I recognised the voice, though not the tone. "Micky the Ferret?", I said into the telephone.
"Please!" said the voice at the end of the line. "I'm not Micky the Ferret any more. I want to be called Micky the Braveheart now."
I snorted. "Do you know your name's an anagram of 'O michty flasher'?" "If you don't believe I've changed, have a look at my picture on the front of today's paper," said the Ferret. I found the photo and was visited by a strange feeling. I had the uncanny notion that it was listening to me.
"Listen, Micky," I said in my tough guy voice, "I don't know why you've called. I got turfed out of school dick work even before Robert Robinson got your old job."
"Don't you mean Robin Raymondson?" asked the Ferret uncertainly.
"It doesn't matter if I'm talking about Magnus Magnusson. The days I relied on you for 50 green pakora vouchers a day plus expenses are over. Go listen to someone else, someone who'll believe a Ferret really can change its spots. "
"You haven't heard what I want you to do," he said, "and I'm paying 60 a day plus expenses and Mel Gibson's autograph. That should impress the pretty young travel announcer you're dating."
I sighed. The black Rapid's MOT was due and work with the Special Teaching Service, the elite, covert wing of the GTC, was thin on an already stony ground. "Let's hear it, Braveheart," I said almost politely.
It turned out he needed a new initiative. Mentoring was out the window and few schools were even thinking about opting out. I made a crack, suggesting he charged a toll on the covered bridge linking one part of Lesmahagow High to the other, then told him I'd give it some serious thought.
I drove around a lot and walked a lot but nothing useable came to me. League tables for the number of male teachers wearing ties? Only the Daily Express would print those. An Extraterrestrial Life Awareness Week? It might work in Falkirk but no one else would care.
I ended up in a part of Lanark where the streets have no names. A fine drizzle played on my face causing me to turn up the collar of my trench coat as I searched for somewhere I could buy a bottle of Irn-Bru. Two toughs came out of a betting shop and walked past me.
One was bloated and had the salami face of a bird who overindulges in the kind of tonic wine that tastes of blackcurrant jam mixed with gasoline. The other was thin with heavy-lidded eyes. I quietly admired their tattoos, revealed by the football tops they were wearing. At that moment two squeaky-clean guys drove past. If they weren't teachers then they should have been. Suddenly I had something to take to Braveheart.
I based my idea loosely on job shadowing and industry placements. Bear shadowing was what I called it. Teachers who had gone from school to university to college then back to school would be given the chance to experience "the real world". They would be teamed up with local worthies to spend time in parks, pedestrian precincts and betting shops.
I called Micky and was put on hold. His phone played "Flower of Scotland" as I waited. When I got through he listened patiently then said: "Now, about those tolls. I was thinking of a discount voucher scheme for regular users of the bridge at Lesmahagow. . ."