TRYING TIMES FOR THE MARLBOROUGH MAN
THE last time your diarist visited a truly liberal public school was in the early Seventies, when he took his highest number of wickets in a school cricket match, not the result of brilliant bowling, but the inability of the batsmen of Bedales to see the ball because of their unusually long hair.
Today, Bedales has been supplanted by Marlborough College as the school most likely to appear
in sex-drugs-and-goodness-knows- what-else headlines, publicity that the headmaster, David Cope, is gratefully escaping at the end of this term. (The most recent headline, last month, referred to two sixth- formers who were allegedly spotted hurling traffic cones while walking along a street in the Wiltshire market town. Light relief, I suppose, compared with urine tests for drug- taking, and the expulsion of a 15- year-old girl caught in her boyfriend's study in a state of undress.)
In the latest Fleet Street excursion to this haven of (perceived) licentiousness, the Diary called on Mr Cope to find out, among other things, what he is putting in the pupils' tea to make them do these things. In the end, we didn't go into the catering standards, but he feels that the school is being picked on, possessing as it does no more than its normal quota of lively boys and girls.
However, he does have an idea about higher staff standards that John Patten might care to hear about, although perhaps the Secretary of State shouldn't ring him for a while - Mr Cope favours the national curriculum, but thinks Mr Patten has bungled the tactics and expresses 'great sympathy' for the teachers.
Mr Cope wants his staff to write reports on their own shortcomings, hand them to their heads of department, and then . . . what? Wait for the sack? Perhaps not one of his better ideas, although he has almost always got the better of his critics (they now applaud his decision to make the school co-educational for pupils older than 13).
Mr Cope, who has announced his resignation and is considering charity work overseas, has come a long way since his first headmastership at the age of 28 when a German parent called at the Dover College in Kent, and told him: 'I have an appointment with the headmaster. Could you take me to see your father?'
MICHAEL FOOT was none too complimentary about Lord Owen on Monday, telling me he was egotistical and spent too much time falling out with people (not a sought-after attribute in a peace envoy). He did him a disservice. Yesterday, Lord Owen was spotted slipping in through the back entrance at the opening of the Westway care centre in west London. He is a trustee of the charity, but the back entrance? 'I didn't want to be in the limelight,' he explained (the Princess of Wales was there). 'I feel I haven't been as active as I should - I've been a little busy elsewhere.'
In Washington for the opening of the Holocaust Museum last week, the Israeli President, Ezer Weizman, was invited to a private showing of the newly opened Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition. If it had been anything else, the visit to the Library of Congress would have taken place without a hitch. But these are the scrolls, and nothing relating to them is ever straightforward (scholars have been working on them since the late Forties, but the world long ago gave up expecting to know what they tell us.)
During the normal security checks, a sniffer dog wagged its tail happily as it trotted around the exhibition - until it came across a fragment that stopped it in its tracks. Then, according to witnesses, it 'became agitated and went berserk'. Mr Weizman was told the visit was over and the security men started dismantling the exhibit.
No explosive device was found, so what had troubled the dog? The fragment was one of the most controversial: it identifies another son of God who, in contrast to Jesus, was a wicked usurper.
According to David Flusser, a former professor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalam, the reference is to the anti-Christ, a ruler of the pagan world. My source says the dog received a pat on the back for his trouble: quite right. Who says animals don't have souls?
JONATHAN FENBY, deputy editor of the Guardian, will be the next editor of the Observer. Not my forecast, but that of the present incumbent, Donald Trelford. Let's wait and see.
A DAY LIKE THIS
5 May 1917 W N P BARBELLION, in his final illness, writes in his diary: 'The nurse has been here now for over five weeks. One day has been pretty much like another. I get out of bed about tea-time and sit by the window and churn over past, present and future. Except for an occasional geyser of malediction when some particularly acrid memory comes to mind, I find myself submitting with a surprising calm and even cheerfulness. That agony of frustration which gnawed my vitals so much in 1913 has disappeared, and I, who expected to go down in the smoke and sulphur of my own fulminations, am quite likely to fold my hands across my chest with a truly Christian resignation. Joubert said: 'Patience and misfortune, courage and death, resignation and the inevitable, generally come together. Indifference to life generally arises with the impossibility of preserving it' - how cynical that sounds]'
THE ISRAELI president in my note about that soulful dog alerting the authorities in Washington to the sacrilegious Dead Sea Scroll was not the recently-elected Ezer Weizman who takes office later this month, my source tells me, but the current president, Chaim Herzog. And it seems I didn't give the dog sufficient credit: the scroll was not the 'Son of God' text, but the even more blasphemous 'Pierced Messiah' fragment.Reuse content