Following today’s disruption of the Oxford v Cambridge boat race by one Trenton Oldfield swimming in the Thames, the President of the Oxford University Boat Club tweeted angrily:
Finally to Trenton Oldfield: my team went through seven months of hell, this was the culmination of our careers and you took it from us.
Hell? What right have you got to talk about Hell? After all, you chose this path. And your careers are far from over – your more lucrative, privileged course through life has barely begun. Within twenty minutes’ cycle ride of your University, you will find single mothers who have had a fifth of their income removed by this coalition; disabled people who have undergone the humiliation of inquisition by ATOS just to keep their benefits; young people forced to do unpaid labour in supermarkets, eliminating their dignity and taking jobs from their peers. Young people dependent on EMA to stay in education, who have lost that and their prospect of employment too. And in the suburbs of Oxford you will find quietly desperate people, often elderly who saved for a decent sufficiency in their old age, only to have it removed by the gambling habits of your erstwhile peers, now drawing their bonuses in the city. And even in quiet corners of your own university you will find desperate people, self-medicating against depression and breakdown.
You are part of the elite of one of the most privileged university communities on the planet. A university that, should you choose to do so, will allow you to move smoothly into privileged, well-paid employment without the need to contemplate the hell of the world that is the reality for those around you who do not enjoy your privilege. People who may be every bit as clever or skilled as you are but perhaps have not had your advantages. But of course, in your youthful arrogance, they are invisible to you. And your path to further privilege, let’s face it, will not exactly be obstructed by your participation in that totemic establishment event, the Boat Race.
I hold no brief for Trenton Oldfield or his beliefs. But before you talk about hell, learn to look around you. Your hell, such as it was, was a hell of choice directed towards a defined end. The hells in which your invisible peers live are no such thing.
And, perhaps, one day, you will realise that there are bigger, better, more important things than two boatfuls of students racing on a river. Welcome to adulthood.