For a great many students here, Oxbridge rejection is the first real disappointment in their lives, lighting the curmudgeonly way for the even greater woe of joblessness upon graduation. Sitting in the JB Morrell, but dreaming of being at the Bod, we offer ourselves the consolation that at least our lack of work offers us the chance to partake in societies, activities and ‘me-time’. In the back of our minds, though, is the dreadful thought of writing “2:1, University of York” on future CVs, and its inauspicious consequences.
Though recent national press would have us believe the contrary, Oxbridge life for serious students is something of a grind, involving workloads that prepare their graduates frighteningly well for the working world. A friend of mine at Oxford has devoted a Facebook album to capturing her despair in various parts of the Taylor Institute, which she frequents after her dissertation supervisor informed her that to do a proper job of it she must become pentalingual.
Comparing these achievements with my own, I feel a sense of shame. So I am always grateful for a news story which panders to the perception our nation has of Oxbridge: i.e. that it is a mere extension of the public school fantasy.
Enter Hertford College’s Penguin Club. An all-male drinking society numbering just 15, it makes up in reputation what it lacks in size. Earlier this academic year its members were rapped for covering each other in goose fat, alternately scoffing and throwing up raw squid – all in tandem with performing a naked streak.
Last week, the Penguins were suspended indefinitely after compiling a “list of fitties” with whom they planned to sow the wild oat at a (god forbid) “drunken party”.
Surely a bit of a harsh penalty for a bit of schoolboy idiocy? Any of Hertford College’s young belles stupid enough to take up the Penguins’ offer aren’t really demonstrating that they’re ‘Oxford material’.
Cambridge isn’t immune from these hi-jinks either. The Magdalene College equivalent subjects initiates to a fifteen-course feast with pig’s snout, wasabi and a pint of water containing a live goldfish. Should a prospective member be fortunate enough to regurgitate the beverage with the fish still breathing, they are awarded a pass on the following couple of dishes. Competitors at the University’s Beefsteak Club combine wolfing down ungainly nosh with pragmatic edge, covering the floor of their venue with tarpaulin for an easy clean, KFC-style.
This brand of macho bingeing is rendered particularly grotesque by the fact that those taking part are from extremely wealthy backgrounds. Undeniably, there’s something more unsettling about the sight of a rah ordering Moet than a North Face-wearing hooligan with a few bottles of cider. Worse still, these people probably have parents who will guarantee unbridled access to every grad job going.
In York there is a contingent of upper class super-consumers who, if given the opportunity, would probably engage in the same gratuitous practices as the Penguins. Thankfully, that contingent is small, and a positive thought we can tap into as we struggle to write out increasingly pointless applications borne out of desperation for a wage, any wage at all.