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I see an MP who went to a state school has been mocked by an MP who went to a grammar school for attending the opera. This sort of snobbery is still prevalent in Britain today. It’s an insiduous bias of the rich and the privileged who think some things in life are their inalienable right and that those of a lower class must be kept away and know their place. Here’s my own little account of this sad belief in a “natural order” between the poor and the posh.
I come from a family of cab drivers and went to a classic, Grange Hill-style comprehensive where we wore shitty grey jumpers and kids would organise fights by the garages at 3.15pm. I enjoyed my time there. School is an amazing concept. It’s a place where you’re forced by law to hang out with your mates every day and dick around.
I did well in my GCSEs. As I walked off with my results a teacher said I should apply to Cambridge. I thought it was a joke. The idea had never been part of my mental universe or something that had ever been discussed. But I thought fuck it - I’d apply - it’d be a laugh.
So I applied strategically. I thought I’d apply to one of the more “modern” colleges as I didn’t believe I’d get into one of the more wanky ones. I guess I had absorbed what my place in the world is and tried to game the system according to my status. I also put on my application that I was going to take a year out to train to become an officer of Arctic warfare in the army. I’m actually laughing out loud as I write this cos I have no idea where that idea came from. I guess I thought it was the kind of thing Cambridge would love to hear because being an officer in the army and sending people to die is posh as fuck. Anyway it must have worked cos they invited me in for an interview. With regard to my gap year, I actually spent it working at Marks and Spencers, Brent Cross, gathering shopping trolleys from the car park and stacking bread. Although not Arctic conditions, it was quite chilly a couple of times.
So I went for my interview in a stupid suit that didn’t fit. I was given a poem to read and then had to discuss it with a professor. Then I had an interview with another professor to see what I was like. It was basically speed-dating boffins. I must have done okay cos they gave me an offer. I think I had to get two As and a B in my A-levels? Or an A and two Bs? Anyway, I managed to get the results and got into Cambridge. Yay me.
Anyway, to cut a long story short I fucking hated it there. It’s difficult to know if I would have had a shit time wherever I went, but I fucking hated it. Moving to a shitty, small market town with a fudge shop as it’s main point of interest, after living in London, was a bit shit. And it was posh as fuck with a wanker’s rugby vibe. People didn’t go out like normal people - they formed “societies.” These were sad drinking societies where all the men would wear navy blazers, beige chinos, a sad stripy tie and brown boating shoes. There were insanely upper class English vibes to the whole affair. Imagine a wedding lasting for eternity at Ascot where poached salmon and baby new potatoes are served and drunk posh boys talk about Jeremy Clarkson and then drunkenly sing Robbie William’s “Angels” in a big circle with their clothes in disarray whilst girls in green and blue silken dresses puke in a bush.
I have one memory of being with a friend and wandering off the street into some place. We suddenly found ourselves somewhere that I believe was called “The Pitt Club.” It was a private members club formed in honour of William Pitt the Younger where you don’t apply to join but get asked to join. Everyone was wearing black tie - these are kids by the way - wearing black tie on their young person’s night out like insane people - and they had butlers serving them champagne. I’m not lying but one posh kid was trying to pour his own champagne but was having trouble until a butler came over and explained he had to take the cork out first and eventually poured it for him.
There’s other shit things too. Like the fact there’s a college system that kind of segregates students into whatever college they’re at. It was annoying too that at my college there were about fifteen kids all from the same “state school”. There’s no way it just so happens that all the brainiest kids in the country came from this one state school and no other state schools had worthy students. It was clear that a system was being gamed here and the college was filling up it’s quota of state school kids from one well-heeled institution that was effectively a grammar school.
Anyway, I’m still glad I went. Going to Cambridge hasn’t helped me a single bit in terms of contacts or nepotism. But it has equipped me with skills that have helped in my career and life in general. The work load was so insane that nothing I’ve done since has felt like hard work. Also I was steeped in literature that has totally empowered me as a writer. I feel like I’ve been armoured to high fuck to be able to write the bollocks out of anything.
So I’m glad I went. I have a better and more disciplined brain than I had before I went. But let me tell you about the little snobby incident I promised…
Having left university, my first foray into showbiz was within the world of documentary. I sort of managed to get on okay with some quirky, idiosyncratic films I’d made. They’re actually alright films. They’re not shit.
Anyway, one year I was asked to be on a panel at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival alongside the head of a big indie production company. During the session I was gaining the warmth of the crowd when out of nowhere he tried to shame me. “You speak with this accent but a little birdie tells me you went to Cambridge” he suddenly said. It was a weird and irrelevant thing to say, but obviously something that had grated inside his head when his ego wasn’t being massaged enough.
My accent is my accent. My family are East End cab drivers. I did well to get into Cambridge. I’m proud to have done so and have never hidden it. I’m proud of myself, my family, our accents and where we’re from. But here I had all kinds of fucked up class shit thrown at me by some posh guy who was fearful that a working class person was impinging on a universe of entitlement that he saw as belonging only to him and his kind. And the universe of entitlement wasn’t just Oxbridge - it was the world of opportunity that comes afterwards - in this instance TV - worlds that had always belonged to him and his own. He asserted a snobbish bias about where I do and don’t belong. He didn’t want a scumbag like me - like some kind of class immigrant - coming over and stealing his opportunities. In the minds of people like him they want us to go back to our own class where we belong. Their snide comments about opera or accents are a class-based equivalent of a, “There goes the neighbourhood” comment.
Thankfully I went to Cambridge University and studied English Literature so I can summon all my linguistic skills and say they can go fuck themselves.
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