Tales of the City: One gets one's teacher to do it

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The Independent Online

I was a bit shocked by the allegations that an art teacher at Eton was asked to help Prince Harry put together his AS-level art coursework journal and was subsequently accused of helping the saintly, unworldly prince to cheat.

I was a bit shocked by the allegations that an art teacher at Eton was asked to help Prince Harry put together his AS-level art coursework journal and was subsequently accused of helping the saintly, unworldly prince to cheat. I myself have a child with an AS-level coursework journal and, frankly, I cannot see how anyone could have much effect on its noisome collection of multi-media montages, random daubs of colour à la late Matisse, expressionist monochromes and whirling curves of naked - or should that be nuked - flesh. Late-teen art students are a law unto themselves.

Was Sarah Forsyth, the teacher under inspection, doing brilliant drawings and sketches for the royal delinquent to pass off as his own? Unthinkable. It's far more likely she was just offering him bits of advice about how to impress modern art examiners. Such as this: "First, your royal highness, lose the watercolours. They're just not working for you. Your dad had a certain modest talent for them, I agree, but watercolours work best when capturing wispy fells, heathery glens etc. Lapdancer Charlene just doesn't work in this medium. It's a bit too action-y. Try oils or acrylics. Or maybe you should diversify into photography. The pages in your folder torn from Knave, Panties, Rustler, Hustler, Royal Babes and Subjects' Wives suggest you have a lively interest in 'capturing the moment'.

"Second, your work on the human figure has shown promise, but I'm afraid recent experiments haven't been successful. Gervase Puking Up at Bouji's is bold in its use of colour (especially the green, brown and, er, lumpy yellow), but the face is flat and two-dimensional. I'm appending sketches to show how to give the body more depth and make the vomit look more organic.

"Third, portraiture. I do think that you're coming along in leaps and bounds here, your royal highness. The recent picture of a balding man squinting down the lens of a huge film camera trained on the viewer, entitled My Noncey Uncle, was ter- rific, full of life, excitement and (unless I'm mistaken) extreme irritation.

"Fourth, conceptual art. You have an excellent grasp, sir, of minimalism and the experimentation of the young British artist. I'm not so sure your Stubbed-Out Ciggie in the Turbine Hall fulfils quite the same cheeky, art-installation role.

"Your decision to display the object actually on the ground, being walked on by punters, is brave but misguided, I fear. We need a little more drama than that. How about filling a gallery with the noises you hear at Highgrove over a family weekend? That would be interesting. Only don't, for God's sake tell anyone that I suggested it, OK?"

Confidence trick

I feel a lot of sympathy for David Wolfe, the American professor of physics who has fetched up in a teaching post in a High Wycombe state school, and has been told he must take a GCSE in maths or vamoose. He may have a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, he may be a world expert on nuclear and particle physics, and have run the physics department at the University of New Mexico, where he rubbed shoulders every day with Nobel prizewinners, but that cuts no ice with the iron- faced men of the General Teaching Council, who insist he's underqualified.

Yet, as one listens to his objections ("It would be humiliating to submit myself to assessors much younger and less experienced than myself"), can we not hear a tiny squawk of fear that he might also be humiliated by failing the exam?

Is Professor Wolfe, despite his global erudition, perhaps a little hazy on trigonometry? Is he a tad uncertain about long division? Do dim recollections of algebraic mystery haunt his dreams? And which of us grave middle- aged experts and geniuses in our various fields would willingly be examined in the fundamentals of what we're supposed to know about? Would the chairman of Price Waterhouse Coopers happily spend an hour on the applied maths paper? Would the Pope sit a GCSE in religious studies with confidence (as opposed to infallibility)? Would Jack Straw emerge with glory from an exam paper on the Congress of Vienna?

A quiet word in you ear

Nobody knows for sure the purpose or function of the small rectangular object that George W Bush has got tucked away under the back of his charcoal jacket, and yes, I know the White House is denying he's ever been helped out or prompted by any form of "sonic assistance" - but I have got to get me one of them. Call me a pathetic "early adopter" of trendy technology, but I'll gladly test out one of the prototypes if someone will let me.

I assume it's an advanced form of the ear-piece that used to let someone from headquarters tell you what to do when you were in pursuit of a master spy. The new version - as demonstrated, although in a concealed way, by President Bush - links the central motor cortex of your body with a roomful of script-writers, psychologists, policy wonks, spin doctors, current-affairs know-alls and freelance wits.

Whatever problem your body is faced with in public, the box of tricks will send orders to the nervous system and do or say the perfect thing. If you're in a televised debate, it will send you sensible, combative things to say, then send you off to sit down when they've been said. If you meet an old girlfriend in a conference boardroom, it will form just the right greeting - neither too breezy nor too insensitive - on your lips.

It will be like carrying a Savoir-Faire Kit around with you at all times. It will be like having Virginia Wood and Virginia Ironside inside your head, advising you what to say and how to behave. I'm sure that's what George Bush has been using, and I think it's very inspired of him. How he must pray that it doesn't fall into the hands of a wily Democrat...

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