mistake and forgotten about it. For a while no one notices, but slowly the circus pulls down its marquees, packs its chattels and moves camp. No one is interested any longer in Mavis Scattergood, the headteacher's waistcoat or lack of it, the fate of dinner registers. It is all now passe.
So if you work in education, for the next six months, until the polling booths close at one minute past 10 on May 1st or whenever, don't hiccup, don't cough, don't sneeze, don't trip over your own feet, don't even breathe.
If you need to burp, drive out to the moors, make sure you are not followed, and do it discreetly and in private. Tell no one. You have been warned.