White Privilege! – c’est quoi, mon Seigneur? (Article in the Country Squire Magazine)

Article published in the Country Squire Magazine

White Privilege! – c’est quoi, mon Seigneur?

No longer able to tolerate the body odour of the classicists camped out in the Lower Bod now that Collections were approaching, Reggie – a proud, cis-gendered gentleman of remarkable plumage – had taken up digs at the ‘other place’. Much was familiar, but much was slightly askew: the juvenilia skip around the courts not the quads, stairwells bearing letters of the alphabet (not numbers), combination rooms instead of common rooms; ‘are you going to combine?’ instead of ‘fancy some second pud-pud, old boy?’ Poor old Reggie was all at sea. To complicate matters still further, Reggie’s scout (I mean ‘gyp’ – are we still allowed to use that word?) was a non-binary, pan-sexual flat white – yes, that’s not a type of coffee! She/he/they/it went by the preferred name of ‘Don’.

‘Have you seen my wretched battels statement?’, shouted Reggie to Don. Always in arrears to himself, Reggie sieved through endless reading lists and became increasingly exercised about the prospects of matriculation, but no battels statement.

‘Have I seen what, my luv?’ responded Don. ‘Oh, never mind. I’ll find the dash thing anon’, sighed Reggie and took himself off to the river to calm his nerves. Through the smart of cigar smoke, Reggie watched the punts and the swans thrash it out on the Cam. Flecks of moonlight drew staircases on the manicured College pelouse. Reggie was a sort of halfway house – a scholar of Catullus whose skills in Latin had earnt him the occasional High Table dining rights. Tonight was one of those such occasions and a special one at that for in exchange for an oath or two he was to be semi-received into the Fellowship. A sort of matriculation for grown-ups. Reggie had only been in situ a week but was already no stranger to the Fellowship. By patrolling the SCR in his crimson peignoir and an elderly pair of regimental boxing shorts appropriated from his long since dead uncle, Reggie’s habillements afforded the Fellowship a source of endless delight. After a while though, the role of eccentric exhibitionist would begin to pall and he would repair to his rooms for some lightly buttered toast. Empty Port bottles were always in evidence.

It was almost time for dinner. Reggie passed smiling Derek, the factotum, who was fixing the dumb-waiter in the pantry and made for the Champagne reception. Dinner was an outrageous affair: alligator smoked andouille sausages followed by medallions of wild boar with celeriac in abundance followed by ‘sex in a pan’. Side-stepping a question from a Fellow about the pudding semantics, Reggie held forth instead on the social history of baklava in the Ottoman Empire.

At Combination, Reggie was sat next to the Bishop of Norwich – a renowned snuff and Port hogger. The conversation was about disused railway stations in Suffolk, but Reggie’s eyes were fixated on the Graham’s ‘63 parked just out of his reach. A textbook growing season, he thought to himself. No matter how much he stared at the vintage just out of his grasp, the Bish just wouldn’t be a good chap and rotate to the left. Bealings, Lowestoft North, Saxham and Risby…Reggie’s eyes glazed over and he started to imagine his fellow-combiner as a parson without divinity living in a semi: vol-au-vents, paper doilies and wicker chairs everywhere.

After a pious pause and still replete with the pleasant warmth of Cognac in his tum-tum, Reggie turned to the corpulent Fellow sat on the other side to him and in raised voice said: ‘I say, dear chap, any thoughts on the Graham’s ’63?’ and then pointed deliberately and with arm fully extended to the lady in question. It worked! The decanter slid across the medieval surface. ‘Good God’, trumpeted Reggie. The Bishop frowned at such an ejaculation, but subsequently managed to share a brief smile with Reggie. They agreed to dispense with the vocatives. And thus, no more ‘dear Bish’.

‘Are you ready for the College oath, Reg?’ offered the Bish. ‘I hope you have had time to reflect on your white privilege’, he continued confidently as if he were propagating the idea. ‘White privilege!’ The Church of England used to be the font of morality, Reggie thought to himself but now it is full of purveyors of the woke ideal. The conversation languished. Outside, the sky reigned over darkened Colleges. The students were so polite they were almost invisible. Reggie had long ceased to be surprised by what absurdities life had to offer and thus seemed old to some.

Matriculation had indeed taken a new twist: the white privilege oath. The medallions of wild boar started to disagree with his innards and Reggie wondered if he was destined for a sticky end before things had even got started. The Fellows marched solemnly into the chapel. Reggie was up first. Deep breath for he was to perform with verve and abandon.

‘I, Reginald Mortimer Egbert Cholmondeley-Cuddington-Bamford Esq. of Cobley Hall,

Educated at Eton and the House,

Hereby declare that I am little more than an invisible package of unearned assets and the plethora of opportunities that have been made available to me are based purely on the principle of me being white’.

Thumbs up to the Bish and instead of taking his place on the pews amongst the other Fellows, Reggie sidled out of the chapel in pursuit of the remains of the Pouilly-Fumé ’72 and who should he find mine-sweeping the booze in the abandoned Combination Room? Cheeky Don!

Looking a little flustered, Don said: ‘Oh, sorry, luv. I thought you dons had gone for the day’.

Grinning at the spectacle of a fellow-traveller, Reggie took Don’s glass and filled it to the meniscus with that superb, antique vintage. ‘Now, that is what we call the Magdalene meniscus’, he roared. Now down it, and let’s go and play croquet’. Don couldn’t believe his luck.

Pouilly-Fumé ’72 under arm, the boys headed for the croquet lawn passing the chapel. Inside, all sombre and forlorn as the Fellows made their confessions one-by-one and pondered their post-colonial guilt.