Boat Race Nonsense

The London Paper  –  28 Mar 2008

‘Oxford gave the world marmalade and a manner, Cambridge science and a sausage’ says the old adage. To be honest, I still haven’t got a clue what the hell that’s supposed to mean and after checking out the crowd attending Saturday’s boat race I would adapt this meaningless little phrase to: ‘Oxford gave the world pissheads and boorish behaviour, Cambridge staggering drunkenness and projectile vomit’. It may not be quite as poetic but is a fairer reflection of the antics I witnessed by Hammersmith Bridge.

It seemed like every Cityboy in town was on the banks of the Thames on Saturday afternoon. I bumped into various City characters from my university (Cambridge) as well as quite a few comedians from ‘the other place’. Of course, we didn’t need to divulge which team we were supporting since on previous encounters we had ensured that everyone knew which university we had attended within seconds– it’s part of the unwritten Oxbridge law of condescension.

After about the fiftieth chance encounter with some vaguely familiar Cityboy and a lot of false back-slapping bonhomie I started ruminating about the absurdly high proportion of Oxbridge types in the City. Unfortunately, this Oxbridge dominance has changed little over my twelve year career and seems unlikely to change much going forward. Indeed, a grad at my bank recently disclosed that of the 40 or so clowns he knew at Oxford and Cambridge 35 had either entered the City or were trying to.

There are three unpleasant points related to this continuing Oxbridge dominance of the Square Mile. Firstly, it makes ‘civilians’ believe that the City, and all its boundless wealth, is a closed club only open to the traditional elite – which is a cause of tremendous resentment.

Secondly, it shows that Maggie Thatcher has sadly won the battle for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the British intellectual elite. Twenty years ago some Oxbridge graduates actually believed in striving to create a fairer society and had loftier ambitions than buying a fanny magnet for a car. Those days seem well and truly over and the gospel according to Adam Smith is now all that anyone adheres to.

Finally, and most worryingly, the high proportion of Oxbridge graduates who want to become merchant bankers (though many arguably already are) shows how the massive rewards that the City offers ensure that it sucks up all the talent this sorry country has to offer. Smart people who should be curing cancer or sorting out global warming are instead pointlessly pushing around bits of paper – creating nothing and merely perpetuating a system that will invariably result in the destruction of our planet.

‘If you’ve got nothing nice to say about anybody … come and sit next to me’. Those were my exact words to a contemporary from Cambridge I happened to meet at The Ship. After I delivered a drunken twenty minute diatribe pointing out the above concerns she took my hands in hers and told me that I needed to reconsider my career choice. She may have a point…

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