Battling London night buses last weekend, I ended up at close encounters with one of those most delightful of creatures – a toff. Youthful, privileged face, coiff, dinner suit, tort elocution, and moderately charming insobriety – the full package!
Yet, while it was he who stood out, his female accomplice proved to be the problem.
Completely oblivious to anything around her, she trampled on my foot and ankle for several minutes, clocked me in the face with her bag, and could be overheard expressing her disbelief that her partner’s parents didn’t like her. I can’t imagine why…
I’ve already lost a point for judgemental language – I realise that. The issue, as loosely and trivially as I’m representing it here, is that it’s reached that post-exam time of year when student drinking culture comes under the spotlight. And inevitably, the problem as it’s described is entirely male-shaped and boxed into an all-encompassing evil described as “lad culture”.
Trust me, I believe it. I’ve lived uncomfortably alongside it during my second year as an undergraduate in Bristol. It’s caused a horrible scandal at LSE this year. There are many brands of masculinity that intimidate me and from which I feel very distant.
Equally, I’m always wary of denying women any culpability at all. If last year’s eye-opening documentary at the University of Leicester proved anything, it’s that girls can be just as predatory as the boys. I’d worry that reports like this apportion blame a little too schematically.
I don’t think I’ve ever been a “lad” in the sense of predatory and loutish behaviour. I still feel that there’s a brand of respect I hold for people that I could never fall below. There’s a brand of confidence or arrogance behind this kind of behaviour that I will never reach.
But it does make me think – worry, even – about my own sense of humour and how offensive it is. Even at 31, I’ve never lost my sensitivity and awareness to things I do wrong.
Profound and Profane
If one is asked to describe oneself in a few words, I think I’m a mixture of the profound and the profane.
During the PhD years, I was able to appreciate through my subject, Andrew Marvell, how exposure to any one extreme often drove him into the hands of its opposite.
Also, for probably the first time in my life, I became immersed in a manly crowd. They made me more of a drinker than I ever imagined I would be. ‘Man up’ became a familiar call, and I felt obliged to heed it. Our humour was undoubtedly ‘laddish’, albeit scattered with moments of great insight. I’ve competed with the peerless Rory Waterman on many occasions to see who could be crowned the coarsest.
As a group, we always had the same humour whether or not the ladies were around. And yes, there’s been the occasional rolling of eyes, the odd mock-despairing lament. But I don’t think we offended anyone. We’d often play Cards Against Humanity, a game that requires you to debauch yourself for the sake of humour, and we’d all enjoy it.
But for all of that, I regret that I’ve never thought to ask any who laughed along what they really thought. Perhaps I rely too much upon the hope that you see a harmless person and judge my sense of humour to be just a foible rather than anything more serious.
There is great value in spectrums of any kind. I don’t want to be immune from that. I look at the aforementioned poet (Waterman), one of the most brilliant minds I know, and aspire to that level of brilliance.
There’s a brand of ‘laddishness’ that is simply a bit of fun, and it’s hoped that the type of people we are make what we say a parody of the very behaviour it represents.
Am I contextualising here, or making excuses? I’ve spent a lot of time in recent years feeling introspective, maudlin, and moribund. I need my humour, as crude and abysmal as it often is, to escape from the brands of seriousness that don’t always serve me well.
But I never mean any offence by it. I hope you agree, or at least understand where I’m coming from.