William Poole on encouraging students to stay closer to home
I have concluded a year without booze which is no fun for an academic and I wish it on my worst enemies. It’s not very difficult, just tedious, and a bit too much like enforced piety, thereby resembling most academic research.
A year away from the stuff in college has at least focused my mind on several things — how hard it is get through certain academic occasions, how I have heard most conversations before, and how the sober can tire of especially their own company. And how shocking the price of soft drinks is in most of this town’s pubs.
I’ve just spent a few weeks as usual, too, on the college’s reading party in the Alps, a notably eccentric event in our wooden, electricity-free chalet high up a mountain opposite Mont Blanc.
The students, who — honest — study in the day, nevertheless prove themselves not unboozeless in the evenings, and cheap booze at high altitudes can work wonders. I was particularly taken this year by the students’ ritual removal of the silvery bag of liquid that lurks inside boxed wine, which was then placed on the floor like an extracted organ, and stroked as if some alien pet. Chalet poetry was written in praise of these lungs of ‘space wine’. (I begin to see why one of the other colleges which share this chalet with us apparently, if unjustly, refers to my parties up there as ‘Liberty Hall’.) Perhaps students drink too much. But what saddens and irritates me is that they pay too much for it too, and then complain to me that they can’t afford to buy their own copies of the books they study.
Drink used to be something that held college communities together by virtue of being sold very cheaply in colleges, in order to encourage students to gather en famille in their own bar, water the plants of their new friendships there, and drain their money into what was in effect their own business.
College bars used to make a lot of money, which was then reinvested by the students in the students.
Some years ago the colleges made up some nonsense about having to charge more ‘realistic’ prices, and many removed their bars from student control.
This was a disaster, as it has driven many students out of their neo-puritan colleges and into the cavalier fleshpots of the town.
In the earlier seventeenth century, the President of Trinity College was a man called Ralph Kettell, a six-foot-something giant who dragged one foot and affectionately twitted his students with names like ‘scobberlotchers’ and ‘blindcinques’.
He also insisted that his college brew the best beer in the university, specifically in order to keep his students close to their home. It’s an excellent idea.
We should get rid of management as a subject in the university because it isn’t one, and instead encourage the students to set up their own companies, specifically as microbrewers.
What a fine thing it would be to have your own college-brand beer and cider! What with all those chemists hanging about in the university, we could make some seriously supercharged stuff.