Some things make me feel stupid, some things make me feel old; University Challenge usually majors on the former, as questions I don’t understand are answered by students who do, and then some. But on Monday it managed to do both, and the guilty party was the one round that normally cheers me; the “music round”, where I can usually knock off the starter for ten and the supplementary questions with aplomb. Ha, I mutter to myself; you kids may look pretty smart when the matter is one of quantum physics, but your floundering ignorance when presented with a series of album covers from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal reveals your feet of clay. While I may lose ground on the swings, I can at least gain some on the roundabouts.
But this week was slightly different. Sure the premise was the same; a short clip of an easily identifiable song – in this case The Smiths’ “London” – and eight clueless geniuses staring out time, waiting for Jeremy Paxman to move on and ask them a simple one on the early history of the Ghaznavid Dynasty, or something. That minor obstacle overcome and the music round duly recommenced.
Only this time I couldn’t take it in, I was still reeling from the starter question. Let me restate what I have just said; not one of the students knew “London” was a song by The Smiths. The Smiths! Students! And The Smiths! I thought they were inextricably entwined. I thought the terms “Smiths’ Fan” and “student” were synonymous. When I was at college not only would almost every student have instantly recognised the band, but also around 20% of them at any one time would have had Louder Than Bombs on their Walkman at that precise moment. What has happened to the youth of today?
So that made me feel pretty old; but I feel even older the more I think about it. After all, in the contestants’ defence the last proper Smiths album was released in 1987; that means that for some of today’s university students The Smiths will occupy the same space in their consciousness as The Beatles do in mine, and I grew up considering The Beatles to be ancient history. Worse, to my kids The Smiths will be seen as a band that split up way, way before they were born; they will view them from the same perspective as I view Buddy Holly. Now I reckon I would still recognise just about any Beatles or Buddy Holly song thrown at me on University Challenge, even while I must hold my hands up and admit I haven’t memorised the periodic table by rote; but I think that’s beside the point. It doesn’t make me feel any better. It still makes me feel old. Perspective? Too much fucking perspective.
But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised; perhaps today’s students are a different breed entirely? That’s the way it seemed the last time I knowingly entered what I believed to be a student pub, one Sunday afternoon a couple of years ago during my short break in the Cotswolds (and environs.) Back in the day you could instantly spot a student bar by the profusion of black cotton and Doc Martens, the vast array of Goth gear; but not here. Instead I reckon I must have clocked more navy blazers and tweed sports jackets in that half-hour in the pub than I did during my entire three-year stint at Bradford University. I even overheard students making arrangements to meet up later for something called “supper”. It was weird.
Then again, perhaps that was because the pub in question was The King’s Arms in the centre of Oxford. I don’t know, I don’t know; it’s possible that representative it may very well not be.