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Yes, minister, the library is missing

A SUBSTANTIAL part of one of the most valuable historic libraries of educational material in the country has been quietly sold off or dispersed. Last Christmas, when what used to be known as the Department of Education and Science moved from Elizabeth House in York Road, near Waterloo Station in London, to a new, smaller home in Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, Westminster, at least 80,000 books, pamphlets and other printed items were either sold to booksellers or lodged with other libraries. Ian Lawrence, an educational historian who has just published a history of the DES from 1945-92, tells us that the break-up of the library, which included hand annotated drafts of ministerial speeches, is 'a matter of academic concern. What we don't know is what has been abandoned. It is impossible to form a judgement on whether any of the stuff was unique, of particular historical value.' A Department For Education spokesman says that some important historical collections have been lent to the University of London Institute of Education, and major papers relating to the history of the department lodged with the Public Record Office. The department's librarians had 'disposed of printed items which were deemed to be of no further interest to library users.' The library, which is not open to the public but does allow access to academic researchers, still occupies two entire floors. Curiously enough, a year and a half before the move a leaked memo written by a senior civil servant revealed that the original plan was to give the whole library to the institute. Such was the pressure on space and the workload of the staff, its author mused, they no longer had time to 'browse'.

THE IMPORTANCE of inclusive (non-gender-specific) language 'should not be underestimated', Ianthe Pratt, of the politically correct Association for Inclusive Language, tells the Catholic Herald this week. So important that the paper still manages to refer to her as 'chairman'.

Macabre motors MORE tasteless stunts from the Edinburgh Festival fringe. This one concerns the world premiere of a play about the Shankhill murders, called Butchers. The Shankhill Butchers, you remember, were an unsavoury bunch of murderous Protestants who used black cabs to pick up unsuspecting Catholics on the Falls Road in Belfast. As the play's director, Danie O'Brien, explains, 'they would drive them away, give them a good kicking and string them up'. O'Brien's coup de grace comes before the play starts. As the audience arrives at the Richard Demarco Theatre, five black cabs arrive and whisk them off to another venue. 'The cabs will take them to an unspecified place where they will be unloaded. The place of execution, in a manner of speaking.' O'Brien insists it is not tasteless - 'Theatre is near to the bone, isn't it?' Not one for the fainthearted.

AND NOW, a news item from the current issue of Food Industry News: 'Agriculture Minister John Gummer recently visited Top Hat Foods of Dundee to unveil a plague marking the recent EC approval for the company's production facilities.'

Anyone for Amis? WE ASKED you for tennis reports in the style of Amis fils (Martin is to be tennis correspondent for the New Yorker). Most of your efforts were both savagely misogynistic and quite startlingly obscene, and thus pretty good (take the scene in Amis's The Rachel Papers, where our hero explains exactly what he'd like to do to a 'particularly simian' Wimbledon lady player in a nicotine-mantled puddle on the floor of her dressing room). But in the mode of the mature Amis, here's Rupert Walder: 'From the very end, it seemed likely that it would be Agassi who would experience what all tennis players dream of - to return the Wimbledon cup to the Princess and go on to the final and eventually the first round. He and I filled a few bottles of wine at 291 earlier. His last few weeks have been busy. What with returning all the sponsors' freebies and erasing his autograph from a legion of young women's cleavages, he has hardly had time to mess up the house in anticipation of the Hello] photographer's imminent departure.' Mr Walder wins the right to fill a bottle of Lanson champagne and send it to us.

NEXT month sees the launch of a women's magazine called Ludus. And yes, there'll be lots of naked men, says the editor, Pauline Brown, but all very tasteful. (Brown gained notoriety recently on Channel 4's Female Parts, when she described the legally publishable angle of the male erection as the equivalent of the Mull of Kintyre.) 'There is nothing very sexy about a limp dick,' she says. 'So we keep the full frontals to a minimum.' And her qualifications for this upstanding new venture? She is a former assistant editor of the Girl Guide leaders' bible, Guiding.


19 August 1773 James Boswell records an evening with Dr Johnson in St Andrews on their tour to the Hebrides: 'We all went to Dr Watson's to supper. Miss Sharp, great-grandchild of Archbishop Sharp, was there, as was Mr Craig, the ingenious architect of the new town of Edinburgh and nephew of Thomson, to whom Dr Johnson has since done so much justice in his Lives of the Poets. We talked of memory and its various modes. Johnson: 'Memory will play strange tricks. One sometimes loses a single word. I once lost fugaces in the ode Postume Postume'. I mentioned to him that a worthy gentleman of my acquaintance actually forgot his own name. Johnson: 'Sir, that was a morbid oblivion.' '