Kathleen's dilemma


Kathleen is a smart as pins & must go to Oxbridge, so she's told. The problem is she's not sure she wants to. Still on with the Personal Statement…

“It makes me sound like a prune!” she giggles.

“It comes with the territory,” I drone. 

I’m trying to help her.

“Not sure if Oxbridge feels right for me,” she wonders. Nor am I. Manchester feels a better bet. But I must not display any of what the Gove calls “the soft bigotry of low expectation”. We must all aspire to Oxbridge. I had to. My grammar school sent me there yonks ago. It was all a bit of an Alan Bennett class-ridden nightmare.

Still, those days are probably gone.

“And it makes me sound like a nob!” she sighs.

“It just doesn’t sound like me!”

We must work on this.

So who is Kathleen? She is a working class girl from a tough estate in west London. Her father works night shifts on Tube lines. Her mother works in the post office in Goldbourne Road. Her sister, also bright as pins, left school early and is a hairdresser at the “Have it Off” Emporium in Shepherd’s Bush. Kathleen does shampoos and highlights on Saturdays. She loves it – just like she loves Lady Gaga and hip-hop and salsa and that Girls’ TV show and going to Loftus Road. It’s who she is. Can she put this on the Personal Statement? Probably not. Why? The wrong culture. She feels she must ditch the fab Ms Gaga and Lena Dunham and Harold Redknapp for Mr Plato and Jane Austen and Thucydides. Well, here’s the thing. She likes them all. She gets them all. So-called high and low cultures. She inhabits Ladbroke Grove library and reads anything. She’s just discovered Grace Paley’s stories and Zadie Smith’s NW. But she still has doubts about Oxbridge.

‘Isn’t it for those St Custards girls I see in Costas?”

“No way.”

“Pillocks! Trustafarians? Won’t it be full of them?”

“Not at all. And you mustn’t be prejudiced,” I drone.

But she still feels she’s being groomed to leave her culture, to betray her class – that the journey from King Hell Mansions to those Dreaming Towers might be a bit too far.

“Those days are gone,” I suggest. I hope I’m right. We return to that Personal Statement. We have until October 15. Do they even read it? Will she get an interview in December? Watch this space...


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