Hannah McGill: Ugly response to Joey Barton’s gag

Most graduates master a great deal more than how to hold their drink. Photograph: Alamy

Most graduates master a great deal more than how to hold their drink. Photograph: Alamy

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IS IT ever OK to refer to someone as ugly? Dismay at a remark made by Joey Barton on Question Time on BBC TV on Thursday suggests not. One critic solemnly aligned Barton’s not-very-funny lad-gag (he equated voting for Ukip with selecting the best out of a group of “really ugly girls”) with stoning, gang rape and mass murder.

Really? Calling someone ugly might not be the sweetest impulse in the world, but it’s hardly a crime. And even if it was, would it be fairly classified as one committed solely by men against women? To stay with Barton’s original subject area, one rarely sees informal comment about our main party leaders that doesn’t disparage their appearances. Was there a rush of defence for Ed Miliband when he was widely mocked for how he looked eating a bacon sandwich? Assessing attractiveness is something that we do, gender and sexuality notwithstanding (anyone who doubts that women have exacting standards on men’s looks may consult any woman’s magazine). To pretend otherwise creates a disturbing and duplicitous gap between the way we think and speak in private, and what we are allowed to say in public. As for aligning a man with rapists and murderers because he made (and apologised for) a slightly ungentlemanly remark – isn’t that kind of ugly?

Life skills

GRADUATION can be a sobering time, not just for the students who have spent years cramming knowledge into their brains in pursuit of an uncertain outcome, but for the parents with a financial and emotional stake in that outcome. Farewell, self-referential bubble of undergraduate life; hello, brutal job market that doesn’t really care if you’ve read Beowulf in the original Old English or can recite pi to a thousand digits.

Take heart, though: university isn’t just about book-learning. A survey last week revealed the life skills that students feel they have acquired beyond the lecture hall, and it shows us a future workforce fully prepared for adulthood austerity – if somewhat optimistic regarding the fun quotient of post-student life. The ability to stay up all night drinking and conceal the after-effects figures large, as does frugality, and the ability to live without ironing.

There is, however, the odd practical achievement to be counted: these prodigies can, it seems, boil eggs, bake potatoes and assemble flat-pack furniture. What’s more, they have mastered the art of fancy dress.

Publication of the survey has elicited a predictable onslaught of anti-student bile. Of course, the wastrel stereotype is not entirely without foundation; away from home for the first time, we test boundaries, some of which are related to sleep deprivation and/or consumption of alcohol.

I certainly don’t recall much concern in my own student days with either egg preparation or DIY. Still, the automatic slating of students as useless boozehounds is to be regarded with suspicion. Often, the same people who rail against young people working dead-end jobs or claiming benefits reserve just as much contempt for those who undertake degrees in the hope of avoiding such eventualities; thus, every choice is scorned, and young people simply can’t win. The idea that irresponsibly indulging one’s vices is a student phenomenon, meanwhile, is dispelled by the slightest experience of the wider world – as I recall, the great shock of being let out among actual grown-ups isn’t so much that their lives are radically different, as that THEY’RE JUST THE SAME, but with fewer tutorials.

One of the reasons that reminiscences about student life are dominated by tales of How Wrecked We Got is that inebriation and associated indignities are near-universal experiences, whereas the specialist learning is of limited interest to many of the people with whom one might be conversing.

Most importantly, however – and this is something I learned at university – always check your sources. It’s worth noting that this poll comes from the high-level boffins at Lucozade Energy, a company which might just have a little vested interest in promoting as essential student skills “pulling all-nighters” and “getting by on little to no sleep”.

Counting on the future

THE Office of National Statistics has reported that 3 million people in the UK now live in groups of five or more. Remember that whole 1990s thing about how friends were the new family, and we were all going to live in happy platonic gangs like Monica and Chandler and the rest, having coffee and private jokes and never growing up? Well, it’s not that. It’s more like never leaving home because you can’t afford a house, and then having kids, and your kids never leaving home, and everyone living forever. We face a future of generation piled on generation in increasingly limited space. Lucky all those students have learned furniture assembly, because bunk beds may figure large in their interior design considerations. «

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