Tom Witherow: Overheard at… the Cal Soc ball

Includes real-life gems such as “Well of course I live in Chelsea, I don’t want to get stabbed!“

One society at York is contributing to a tragic breakdown of freedoms. Men and women are led to perform steps they are taught week in, week out. They are drilled in compliance.

It has its own language, a tongue designed to cut out all independent thought, a unique and constantly updated vocabulary to act as weapons against the latest advances of anti-snobbish thoughtcrime.

It sounds like an Orwellian dystopia. But it is not. This totalitarian environment transplanted itself to a secret location in central York just the week before last. This is the Caledonian Society Ball.

For those of you who don’t know this is a meeting of the country’s Scottish dancing societies, which (bar York, thank God) are filled with a plethora of Britain’s finest and best (wannabe) upper class tossers. And lo, one must behave as “one should” the moment you step through the door.

People flock from miles around. It’s hard for some. If you aren’t London based (and I mean really, who ARE you if you aren’t), then where do you turn for parties? There’s, what, Sandhurst? And Scotland, which I suppose counts, in a sort of illegitimate child way… And then the reels balls. All the “right sorts” there.

Champagne is obligatory, and you must erect the pinky finger – it’s a sign of virility you understand.

At dinner, bread rolls are to be thrown, cutlery stolen, the poor lambasted. Standards must be maintained. We can’t let the Bullingdon Club have all the fun.

“Fitting in is
elementary”

Once the music starts you must line up according to your sex and prepare yourself for the dances, all named after great men of history. The Dashing White Sergeant and the Reel of the 51st Highland Division are favourites – you forget there isn’t a Scot in the room, of course.

Of utmost importance is the language, which you must learn. You must use a mixture of words and clicks (of champagne glasses) to shut out the unaccustomed. The Saturday before last was a showcase: “I love working there”, one recent York graduate said of his job in Kensington, “It’s just round the corner from the club.”

“Oh, I didn’t know there was a golf club in central London,” you might ask. But you will be met by gasps ringing around the table rising to a previously unheard pitch. No murder has been committed, you have just been “found out”.

From there it will come thick and fast – “Well of course I live in Chelsea, I don’t want to get stabbed!“ quickly followed up by, “It’s rather nice coming up to York – I haven’t left zone 1 for months.” Many are left reeling. Only the strong survive.

“Well when I first got to Africah I walked around with $4000 in my fanny pack for a month.” It’s key that you talk about gap years. It is well known that students at university don’t hear nearly enough about it.

You can attempt to ingratiate yourself of the “common man” by talking about everyday problems. Hangovers – anyone can relate to hangovers. “I’m so hungover”, says one, “I had SUCH a heavy day’s shooting yesterday”. You will note that this man showed potential, but blew it (with both barrels no doubt).

Or you might discuss politics – a little more down to earth I’m sure you’ll agree, “All politicians should hunt, I can’t tell you the amount of back-stabbing in hunt politics”. Everyone chortles, the pack mentality is safe.

Remember: fitting in is elementary. And it would be quite doubleplusungood to think otherwise.

10 comments

  1. 11 Feb ’14 at 7:06 pm

    Becca Atkinson - Bristol Tab

    I can’t believe anyone would let this be published! Posh prejudice is just as bad as racism and homophobia – it’s people like you who give rightfully privileged peoply like me a bad name. I bet your just jealous because my father spent his income on a good education rather than cars and holidays.

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  2. 11 Feb ’14 at 7:57 pm

    Teddy Borthwicke-Huntington-heslington

    Isn’t Tom Witherow a self-loathing Etonian who is trying to distance himself from the ‘posh stereotype’?

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    • 15 Feb ’14 at 2:28 pm

      Isidore of Seville

      Witherow is indeed an ex-Etonian, and I think the fact that he recognises how many public school alumni are complete shiteaters and doesn’t want to associate himself with that identity is actually quite a positive mark of his character. Or should he be forced to forever act like a twat just because his parents made the decision to send him to Eton?

      [sorry, didn’t realise Nouse had a comment thread system now, please delete the other copy of this comment!]

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  3. Also overheard: “What’s the catering company? I think I’ve worked with some of these people…” “Shush, That’s not something you say at the Cal Soc Ball!”

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  4. 12 Feb ’14 at 12:42 am

    Oh for god's sake...

    Don’t take everything so seriously boys and girls, satire nothing more. Calm oneselves.

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  5. 12 Feb ’14 at 8:43 pm

    Leave him alone

    Guys it’s ok they’re a very inclusive bunch: my school cost £14’000 per year and I only got called a povvo 6 times! a walk in the park really.

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  6. FOR GOD SAKE

    While you all revel in your own inflated egos, there are people who can’t go to such things.

    For example: Cinderella

    She has barely seen the other side of her front door let alone a “Dashing White Sergeant”.

    It’s because of people like you that her family tell her she’s too ugly to go.

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  7. 15 Feb ’14 at 2:24 pm

    Isidore of Seville

    @Teddy Borthwicke-Huntington-heslington: Witherow is indeed an ex-Etonian, and I think the fact that he recognises how many public school alumni are complete shiteaters and doesn’t want to associate himself that identity is actually quite a positive mark of his character. Or should he be forced to forever act like a twat just because his parents made the decision to send him to Eton?

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  8. I can’t wait until you leave York. Tom I find your journalism rude and offensive. I am baffled as to why Nouse publishes it. Since coming to York I have become ashamed to admit that I am privately educated. Especially as admitting to it causes negative prejudice judgment. You just seem to mirror this shallow mindset of pigeon holing people. Get a proper sense of humour, and why you are at it reel yourself into the highlands and beyond.

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