I’m writing this post from a train. ‘But Patrick,’ you say, ‘you are way too cheap to pay 4 pounds for something as frivolous as mobile internet?!’ This is very true, dear reader, however I am not paying for this internet (at least directly). While I may be quite a penny-pincher, when given the chance this afternoon to upgrade to First Class on my train down to Oxford for 15 pounds, I characteristically hummed and hawed, and then jumped at the chance.
Again, you say, ‘Patrick! That doesn’t sound like something a man who has been regularly wearing the same pair of trousers since he was 16 would do!’ And I would agree. But you see, sometimes it is just worth it. Especially if the following conditions apply:
1. You are travelling on one of the busiest days of the year, an occasion which apparently prompts public intoxication at noon.
2. The majority of the passengers in your car are in costume as vaguely retro football players, complete with headband and short shorts.
3. Said fellow passengers are screaming and quickly draining the two cases of beer they have brought with them.
And so my decision was made. Now, as I smoke a cigar and enjoy the caviar that was flown in by helicopter, I finally have the civilized chance to relax, unwind, and compulsively check Facebook and email, as if I were at home. It’s really the simple luxuries that count the most.
But what’s that I hear? There’s a baby starting to cry in this car…and oh no…it seems some of my fellow posh passengers also appear to be intoxicated and rather loud. I exchange eye-rolling glances with my fellow sober bourgeoisie (it’s hard with all the champagne bottles everywhere) and make my best judgemental shushing noises (I’ve honed this skill with plenty of time in the library), but to no avail. I mean really, how much does a man have to pay to enjoy some peace and quiet on his upgraded Student Discount Off-Peak Supersaver Fare?
And so I snubbed my nose, put away my New Yorker magazine, and ventured into the on-board shop to see what complimentary treats awaited consuming for such VIPs as myself. Presented with a bruised apple and a sheepish apology, I returned to my seat, all illusions of decadent first class train travel now thoroughly quashed.
But my brush with the upper class was far from over. One of my weekend activities was to attend the 158th Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race on the River Thames in London, a spectacle not unfamiliar with charges of snobbery. Indeed, the event was replete with couples picnicking on checkered tablecloths featuring cheese platters, fine cutlery and elegant wine, academic-jock types in their college blazers and crested ties, and of course, highly overpriced concession food (£6.50 for some meat on a bun).
The first half of the storied rowing race was unremarkable, but excitement soon came – one might say with a splash – when a self-professed protestor interrupted the neck and neck race by swimming directly in front of the Oxford boat, you can read about it here. Apparently, this man was protesting “elitism.” Fair enough, I suppose, when for many people the words ‘Oxford’ or ‘Cambridge’ are essentially synonymous with the striking class differences in British society. But what you quickly realise (once you have sobered up from the port at formal hall dinners…) is that while these top universities may indeed be symbols of elitism in society, they are nevertheless peopled by kind, interesting, fun, hard-working men and women, a great portion of whom are not from particularly privileged upbringings.
If we give this ‘protestor’ the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is attempting to work towards creating a more equal society, spoiling the race for a group of hardworking student-athletes is certainly not helping matters, rather, it can help to entrench the view that people are one-dimensional stereotypes. Ruining a free, open to the public, amateur sporting event to protest a perceived symbol of an ambiguous term in a remarkably uncreative (and dangerous) manner seems a little bit ridiculous to me. But maybe I’m biased now, us First Class train passengers stick together.