Controversial Nick is a difficult act to follow

William Pimlott

William Pimlott

First published in Quad Talk

William Pimlott ponders over which direction to next take this column

In the middle of the busy August news month a momentous change took place behind the scenes at The Oxford Times media empire: Nick Hilton graduated and left his Quad Talk column. He has passed it on to me, and as a French and German student currently at the end of his year abroad in Vilnius, studying Yiddish, Oxford seems very far away. Thus before cracking into a first column about life at the university, it seems only fair to offer a homage to Nick in the form of a recap of his controversial year at the helm of “the only Quad Talk column to get comments”.

Nick, an Oxford student, eschewed any representative role. He was not soft on his fellow students. His famous tirade against the ritual of trashing was typical. Beginning with “Trashing is an Oxford tradition, in the same mould as generally being the sort of entitled yob that would make the blood of an ordinary citizen boil,” the article reached a climax with an invented monologue: “‘Congratulations on completing your immensely privileged education and graduating to your inflated expectations of the real world which would make most rational people weep!’”

Nick attacked with vigorous self-loathing the privileged Ivory Tower-inhabiting elitists of Oxford, from his own cubbyhole in the very same Ivory Tower. But students were really the smallest of Nick’s targets. It was the dons, and the deans, who got the worst lashings of his Quad Talk tongue. The article entitled: “Learn Afrikaans? What are the dons thinking?” was typical. Inspired by a comment from a tutor encouraging him to learn Afrikaans, Nick’s frustration came to the fore in a withering attack on the academic profession: “At A-levels, teachers are assessed on their students’ results, which gives them a semi-cynical investment in their perform-ance. But, frankly, if you’ve already made it to professor and have a chaise longue in your office, what are you really working towards? A longer Wikipedia entry? A Blackwell’s book signing? Two chaises longue? And that’s why I’m feeling so misunderstood.” Teenage angst mingled with a feeling of oppression. The article finished with the sardonic line: “Jammer, I’m too busy learning Afrikaans to get a 2:1.” He later added salt to the wound when he compared deans to traffic wardens.

Attacking a comment that undergraduates were at the bottom of the food chain, Nick responded with a fierce rebuttal piece titled “Why we undergraduates are Oxford’s true elite”. Unfortunately, Nick’s piece was misconstrued as a comment on the rest of Oxford, and the online reaction was stark.

Where can the student segment of Quad Talk go after Nick? It could become a more political column dedicated to opposing the highly unpopular idea of higher fees for Oxbridge, or a column more orientated about day-to-day experiences. Or it could stay roughly the same, looking to describe Oxford in one way or another.

And what better example to follow than Nick on the dreaming spires after a quiz victory in Coventry: “It’s a city without an overpass. It’s a city with genuine cobbles. It’s a city that looks beautiful, even when flooded. It’s a city where the libraries look like museums and where the museums look like palaces. And, most importantly, it’s a city where even the most mediocre quiz team can win a national competition.”

William Pimlott is a fourth year Modern Languages student at Wadham (studying French and German — but currently doing a module of Yiddish).

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