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A word with the big guys...

BURLY MEN most certainly read books, that's the message. At least, they do when they visit the Douay Martyrs school.

The Catholic comprehensive in Ickenham, north-west London, wants a more rounded profile for its hero males. So for the past two weeks its summer reading scheme has featured a succession of literary hard men.

The RAF, police dog-handlers, the fire brigade, and the US Navy have all pitched in for an hour or so to talk about their work, uniforms and reading habits.

"Having 'big' guys endorsing reading is really important," says Dawn Rimmer, who organised the summer school. "We're aware that underachieving boys could benefit from positive male role models."

"There's a definite respect," says her colleague, Nanci Lister. The visitors have been enthusiastically received by the 30 "emergent readers", all taken from nearby primary schools.

This is one of 500 schemes around the country funded by the government. It gives 11-year-olds a chance to strengthen their reading before facing up to secondary school for real next month.

The US Navy played its part. First-class petty officers, in full Gene Kelly gear, spent their time with the boys on the better points of life: warfare, cars, horror and, naturally, global disaster. More Janes Book of Fighting Ships than Jane Eyre.

In fact they did fine job in shrugging off the stereotypes. For a start, threee of the six naval visitors were disconcertingly female.

The guys proved to be religious programme specialist Patrick Turner, who supports the chaplaincy, and Legalman Bill Brock - who is a lawyer. They have not done much fighting. Based at nearby RAF West Ruislip, they help to co-ordinate US Navy operations in Britain.

Had they actually been to sea? Well not entirely, says Legalman Brock, who hopes to go on an aircraft carrier, soon.

As for books, they pronounce Stephen King to be good stuff. Their colleague Barry Owens, a reservist military policeman, claims to be chewing through a history of the Scottish bagpipes.

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