A guide to who's who in the crowd at the BETT '98 educational technology show.
I spy at the Seaside, I spy on the Farm and the dozens of other books in that marvellous series helped generations of us to hone our powers of observation as we raced to collect enough points to merit a certificate. "I Spy at the Bett Show" has yet to appear in print, but the following may go some way to helping visitors make the most of their day at Olympia.
In the halcyon days when the Bett Show was the exclusive preserve of nerds, geeks and propeller heads, the anorak would have been too common a sight to warrant a score. This is no longer the case: strange as it may seem, many teachers who use computers are indistinguishable from the rest of the profession. So keep your eye open for the comfy cardigan (2 points), sensible tweed (2 points), duffel coat (4 points), bobble hat (5 points) and elbow patches (15 points).
The Blissfully Ignorant
Many visitors to Bett know nothing about information and communications technology (ICT) - and, surprisingly, not all of these are government ministers (see below). Teachers who happily admit to not having the foggiest idea turn up at Olympia simply to find out what all the fuss is about. Listen out for their distinctive questions, which will have exhibitors reaching for the Prozac. For example: "Why do you call it that when it is neither floppy nor disc-shaped?" Or "What, pray, do you mean by 'the mouse?' "
To qualify for this category, they must never have fewer than seven carrier bags. These are packed with advertising literature which they collect under the mistaken impression that at some unspecified date in the future they will find time to read it. This is only true for the minority who are confined to bed with back or ligament injuries inflicted by their Olympian efforts.
They have no interest in ICT but, having impulsively agreed to accompany their significant others to the show, they trail three sullen paces behind, wondering if an MMX with 32Mb and 17-inch SVGA can be cited as co-respondent in divorce proceedings.
The Foreign Delegations
Their puzzled expressions make them easy to identify. They are permanently bemused by the language and by a cuisine unique to Olympia's cafeterias. They also cannot understand how a nation which has such an enviable range of educational software at its disposal should fare so disastrously in international tables of performance in literacy and maths. If they persist in questioning you on the subject, threaten them with an Eccles cake.
The Good Timers
It is a matter of some professional pride to exhibitors that they devote every night of the show to extravagant carousing. This endless round of cavorting inevitably takes a psychological toll. Look out for tell-tale symptoms as they demonstrate their wares: the pitiful ramblings which pass for speech and the blood-chilling smile, more commonly associated with strychnine poisoning. Warning: do not confuse them with government ministers.
The Government Ministers
At previous shows this category warranted 50 points as only the keenest observer would have spotted one as he (or she) gabbled through a self-congratulatory speech, paused fleetingly for a photo opportunity and then dashed to a limo, already revving up and ready to go. But times have changed: New Labour, new technology. Ministers eager to ensure that the national grid for learning is a sound bite that will be transmuted into sound practice are under an obligation to hang around and listen diligently. (Give yourself 15 bonus points if you observe at which exhibitor's stand the Education Secretary David Blunkett's dog, Lucy, first cocks a discriminating leg.)
Identifiable by their stentorian pronouncements on every conceivable aspect of ICT. Often to be found dominating the QA sessions at seminars, they should be assiduously avoided by grandmothers in possession of eggs which they do not wish to suck.
The Light Fingered
Heed the usual warnings about pickpockets who frequent this kind of event. Exhibitors face the added problem of more ambitious Fagins who regularly make off with expensive software and unattended notebook computers. There have also been cases of exhibitors who lose key personnel during the course of the show. These disappearances are usually associated not with kidnapping but a rival company's offer of a bigger salary. However, in view of the crisis in teacher recruitment, exhibitors should exercise extreme caution if approached by a member of the Teacher Training Agency bearing a large sack.
They are devotees of Apple or of Acorn and cannot begin to comprehend why everyone else isn't. They can be amiable companions unless aroused. If in conversation with them, under no circumstances use any of these words: "MsDos", "industry", "standard" or "Bill Gates".
They doggedly - and usually loudly -cling to the view that there have been no significant advances in hardware since the BBC-B computer, that Developing Tray is still the best educational package ever published, and that the audio-cassette is a perfectly adequate medium for data storage. Easily spotted in the Net@Bett area, they are the ones extolling the virtues of two cocoa tins and a piece of string.
Their extravagant use of incomprehensible jargon and TLAs (three letter abbreviations) sometimes leads to them being mistaken for members of a foreign delegation (see above) and, in the more chronic cases, of a delegation that might be from a galaxy other than our own. Be patient. They are not trying to show off or intimidate you. They genuinely want to communicate and, in their innocence, credit you with knowing as much about ICT as they do. A simple question is often enough to stop them in their tracks. You could, for example, try: "And what, pray, do you mean by 'the mouse'?" If you have I-Spyed 100 points or more, claim your certificate by emailing to arnoldevans@easynet. co.uk.