To be printed 24/06/10.
I'm aware that being proud of my university, the one I'm not even a student at anymore, is redundant in exactly the way I hate football fans moping about like cold sick because "they" lost. You didn't lose, eleven men you've never met in a stadium a million miles away lost, and as they get chauffeured home to sleep on their crispy bed of money wearing their diamond shoes, they're probably less gutted than you are.
Meanwhile, any pride I might take in UCL's achievements feels fraudulent. It's bootlegging emotion. For the very reasonable sum of £9000, I paid for the privilege of being smug every time someone in the physics department does something exciting with an atom. It's like the country's most expensive private members' club, but instead of a monogrammed towelling robe and personal maid to warm up my toilet seat, I have four carrier bags full of textbooks I never read, and the opportunity to say "yar, I went there…" whenever it gets mentioned on the news. To the kettle, if nobody else is in the room.
Of course, pride isn't always the issue. When that terrorist tried to blow up that plane on Christmas Day, every single news story found it crucial to mention that he went to UCL. "They've caught a terrorist on a plane to Boston," announced Mum over the turkey. "He went to your uni." YOUR uni. As though I might have cut in front of him in the union once and unleashed a snowballing torrent of rage against the Western world. I think the expected reaction was for me to clutch at my hair and shriek "Not Farouk? He told me he wanted those chemicals for an exfoliating treatment, dagnammit!"
There was a brief turn up for the books when the Margaret Mountford left The Apprentice to do a PhD in Papyrology at UCL (proving we are a big enough lure to leave Alan Sugar’s jabby right hand for a life buried in bits of dusty paper), then we hit the headlines again last month on the rather less honourable merit of FitFinder, the social flirting network devised by final year computer science student Rich Martell. After creating the site, which allows students to post public messages about hotties they've spied around campus in the hope of initiating an amorous liaison, and which quickly expanded to 52 universities across the country with over four million hits in its first month, Martell was fined £300 for "bringing the university into disrepute."
Whether he should have been charged that much for what is essentially an electronic version of scribbling “The one with the visible bra straps, eight o’clock, I WOULD” on the back of a beermat, I don’t know. What I do know is this: demeaning or otherwise, UCL students probably do need a FitFinder. Our list of noble alumni reads: Ghandi; Coldplay; Ricky Gervais. What we needed wasn’t so much a forum for the casual recognition of attractiveness as a personal cupid with a huge flashing arrow, screaming “There! That one! With the rucksack! If you washed his hair and changed his trousers, he could definitely be a passable seven!”
But the site itself, I see would very likely ruin your life. Not so much through the “indecent and inappropriate comments” cited as reason for the numerous complaints, but more, I imagine, because nobody could get a degree done while checking at hourly intervals day and night to see if they’d been scoped. Every essay would take a backseat to constantly refreshing the page, winsomely hoping for the post that read, “Blonde girl with the ladder in her tights by the photocopier, I think you are dreamy. Want to go eat houmous together in a meadow?*” Then everyone would fail everything and UCL would slide rapidly down the league tables in a flurry of on-campus romping and exotic STIs. And what would I have to be fraudulently proud of then, eh?
No, my university will remain a place where people go to do things with atoms, look at dusty paper and possibly meet future terrorists. And that is the way I will fondly remember it to my children.
*This is not a euphemism.