Gone are the days when my drink of choice was “whatever’s cheapest in Iceland”
The other day I was thinking about class (shocking I know, for a Cambridge student).
Class has been lingering on the collective Cantab palate for a while now (see: ‘Emma Watson’s feminist book club‘ and ‘Cambridge has a huge class problem‘) and I’ve been bottling this up for a while, but I feel like I’ve finally aged these opinions to perfection. Being a proud product of the state school system, I do sometimes feel a bit of a fish out of water in some situations here, especially when I’m drinking like one. I know this isn’t a unique feeling, so I asked around other similarly educated individuals to gather some examples of this feeling of dissonance. And one thing that I found overwhelmingly common in instances of culture-shock was wine. Ah, wine. In vino veritas (wine and Latin, my god, we are going up in the world).
Wine is the source of all Cambridge class issues. Or, if not the source, then perhaps the aggravator. It acts as a microcosm for wider issues, throwing into sharp relief literally all the class divisions that we try and keep battened down, and striping us to our cores. Wine in itself is a bit of a Cambridge metaphor: thousands of individuals brought together into darkened basements, and crushed, strained, and filtered until they mature into something you wouldn’t mind bringing to a fancy dinner party.
The most visible example of the class/wine divide is found at formal, where wine is practically mandatory. Many a moment I’ve been stood in Sainsbury’s at 7 o’clock desperately trying to figure out if there was any other way of choosing wine that wasn’t “literally the cheapest thing available”. Red or white? Is rosé acceptable? I don’t know. Sweet or whatever the other kind is? What’s the difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay? This one looks nice, it says it’s fruity, I like fruit, wine’s made of fruit, this seems to be an adequately harmless descriptor. Oh wait, didn’t someone say the other day that “fruity” is a sign of bad wine? Oh my god. Buying wine puts me under more pressure than the grapes that sacrificed themselves to make it. By the time I leave Sainsbury’s, I could be mistaken for a fucking vintage merlot. I never expected to care about wine and whether or not you could have red with fish (apparently no?).
The other day I realised that I’d been to formal three times in last week and I really began to question when regularly attending 3-course silver-service dinners was becoming something that I accepted as just a part of my life. It’s Bordeaux-ing on ridiculous. A friend of mine from Blackburn took his parents to formal the other day, and while they extolled it as wonderful while he was biting down thoughts on the sub-par cheese course. I too concede to no longer feeling all fancy-schmancy when wearing a gown, despite the fact that it still makes me look like a ‘Harry Potter’ extra. I drank desert wine the other day WHAT HAVE I BECOME.
And the other day when I’d hosted post-formal drinks the night before, I was sifting through the inevitable mounds of gowns which, having been abandoned by their owners during the revels, had come home to roost in my room and I was able to distinguish between a Kings and a Christ’s gown through the minutiae of the lapel stitching. Five months ago I could have barely listed any non-geographical difference between the two colleges.
One great thing about Cambridge is however, the equalising effect that this whole farce has. You know, one of us went to state school, and the other an 800-year old private all-boys’ school, and yet we’ve both had a bottle of red and here we are eating pudding with only our face. Mutual humiliation does wonders for bonding people together, as any Fresher’s rep worth their free t-shirts will tell you.
While some people quite clearly know a lot more about wine than others (or, at least, pretend to), at the end of the day, we’re all students, all a bit broke, and all a bit clueless. Nobody cares that much, and as much as it is harder for me to decide which wine to buy, I think that the toffs are just better at faking knowing what’s going on.
To be honest, Cambridge makes us all posher. We are all rounded down and eroded out, being more of a homogenised mass, resembling the hummus that I’ve eaten more times in the last week and a half than in my entire life pre-Cambridge. The only people who are left, to a certain extent, unaffected by this are the northerners, who at least retain their accent, something which I am rapidly failing to do as my “telephone voice” becomes more my accustomed register.
At the end of the day, we just need to stop thinking that we’re all so grape, mull it over, fortify ourselves and just un-wined. There are no apologies for the corking puns.