TWO shopping days until Christmas, and you are still seeking the perfect present for the teacher in your life. A nice, uplifting novel, maybe.
Luckily, it's a bumper year for school stories: choose between The Inspector and the Superhead (suppressed passion in special-measures school) and Love and Chalkdust (young male teacher's last-ditch attempts at building a career and love life in a so-so comprehensive).
But getting a copy in time could be tricky. Amazon says the Inspector isn't available until New Year's Eve. ("How mysterious," chirps the Minerva Press publicist. "We'll get onto them right away.") You might find the Inspector in a book chain - although Minerva has yet to launch its marketing offensive there also. Paul Francis's L and C is available only from Shropshire publisher Liberty Books (pound;8 including p amp; p, phone 01952 727716) although not for want of trying.
"Watrstone's has a form-filling obstacle course which is rather more time-consuming than the Italian police's routine for reporting a stolen passport. I know, because I've done both," moans Liberty's MD Richard Nowell.
He continues: "They are, however, more welcoming than WH Smith's", but perhaps the Diary will return to this compelling tale next year.
So what's the difference between the two tomes? Sex. The Inspector features some fairly racy stuff involving the use of a Kings and Queens ruler (which research suggests would make the hero either unfeasibly well-endowed or the subject of deserving pity, depending on which end of the ruler you measure from). But Mr Francis's effort is valiantly clean. Unless, he says, you read between the lines.
Head held high, he adds: "Friends have told me I should put some sex in to make it sell, but I refuse to compromise my principles."