Overheard in Oxford

The strangest pornographic conclave I ever eavesdropped was in the cake queue at a friend’s wedding reception on his old Oxford college campus.

Radiant with the lechery of professional ambition, a posy of bluestockings were getting off on the decrepitude of various inner city state schools they had targeted for their careers. Tales of disastrous Ofsted reports, criminal pupils and teenage pregnancies were swapped in the tones that bra sizes are ruminated in men’s locker rooms. One had an entire class eligible for free government meals. Another gave extra tuition to a particularly challenged boy who expressed admiration for Nigel Farage. Every tale climaxed, in undisguised frisson, with reference to ‘special measures’ (an administrative designation imposed by education boards). We shuffled a few paces towards the tulip tea cups and Champagne flutes.

The Greek debt crisis of 2015 catered a similar triumphalism to the restaurants of Strasbourg’s Quartier Européen. Inspired, perhaps, by de Sade’s Justine, I remember hearing eurocrats ponder how they might (or not), protect the modesty of poor little Hellas.

As with any such convocation, a winner gradually emerges. One of these girls was tipped to become Britain’s youngest ever ‘Super Head’; an official label whose licence, kudos and celebrity was assumed to speak for itself. From there, I gathered, it is an easy route to the high echelons of the Ministry of Education, visiting professorships, after-dinner circuits and – who knows – a slot on TEDx or Strictly Come Dancing.

Thus sweeping the laurels of their academic credentialism, they reached the canapés and cake.

‘Thanks! Yeah – a bit of raspberry icing with that. Thanks evers’much!’