Sheriff rides in

9th June 2000 at 01:00
TRICORNS off to Barrie Ferguson. Not content with being a past president of that cuddliest of unions, the NASUWT, Barrie is now representing the Queen herself - as the Sheriff of York.

Not quite as famous as his colleague in Nottingham, it's nevertheless a post of note. As well as standing in for Liz at city functions, Barrie reveals some specific duties.

"I go around the city walls in my glad rags two or three times a year pardoning prostitutes and vagabonds," he tells the Diary (presumably the same vagabonds expelled from school because NASUWT members refuse to teach them).

It's a great achievement for a humble retired history teacher, all the more because Barrie is the first non-councillor since 1969 to hold the post. It lies in the hands of York's other top dignitary, the Lord Mayor - the two form a sort of ermined double act.

Barrie's companion was to have been his old friend and York's then-vice-chair o education, Peter Dodd, who planned to make teaching the theme of his mayoral year. When ill-health forced him to step down, his replacement, Shan Braund, stuck with Barrie. Together they'll raise money for the Children's Society and Mencap.

The job comes complete with ankle-length gown, ermine trim and natty lace collar and cuffs. The tricorn comes out for ceremonies, but is too delicate to wear, and naturally there's a chain of office - about one-fifth the neck breaking weight of NASUWT's presidential chain.

Indeed, after a year whizzing around Europe as union prez, being a sheriff seems a doddle. Barrie says he can walk to most engagements (well, when it's not knee-deep in flood water), which this week include meeting teachers (of course), lawyers and, er, undertakers.

That's not to say there are no challenges. "If you can think of any jokes to tell the undertakers, please let me know," says Barrie.

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