Recently Chris Dillow took issue with Daniel Finkelstein’s diagnosis of jibes about David Cameron’s university membership of the Bullingdon Club as ‘chippiness’, a discussion carried on by Fabian Tassano in Mediocracy. As I suggested in the comments to Fabian’s article, I’m from vaguely that sort of milieu myself but could never quite see the point of drinking and dining clubs when I was at Cambridge; if I wanted to get drunk and then get up to the stupid sort of things young men do when they’re drunk with their mates, I could do that perfectly well without getting up a club or society under whose auspices to do it.
Anyway, I’d turned such analytical talents as I possessed to the sociology of the University — about 9 men to every 1 woman in those days of single-sex colleges — and concluded that majority of my male fellow-students had simply given up on the girls, feeling outnumbered by the competition, and were consoling themselves with drunken japes in all-male companionship. Meanwhile, the poor girls were finding themselves massively outnumbered by men, most of whom were scared to talk to them, which left them feeling ever-so neglected. In like Flynn, me, since I’ve always thought you can have much more fun with one member of the opposite sex than with several members of the same one, particularly when the latter are only interested in getting someone’s trousers off so they can claim to have ‘de-bagged’ him because that’s what they think undergraduates are supposed to do.
It’s pitiful that such people have had so much money spent on their education and yet have (with a few exceptions) turned into no-marks. Some, I’ve heard, are so imbecilic that they couldn’t even get into Oxford.Even the public schoolboys who have done quite well for themselves have done little better than us. When I worked in the City, I remember talking to an Harrovian colleague and asking: “aren’t you embarrassed that, with all that money spent on your education, you’ve ended up working next to me?”
Part of the answer, of course, is that many of the public schools certainly don’t select purely on academic grounds; mine, one of the brainer ones, certainly didn’t; indeed, Francis Wheen has been known to joke on The News Quiz, neither did his. He attended a comprehensive (Harrow), he reckons since obviously no school attended by his class-mate, Mark Thatcher, can claim to select purely on brains. One suspects Chris Dillow should have asked what his colleague might have been doing had he not had all the extra help that a bright chap like Chris clearly didn’t need.
The question, I suppose, is how do people feel about ‘buying an unfair advantage’ for their children (as opposed, of course, to others buying an unfair advantage for their children, which is clearly wrong). I have in mind the daughter of a chap for whom my wife used to work. The girl was apparently a handful, to say the least; ‘challenging’ is, I believe, the preferred phrase. Her parents were in the fortunate position to be able to send her to a school that specialised in keeping such girls from getting up to too much havoc during their teenage years, with the result that young Georgie managed to scrape a few GCSEs and an undistinguished A level before emerging, with not inconsiderable charm and poise, to work for a few years in some minor capacity in a PR company belonging to one of daddy’s friends before, eventually, getting married to some amiable chap from a not dissimilar background.
Had the lass attended, if not the local comp (dunno what the local comp in Knightsbridge is like), at least some local comps, her life would doubtless have taken a rather different turn and she’d quite possibly have been one of these young single mothers who live off benefits, having collected an ASBO or two, or at least until either Tony Blair’s exhortations or David Cameron’s tax incentives encourage them to mend their ways.
Unfair, certainly, but what’s wrong — perzactly — with her parents spending a not inconsiderable amount of money on trying to make sure turned out rather more responsible than otherwise she might have done, didn’t make a nuisance of herself — at least to the general public — while she was growing up, and didn’t cost the taxpayers a penny? I know it’s not fair that others didn’t have her advantages, but, as my late wife used to say during her last illness, she’d looked at the back of her birth certificate, and it didn’t say anything about how things have to be fair.