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Skeleton in the cupboard

A cloud of irony hung over Tavistock Square on Tuesday. Striking members of the Association of University Teachers braved the sleet to march to the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals with a capped and gowned skeleton. The latter, symbolising a fleshless higher education, was to "hand" a petition to CVCP chief executive Diana Warwick, representing the employers. Alas, on the day of the AUT's biggest strike in a decade, she was out, sitting on the Employment Appeal Tribunal, a position she has held ever since she was - ahem - general secretary of the AUT, which, of course, represents the employees. Not only that, she is there by virtue of having once been a top trade unionist.

At least Tuesday's strike brought advantages for some students. At Liverpool's John Moores University, strikers are to have a day's pay docked. Fair enough. But when I asked Peter Toyne, JMU vice-chancellor, what would be done with the many thousands of pounds saved, he replied with glee: "It'll all go into the students' hardship fund." Now that's what I call an excellent initiative, proving that one man's viande can be another's poisson. Further north, at St Andrew's University, rumours that striking dons had ordered students to "make up for lost time" by attending 8am lectures on Wednesday were vehemently scotched.

Customised dung

The great surrealist Salvador Dali would have been proud of Vicky Myers, a 23-year-old postgraduate student at the University of Hull. For her master's degree she decided to investigate the rhinoceros, Dali's favourite beast, now threatened with extinction. To get to the bottom of the problem, she ventured deep into Namibia to watch rhinos closely. Very closely. It was important not only to study their eating habits but to bring back samples of grasses and - er - gases for analysis. But how does one pass grass and rhino dung under the eagle eyes of British customs and the "Man from Maff" (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)? According to Mike Elliott, Vicky's supervisor, bringing in grass and dung dried into a powder tends to give the multi-braided chaps ideas. "I could just see the headlines," quoth Dr Elliott. "University lecturer uses student to import dangerous substances." But the Man from Maff just giggled. "He thought I was joking; another to whom I turned said I'd made his day!" Would you believe it, the EU is preparing regulations about importing manure and hay from other countries. As I said, the surrealism would certainly have appealed to Dali.

Now the Super-Mac

Those who remember the drab and draughty Macmillan Hall on the ground floor of London University's Senate House won't recognise it today. Now thickly and plushly carpeted, it has been turned back into what it used to be, only better - a three-star Macmillans Restaurant for staff, students and, no doubt, whoever else plucks up the nerve to enter the imposing Thirties skyscraper off Russell Square. Where else in central London can one feast on poached salmon wrapped in ham and grain mustard sauce, with garden veg, all for pounds 2.65, or a mixed vegetable curry with steamed rice for pounds 1.99? Congratulations to the manager, Roy Beaney, who helped in the transformation.

Letters live on

A moving postscript to Remembrance Day: in the current issue of Oxford Magazine, Robin Harrison, formerly of King's College, London, quotes from letters written by Walter Harrison, an uncle he never knew but is reminded of daily. His name is engraved with those of other members of the 1914 Merton College junior Four (stroke, TS Eliot) on a pewter tankard in which Robin now keeps pens and pencils. The letters become increasingly disillusioned. Writing of his billet in a former school: "Altogether I dare say you would call it a very comfortless place, but I can tell you a perfect palace compared with the trenches, where you live in the horrible miry clay with the rats running round you. Outside the guns are firing, making the walls shake." A few days later, not yet 21, he was killed in the Battle of the Somme. Merton's toll was heavy: the Roll of Service records 96 names. Recently two others - those of Germans - have been fittingly added.

Odds on favourites

Alas, I cannot reveal the winner of the pounds 20,000 Stirling Prize for Building of the Year - the "Booker of Architecture" - to be announced tonight at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). But I'm willing to bet it will be either Hodder Associates or Sir Michael Hopkins & Partners. Bookie William Hill puts the joint winners of the RIBA Architecture in Education Award at the top of the field. Sir Michael's pounds 5m Queen's Building at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, is given odds of 11 to 10, making it favourite. Hodder's pounds 3.5m Centenary Building at Salford University is a close second, at 5 to 2.

And finally ...

A late arrival to my catalogue of names in the War Studies Department, King's College, London (WoM, 31 Oct): a visitor, Professor Dave Sloggettn