8 October 2020
It isn’t Fair !
And the Secret of Happiness
by Philip Throp
Reading Frankonomics’ article on sportsmanlike gestures this week made me reflect on a couple of things throwing light on his subject which had come to my attention just in the previous couple of days.
Firstly a kind of antithesis to his examples of Metrida’s triathlon and Nicklaus/Jacklin. The 1912 Olympics were held in Stockholm, and for the rowing eights competition GB was allowed to send two teams. This being the age of amateur sport elites, GB’s best two crews were those of Oxford colleges, New College and Magdalen. The two boats made it through to contest the Olympic final. . This was the age of British gentlemanliness and sportsmanship, and rowing, like cricket, was at the forefront of it, coxswains treating each other with enormous formal respect. Bizarrely, the two sides of the race course at the Stockholm Olympics were quite unequal, with the less-favoured one requiring the cox to steer round a protruding boathouse, and back under a bridge.
For choosing which side of the river to row, New College won the toss, but as is the time-honoured etiquette, the winning cox offered the choice to the cox who has lost the toss. “I give it to you sir, you may choose your station.” As is equally inescapably traditional, the cox who has lost the toss should now refuse and hand back the choice to the other. “Thank you sir, but it is your prerogative to choose”. Unprecedentedly, this response was not forthcoming on this occasion. The Magdalen cox thanked the jaw-gaping New cox for his offer and chose the favourable station. Needless to say, Magdalen won and took the gold medals. At which the New College cox was heard to utter the immortal words which have rung down through history: “God damn bloody Magdalen.”
Sympathising with the New College boat, the King of Sweden, present at the race, awarded his purple and gold regal colours to New College Boat Club, for all time. To this day there is an annual dinner at New College called the GodDamnBloodyMagdalen dinner. And I am reliably informed (I haven’t received any letters from New College Boat Club) their (purple and gold?) letterheads bear the inscription “GDBM”.
Second Frankonomic’s article brought to mind, from the previous night’s television, Grayson Perry’s American Road Trip. The programme was an investigation and discussion of well-meaning Democrat-voting liberal elites in America, and to what extent they themselves had unwittingly brought about the rise of Trump, and likely other already-latent future adverse consequences. A section of the programme about elitism in education and job choices referred to the universally accepted SAT exam for entry into American colleges, and the “postcode” type advantages of certain neighbourhood state schooling over others. A huge industry has evolved with private-enterprise “test-prep centres” (over 400 in New York alone) opening up outside the elite neighbourhoods and offering full-time cramming classes, paid for by parents. Perry meets a young student at one of these academies, the teenage son of a working-class immigrant Chinese family. He has crystal-clear ideas on his ambitions for the future: he wants to study Medicine at Princeton, and is working exceptionally diligently at one of these academies to achieve his aims.
Personally I think the previous parts of this thought-provoking little series, and a striking interview in the previous episode about race, where a young successful black woman eloquently and forcefully states, as a) a black person and b), additionally, as a woman, just how much better than her rivals in ALL respects she had/has to be to achieve her deserved job promotions, demonstrate how much better than his white middle-class rivals the boy is going to have to be, even with his Princeton degree, to get the top jobs to which he aspires. But one would not wish to disillusion him. His consciousness, personal drive, wisdom and quality of thinking were striking, particularlyeven in one so young. When Perry asks him “Do you ever think about how HARD you’re having to work to give yourself opportunities that many other young people in America just accept as their right and don’t even think of as a privilege?” the youngster replies sagely: “I think you have to have worked hard to obtain something, or the thing that you have obtained isn’t truly yours”.
Out of the mouths of babes.