In 1992, three weeks before polls opened at the General Election, Labour Leader Neil Kinnock was riding high. Polls had placed Labour consistently ahead of John Major’s Conservative government, and Kinnock had every reason to believe that he would be Prime Minister in a month’s time.
Then, it all went wrong. Speaking at a Labour rally in Sheffield, Kinnock, apropos of nothing shouted “we’re alright” several times at the crowd, in what seemed to be a poor attempt at an American accent. It was about as embarassing as it sounds, and Kinnock later blamed this “rush of blood to the head” for his eventual electoral defeat. Historian John O’ Farrell later claimed that the moment “just summed up everything people didn’t like about Neil Kinnock.”
O’Farrell is a comedy historian, and I’ve never leant his theory that much credence. How much can damage can something so small really do to anyone’s perceptions of anything? At least, that was what I thought until very recently – when the reaction to a spate of eggings in St Andrews made me realise just how petty this town can be.
Now, to clarify, I’m not referring to the eggings themselves (spoiled adolescent troublemakers are not a uniquely St Andrean problem), nor am I criticising The Stand’s article about them. I’m referring to the near-hysteria that my fellow students have treated the news with. I’ve heard people seriously suggesting not walking near the Madras college alone, or asking why the police have yet to take action against egg-wielding assailants. The eggers in question, let me remind you, are schoolchildren. The people trembling in fear about these pubescent shell-slingers, let me remind you, are adults. Don’t get me wrong, I sympathise with people who have been egged – it happened to me years ago and it wasn’t fun. But let’s not overreact about this. When my neighbour back home in the (extremely middle class) suburb of Glasgow I live in had his car blown up by fireworks, I’m not even sure it made the local papers. How impossibly cosseted are some of us that the actions of a handful of overprivileged idiots who haven’t even started shaving can be cause of such panic?
Sadly, however, the students of St Andrews are not even the worst offenders here, in terms of over-reactions. I’ve seen locals commenting on the original story about how the victims of egg attacks deserved it because “they walk about like mummy and daddy bought the place”, or, in the case of one diatribe posted on the Stand’s website, accusing the author of “trashy, tabloid-style journalism” for daring to write the article. There’s a common thread to all these comments – namely, if something has gone wrong, it must be the fault of students. If there’s any tension between town and gown, it’s always because of wrongdoing by the former.
This isn’t new, either. I remember once being stopped by a local for cycling on the pavement while riding for Deliveroo. Halfway through his five-minute rant at me for “putting myself and others in danger,” a group of Madras kids cycled past us on the same pavement I had been on. Not all of them were wearing helmets. I’m sure it was pure coincidence he said nothing to them.
I suppose the point I’m trying to make is this: Can everyone please chill out? Students, stop treating locals like they’re all dangerous savages; locals, stop treating students like we’re The Bullingdon Club. After all, like it or not, we’ve got to share this town with each other. And throwing either eggs or accusations around is not going to help us.