One Year On

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It is a year since that glorious day last June, the day Serena and Christian were married.

As well as wonderful memories of the day itself, I have memories of revisiting the day in recent months.

I went back to Trinity in the spring, ironically to preach. (An irony because I’m not a preacher at all… and am married to a rather good one.) Most annoyingly, I had forgotten what I learnt reading the lesson at the wedding, which is that the microphone at the lectern doesn’t work if you turn to look at the congregation – which of course you do, if you want to communicate with them.

But I am nitpicking. Setting aside the fact that I was preaching, it was a blissful evening. The service, the hospitality and food, the people, the conversation.

Naturally Serena, as a member of the College, is entitled to dine on High Table, and was given permission to bring Christian. My father was invited by a friend too, so we were quite a family party.

As we came out into the dark spring night (seems dark now, by midsummer standards) I remembered how much I love Cambridge and long to be there again.

Sermon, Evensong, Trinity Cambridge 9th March 2014

Then a few weeks ago back to Oxford, to preach in Worcester. Also lovely, also a sublime choir, also wonderful company and food.

Sermon, Evensong, Worcester Oxford, 25th May 2014

And then a few nights ago I was back to Trinity again, a guest of the generous May Ball Committee, because the first chapter of my next novel (working title: As Beautiful As You) starts in Trinity, on the night of the May Ball 2015.

What a night that always is! Shaun and I were lucky enough to go together a few years ago, as Serena’s guests. I still picture the vivid fireworks, the coveted oysters, the gorgeous gowns and beautiful people…

Now here’s a thing. Every year the papers are full of Cambridge undergraduates disgracing themselves at May Balls, privileged gits, getting drunk and making asses of themselves as the sun rises the next morning. Apparently. Fair cop: the other morning I saw a terrifyingly chiselled Porter strong-arm a young gentleman into the arms of the hired Security, at about 5.30 ac emma, because he was a little wobbly on his pins.

I didn’t see or hear anything offensive, but I agree he was the worse for wear.

Consider this. There were two thousand revellers at the Trinity May Ball this year, par for the course. Almost all of them were under the age of thirty, as they usually are. There was free champagne available all night, from when the Ball started at nine or so, until just before the Survivors’ Photograph at six am. Unlimited, for each and every guest.

I’m willing to wager any amount you like that if you took a random selection of two thousand British under-thirties and told them there was free bubbly, as much as they could drink, all night… well, the scenes you would get anywhere else would be pretty ugly, wouldn’t they?

(I probably don’t need to wager anything, if you’ve ever watched Big Brother.)

So… where were the riots? Where the fights? Broken bottles? Knifings? Violence, sexual and other kinds?

Where, even, was the foul language? I heard none. Not a single word of swearing, from two thousand students on free champagne all night long.

They may be a privileged bunch, as our papers like to suggest. Perhaps they inspire the envy of journalists who went to younger universities, and readers who went to none. Presumably this is why, every year at this time of year, we have to hear of Cambridge students disgracing themselves at dawn. Though in my experience, though – and I have known dozens, probably hundreds, of students, from having lived many years in both Cambridge and Oxford – the only privilege which top undergraduates share is brains. Not class, not money, and not even a good previous education (my husband Shaun is not the only one who boasts of having attended the worst school in the country).

But it’s true, I admit, they may have been brought up by people who own books, who care about education themselves and perhaps even care about manners. If this is privilege – and of course it is – many of them are probably privileged.

And they wear their privilege well.

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