Sexual excess, vomiting games and smashing up restaurants were common when I was at Oxford University. And some of those responsible are now running the country
It’s hard to describe how embarrassing it was at times to be a student at Oxford University in the early nineties.
There you’d be drinking snakebite in the park, when a bunch of toffs in white tails would charge by, fleeing the scene of some dining society crime where they had smashed up a restaurant and urinated out of the windows.
Tales of sexual excess, including animals, general homo-erotic public school ‘larks’, and vomiting games played at these dinners were commonplace.
The ‘Piers Gav’ – where David Cameron is alleged to have taken part in a debauched escapade with a pig – was known for colossal drug taking and orgies on the country estates of students whose parents owned vast mansions.
It wasn’t Brideshead Revisted, it was more like Bridesmaids, the gross-out film, without the feminism.
So what? What did it matter if a bunch of hoorays wanted to snort cocaine off each other’s bottoms, down port from a football boot and pay someone to roll them down the hill in a portaloo?
When I was President of the Student Union of Wadham, one of Oxford’s 38 colleges and six private halls, we banned dining societies.
We knew it was pointless, because they happened in secret and would only enjoy the feeling of being purged by lefties in donkey jackets, but we did it anyway.
One of the reasons was that at the time, many of us were heavily involved in trying to change the university.
Piggy in the middle: David Cameron is at the centre of claims about a debauched Oxford drinking societyAt Wadham, we fought to get rid of wearing ridiculous gowns to do normal things like eat food and go to tutorials.
We won representation on the Governing Body of the college so that they had to change the statutes. We balloted for a rent strike against extortionate rises in rents.
We organised £5 balls that everyone could attend – rather than the university balls that could cost hundreds – with bands like the Verve, and dance trio Sub Sub (now Doves).
We set up an annual LGBT festival that still runs to this day. We tried to take back some of the vast sums of money from the boat club to use on student welfare.
And we got involved in ideas like Target Schools and the Access Scheme, encouraging more state school and black and Asian kids to apply to Oxford and supporting them at interview.
Oxford University isn’t just for toffs, we told them – it’s for you. It’s not a private university, it shouldn’t be owned by public schools.
But even while we were traipsing the country persuading sixth-formers, the ‘dining societies’ were a visual and rowdy signal of the old entrenched Oxford elitism.
You would be showing round a nervous sixth-former from Moss Side when a bunch of tossers would come vomiting round the corner in white tie singing a song about Gollywogs.
David Cameron and Boris Johnson had already left Oxford when I arrived there in 1990, but Gideon (now George) Osborne and the billionaire Nat Rothschild, were both in my year. Osborne’s got his own Bullingdon photo to prove it, hands on hips, slight sneer to the smile.
And because of people like them, even though I was the first person in our immediate family and only the second in our wider family to go to university and I should have felt proud of being at Oxford, I often felt ashamed.
In my university holidays, I either worked doing holiday cover on the features desk at the Oxford Mail or sometimes did ‘scouting’ – working with the staff (generally middle-aged mums and not small boys) employed to clean student rooms.
At the paper, I found myself constantly explaining that I didn’t spend term-time desecrating gravestones in a ball gown.
While scouting, I listened to the tales of smashed up rooms, vomit-strewn carpets, turds in bathtubs, and other ‘hilarious’ japes involving other bodily fluids.
Someone had to clean all this up, and it was these women, long before the minimum wage.
Sometimes the ‘bullers’ would leave them some ‘coinage’ for their troubles.
Most of the scouts found this extremely offensive, preferring they just simply hadn’t used their sink as a toilet.
The only purpose of dining societies – apart from sex and drunkenness – was to foster elitism.
You couldn’t ask to join – you had to be “chosen”. You could only be chosen if you were male and had gone to one of the ‘top five’ (or whatever they decided) public schools.
They spoke in a weird language – talking about barking heads (mad people), subfusc (gowns), debagging (removing someone’s trousers), and “tactical groms” (vomiting champagne cocktails so you could keep on going).
Another favourite was ‘Aegrotat’, taken from the Latin for “he was ill” – a declaration by the University that a student deserved to have passed a failed examination.
This was usually on account of illness, but seemed also to apply if one’s parents happened to have donated a new wing to a library for example.
I particularly remember the Viceroy Club, where members are called the names of former British colonies.
Once in, it seemed you were in some kind of parody of old Empire, under pressure to grope undergraduates’ breasts.
That was in the early nineties, but all the signs are it’s no different now. Last year Tatler counted 46 elite dining societies still in existence.
The same piece noted that the “Oxford University Conservative Association has been mired in scandal, after one female member was told to ‘shush’ because ‘you’re a woman’ during a meeting, which was followed by chants of ‘kitchen, kitchen, kitchen, get back to the kitchen’ and ‘go back to washing the dishes’.”
That was in 2014 – and those people will be the future leaders – mark my words – of the Tory party.
The thing was even back in 1992, these people fully expected to run the country.
We were idealists and meritocrats and we thought they were wrong. Their time was over.
How wrong we were.
Elite dining societies – grown up ones like The Leaders – now fund the Conservative Party.
And their greatest stalwarts – Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Gideon Osborne run the country just as they expected to.
The saddest thing about #piggate is not the vile disrespect shown to a deceased animal.
It’s the dead pig of our democracy.
Credit : Ros Wynne-Jones/Daily Mirror