Posted on May 5, 2008 - by MG
Boris as I remember him at Oxford. A million pounds says he doesn’t remember me.
So Boris is finally Mayor of London, eh? Surely a preface to David Cameron taking over as Prime Minister in the next couple of years. Which means that finally, my contemporaries at Oxford will have taken over the country.
I worry about this slightly because I am pretty sure I wouldn’t be much good at running the country; not nearly old enough or wise enough and I know that I’m probably as smart as some of those guys, although possibly not Boris, who really is very clever indeed.
So this is the time to tell my one and only Boris Johnson story. It isn’t very good, I’m warning you. But it’s the only one I’ve got.
Boris was in the year above me at Oxford. Our paths didn’t cross because he was in the Rich Beautiful Ambitious Talented People Who Went To The Right Schools And Will One Day Run The Country set and I was in the Bright Grammar School Kids Who Will End Up Running Universities And Businesses set.
Anyway. My then-boyfriend-now-husband was another grammar school oik like me, and a chemistry student to boot. (The only way to be lower in the social ranking at Oxford would have been to have to study hard to get by, since apparently effortless academic excellence is the only way to distinguish the kind of kids who get top grades at A level anyway.) Boyfriend was a member of the Oxford Union, not a students union but the famous debating society that was the University training ground of many of Britain’s top politicians.
Boyfriend and I very, very occasionally played chess together in the bar at the Union. Once we were playing after a debate. Boris, then the Secretary of the Union – this was the year before he became President of the Oxford Union, and another Union officer came into the bar from the debating room, still resplendent in white tie. They took their drinks and proceeded to watch Boyfriend and I play chess.
Now at this point you need to realise that neither of us can actually play chess. I mean we obviously know the mechanics of the moves, but that’s it. So we are playing. Boris and his prematurely aged fellow Union officer (who was about 22 but seemed around 32) watch with growing interest, starting to comment quietly to each other about our tactics.
We grow tense, aware of their scrutiny. Their interest grows all the more. We study the board furiously. I’m vaguely aware that you have to try to plan some moves ahead. I start to think one or two moves ahead, then three, then four, and my head hurts. Boyfriend keeps his cool a bit longer than me. I crack under the pressure and make a move, any move. Boyfriend does the same. Boris and pal seem surprised, then disappointed. Boris wanders off. Boris’s aged young friend comes over to us and comments that the game had looked extremely exciting, we were both in such very strong positions, we looked like two very strong players…and his voice tails off. We smile enigmatically, saying nothing. What remains politely unsaid is the final part of Young Fogey’s assessment…”but actually you’re both a bit rubbish, aren’t you?”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cross about this and never was. On the contrary, I was proud to have impressed the already-famous-in-Oxford Boris Johnson even for a few minutes. Even if he was disillusioned. I actually felt sorry to let him down. He had already provided me with hours of entertainment with his amazing oratory and humour at the dispatch box of the Oxford Union. I didn’t always agree with him or even understand what he was saying, being a Scientist Of Very Narrow Focus.
But it was always clear to me that he was brilliant; possibly the most brilliant student I ever came across at Oxford.
Which is saying something because Oxford prides itself on having some smart cookies. Even so the supersmart and brilliant ones stood out a mile.
But can they actually run a country? I guess we’re going to find out…