Rushdie was not happy at Rugby. He was too foreign, too clever and not good at games. Mitchell, a "stern disciplinarian" who used his powers to beat younger boys, was none of these things: very English, not-too-clever, and probably good at games, although I have no interest in researching him further in order to establish whether he was captain of the XV and the XI as well as Commodore of Sailing.
What I do know, from hearing his admission that he swore and that he used the f-word “adjectivally”, is that he splits infinitives and doesn’t know the difference between an adjective and an adverb. And I suspect I know why merely being asked to use a different gate provoked such anger. At my school, not so distant from Rugby geographically and culturally, the shortest routes between houses and to chapel were the exclusive preserve of prefects. I received my first beating because, in my 13 year old naivety, I had presumed to go directly to chapel rather than take the circuitous and significantly longer road which was the lot of us underlings. I had dared to trespass on privilege.
But enough already. The real issue with Mitchell is that he called the policeman a ‘pleb’, and thereby betrayed his attitude towards what Rugby schoolboys would have called ‘oiks’, the townspeople, or ‘tanners’, the day boy scholars. In other words, those who were beneath them on the social ladder inside and outside the school. It is an attitude which is prevalent in this government, which has a plethora of millionaires and a majority of public schoolboys, a majority of which are old Etonians (who of course regard Rugby as plebs).
So much for the classless society of which ‘Dave’ Cameron has claimed to be an advocate.
There are parallels in the much-vaunted classless society on the other side of the Atlantic. The egregious Mitt Romney appears to say almost anything that comes to mind when on public platforms, but only when cloistered with his chums does he say what he really thinks.
And we now know that what he really thinks is that 47% of Americans are not worth bothering about. This is because they are "dependent upon government," "believe that they are victims" and "will vote for the president no matter what" .
He told his rich Republican backers that “my job is not to worry about those guys”.
This is the kind of language we have heard from Osborne over here, although Ant Cameron and Dec Clegg are more circumspect in their pronouncements. It is an overt statement of intent, the logical conclusion of the kind of attitude shown by Mitchell after a good lunch.
Romney, of course, is famous for his ‘gaffes’. But these are not – and should not be taken as – an indication of lack of intellect. They are the result of his struggles not to say what he means, because to do so would lose him the election. Cameron, Clegg and Mitchell have the same problem: outside their inner circles and dinner parties in Chipping Norton, they cannot say what they really believe.
Which is, that they have the right to govern and, more, to enjoy the Bullingdonesque privileges of their rank.
My 13 year old self instinctively rebelled against this. Exactly fifty years later, my 63 year old manifestation finds it totally abhorrent. In half a century, we can still not cross the great class divide.
Today’s listening: Time out of Mind and Love and Theft as I attempt to put Tempest into the context of Bob’s late flowering.