Friday, 26 July 2019

Privilege Part 3

In Lindsay Anderson's classic film If... of 1968 there is a scene in which a wide eyed new boy called Jute undergoes a test in which he is quizzed on school slang by boys in the year above. When he fluffs his answers he is shouted at because the boy responsible for teaching him gets the punishment if he flunks the real exam. This scene is based on a tradition that was still ongoing when I arrived at Eton called the Colours Test. It was the school's way of ensuring that newcomers became au fait in its bizarre lexicon as soon as possible.

Terms are halves, lessons are Divs, teachers are Beaks and so on with probably as many as 200 different words being unique to Eton. All institutions accumulate their own slang, abbreviations and acronyms but Eton went out of its way to codify an entirely different language as if it was admitting its pupils into a masonic brotherhood.

Some of this slang would have been recognisable to fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers and to generations immemorial. Some of it immediately marking out an OE from a particular time. When I arrived at the school in 1993 I was introduced to an insult that I had never heard before nor have heard since: goggy.

The simplest and most identifiable definition of this word would be geek, as in computer goggy. However at Eton this word had a wider application. It was possible to be almost any kind of goggy, with one conspicuous exception, you could not be a sports goggy. Eton being what it is meant that there was something of a social dimension to the insult, a sneering aspect.

To be goggy meant being too interested in something, too keen, too earnest, too removed from the calculated aloofness most cherished by the boys at the school. At the time it seemed the most natural thing in the world to scorn those unable or unwilling to participate in effortless superiority. Now I blush to recall that.

Since then I have, of course, realised that graft, determination and focus are what really separates proper people from the idlers and pretenders. Privilege is what disrupts the advancement of proper people and instead propels the charlatan and the fraud.

And so, inevitably, to the Prime Minister who even in late middle age appears never to have relinquished his contempt for the little people who strive in the detail to build and create. Nothing could be more goggy than the European Union and yet here is a fully fledged edifice the result of the industry and vision of thousands of toilers.

A hallmark of adulthood is seeing beyond the surface; in Boris Johnson's case we have a man of hidden shallows.

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