WORD OF MOUTH

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Biting the hand...

It is always sad to see a school close, especially one which over its 40-year existence enjoyed a reputation for high standards and a respect for human values. But Ofsted inspectors are more interested in GCSE grades and when St Richard of Chichester Roman Catholic comprehensive in the London borough of Camden could not produce enough high grades (large proportions of its youngsters are refugees with little English and many others have special needs), they labelled it a "failing school". Quisling Camden could not wait to slap a closure order on it and David Blunkett reluctantly bit the hand that had once fed him. He must have forgotten that, less than 10 years ago, he had visited the school to receive Cherry, a new guide dog, paid for by pounds and pennies donated by the children of St Richard's. Other education ministers also took delight in paying homage to this school, including Old Labour's Anthony Crosland and Old Tory Margaret Thatcher. As for Tony Blair, he snubbed St Richard's, his then local RC school, and sent his son across the river to the London Oratory.

Elementary, dear Bard:

The last time I visited Rostock University, it was all Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Bertolt Brecht. Among the few favoured British writers, Dickens, for his defence of the working class, came tops. But Rostock was in East Germany and my trip was well before the Berlin Wall was torn down. A recent well- attended meeting at the university discussed with some passion the works of Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and other crime writers. Professor Stephen Knight of the School of English Studies, Communication and Philosophy at the University of Wales, Cardiff, was among the distinguished British academics to join the Anglo-German Symposium on Crime Fiction. Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple were among the heroes at this feast of fiction. "We must be as capable of explaining why Agatha Christie managed to sell a billion copies of her books as why so many of us worship at the shrine of Shakespeare," Professor Knight said. Next year, a follow-up symposium will be held at Cardiff with industrial fiction on the menu.

Sounding off:

Anyone lucky enough to attend this year's Edinburgh Festival is likely to obtain a musical bonus, for Edinburgh University's department of physics and astronomy has linked bows with the faculty of music to provide a remarkable symposium on musical acoustics. The event, which will bring more than 100 experts in this field from all over the world to the city (and the Festival!), will be staged at the Reid Concert Hall, the Playfair Library and St Cecilia's Hall from 19-22 August. Two sessions will be open to the likes of you and me. One of them, on 20 August, will have Professor Julius Smith, of the Centre for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University, speaking on advances in computer synthesis of musical sounds. It will be followed by a concert of electronic music. Pity I can't make it - but I shall be basking in the acoustic silence of the le de Re in France.

Walkies:

When Ian Woodley, 34-year-old assistant manager of the sports centre at the University of Surrey, said those magic words: `Walkies", Mollie, his pet Collie, was off like a shot. That was at Tintagel in Cornwall on a bright Sunday in May. Whither, I hear you ask, were they walking? Well, they followed in Arthur's footsteps, he of all those knights and legends. The footsteps were to take man and dog along the Pembrokeshire coast to Anglesey then Snowdonia and on to Chester, through the Peak District and across the Pennines to Cumbria, ending in Carlisle towards the end of next month. They left Newport a couple of weeks ago and reached Denbigh in Clywd. Lots of connections there, what with Moel Arthur, an ancient hill fort, and Bwrdd Arthur, an outcrop of rock believed to be the original round table. Ian hopes to publish a full account of the route with guide and maps. Good luck. As for me, I suddenly feel rather sleepy...

Bunking to a degree:

When Pam Holland was a teenager she spent more time out of school than in. At 15 she was a regular at Tiffany's, a Coventry night club that has since been turned into a library. She found school a "negative experience", so she played truant - deigning only to come to art classes. She married at 17 and by 20 had the first of her three children. Not the kind of background, one might have thought, for a university course. Yet Pam, now 36, has just graduated with a first-class honours degree in social studies from Warwick University. Clearly a "late starter", she realised, soon after she left school, that she had made a mistake - and took herself off to an FE college for a year. It whetted her appetite for more. Her four-year degree course was spent between North Warwickshire and Hinckley College (two years) and Warwick University. Bitten by the bug of success, Pam now wants to apply for a Master's course. And why not? She proves it's never too late to succeed in education. If, that is, our wretched politicians will let you...

PhD in Justice:

It's not often a university bags a prime minister, so I fully understand the pride felt by the politics department at Leeds University. It has been joined by Hage Geingob, Prime Minister of Namibia since 1990 when it gained its independence from South Africa. A true academic, he took his first and higher degrees at the University of New York while he represented SWAPO at the United Nations way back in the Sixties. Now, at 56, he is tackling a doctorate. His thesis is likely to contain numerous personal elements. It concerns South Africa's transition from colonialism and apartheid to democracy and social justice, a transition he helped to orchestrate.

And finally...

Notice in a cafe frequented by Cambridge University students: "The toilets are out of order. Sorry for any inconvenience caused."

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