Word of Mouth: This is wheely a huge disgrace

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The Independent Online
Walk on by

Are we turning into a nation of namby-pamby obese weaklings? I happen to live next door to a school. A very good school, as it happens. But the daily road chaos is made even worse by the large number of cars driven by harassed mums disgorging their little darlings. What a load of wimps. In fact, 20 per cent of urban rush-hour traffic is now made up of cars on school runs. How many of my older readers were driven to school, I wonder. I took two buses to get to mine and later, at college, cycled from my digs to the campus. My wife walked one and a half miles before catching a bus to her school. Some while ago the RAC Motoring Services produced a survey showing that the number of secondary school pupils who walk to school has plummeted from 61 per cent in 1975 to 53 per cent in 1995. I bet it's lower still now. According to the survey, youngsters consider driving more important than voting. Cycling to and from school has declined from 6 per cent in 1985 to just 2 per cent today. The survey also found that 81 per cent of journeys to school take only 10 minutes to walk. About 1,500 million - yes, one and a half billion - hours are spent escorting students to school each year.

Some of the journeys are definitely generated by parents who worry about their children's safety, but could others be generated by lazy children? Ken Livingstone, who might just possibly make it to London's mayoral chain, launched the RAC's "Keep on Moving" campaign with this message: "Taking just a fraction of school run traffic off the road in rush hour will dramatically ease congestion and improve the local environment."

Little rascal

It isn't often that the ever-so-private background of our Vice-chancellors is given a public airing. So it surprised a large audience of dignitaries, including senior academics attending the official inauguration of John Brooks, new Vice-chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton, when some embarrassing home truths were spilled. A childhood friend and neighbour, Pat Evans, went to the rostrum to pay tribute to Professor Brooks. He used to persuade her and her sister to wrap themselves in white sheets and run around the graveyard frightening anyone who happened to pass. He also welcomed a new neighbour by kicking a football through his greenhouse roof; he refused to have his hair cut short at school, even when his Latin tutor forced him to tie it back with a blue ribbon.

His "energy, imagination and determination usually led to the headmaster's office", she said. It also led him to becoming a Vice-chancellor determined to place Wolverhampton University in the top league. "He is a self-made man who symbolises something above and beyond his own personal achievements," she said.

Campus of pride

Can it really be only a little over 50-years since Nottingham University received its Royal Charter? Before 1948 it could offer only external London University degrees. Today it ranks among our leading universities and has one of the country's loveliest campuses. But then I'm biased, for I am one of its many thousand alumni. In my time, there was only one major block - the Trent Building with its distinctive clock tower, seen shining across its neighbouring lake from the windows of trains drawing into Nottingham. A few prefab huts were also dotted higgledy-piggledy along the vast green campus in those days. It must thank Bertrand Hallward for its development to what it is today. Hallward, its first Vice-chancellor (1948-65), who will be 98 in May, remains a man of immensely clear vision who, together with some fine architects, planned a campus of the future. From next October, a brand new campus will be added and will admit its first students. Just how all this took shape is now told in a beautifully illustrated book, Campus Critique - the Architecture of the University of Nottingham, by architects Professor A Peter Fawcett and Dr Neil Jackson. It is available from Sue Daley, Public Affairs, University of Nottingham, NG7 2RD, pounds 30 hardback; pounds 15 soft cover, plus pounds 2.50 p&p.

Mad hatters unite

We live and learn. I had no idea that 1999 has been designated Year of the Hat and I bet you hadn't either. But the British Hat Guild hopes it will bring sales of 100,000 hats, so it launched a competition for the design of a "swing label" that would attract customers. Seven regional universities and colleges took up the challenge and guess who won: Spencer Swadling, 22, a graphic design student of the good old, or rather young, University of Luton, the traditional home of hatters. His "WHATEVER the occasion... moment... opportunity... excuse... reason", was considered the best of the 60 entries. Spencer was presented the first prize - a cheque for pounds 150 - by Bill Horsman, chairman of the British Hat Guild. Considering that the Guild represents an industry worth pounds 140m, that was a cheap price to pay for a design.

Ancient twins

It has taken some 600 years for two of our more ancient colleges to seal a firm link. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, which was founded in 1352, and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, the younger of the two (founded 1517), decided to become twinned in 1926. "We have long enjoyed friendly ties," quoth ye olde spokesvarlet for both colleges, "but we have now taken our links a great deal further." How? They have jointly appointed a junior research fellow in history and will share him. Starting from next October, Dr David Stone will spend two years at Corpus Christi, Oxford and another two at its Cambridge twin.

And finally...

Women, as has been borne out by one piece of research after another, make far superior students to men. Yet what a dreadful uphill struggle they have had. Baroness Warnock, the distinguished philosopher, reminded us of that tough journey when she gave a lecture at Senate House, London University, recently. Cambridge, which appears to have suffered from a time warp far more so than Oxford, awarded its first degrees to women as late as 1948. Although she was an Oxford graduate and fellow, she remained Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge for six years. As the mother of two sons and three daughters, she called her first two children Kitty and Felix, a felicitous choice of names. Male colleagues simply couldn't cope with the concept of a female don having children. "They thought I was referring to my cats," she explained.