Last Friday I went to the Cambridge Union Society to watch the Town versus Gown boxing. I should explain to non-Brits that the Cambridge Union is Cambridge University students’ debating chamber and cross-college social focus. Several members of the various Thatcher cabinets were elected officers at the Union when they were undergraduates. Friday night’s event had nothing to do with warming-up for Parliament, though. Tattooed comprehensive-educated locals went knuckle-to-head with Cambridge students whose school fees were bigger than their opponents’ take-home pay.
The venue was much smaller than the place where they normally have the equivalent Oxford event and there was no doubt that the townies were on foreign territory in their own city. I suspect that there are few occasions in serious professional boxing when you hear a watching crowd chant the name “Hugh” over and over again as their favourite jogs out into the arena. It was like being trapped in an oak panelled cage full of baboons with trust funds.
To give you some idea of the sharpness of the divide, I didn’t have to pay to get in. I was just waved past the door to join the knot of townie boxers. You could almost hear the reasoning of the fellas on the door: “Mixed race, shaved head, six-foot, 180 non-wobbly pounds—put him with the pleb bruisers.” Just after I arrived, one of the real boxers from an earlier bout was briefly turned away. He almost missed the start of the women’s fight which, to my intense satisfaction, went to a local girl. She beat someone called Meredith, who lost despite a real height and reach advantage and, I later discovered, was something of a media favourite. I was also told that this wasn’t just down to her being prettier than you would expect. When I saw her fight she seemed to me to be as fit and technically proficient as Tim Henman. Sadly, she also had his killer instinct—a serious enough handicap on the tennis court, never mind in a boxing ring. After the bout, I overheard one of the University women say, “Well that was a retriever against a terrier.” Living in this town, sometimes I wonder what century I’m in.
After most of the rest of the fights went to future members of the establishment, I joined Hot Wheels Helena and Her Boy for drinks in the bar where, to my bemusement, there was a drum-and-bass DJ playing. Not only is that stuff undanceable, it’s just so five years ago. What is it with young people these days? Everywhere you go it’s hopeless retro. Don’t they have their own music?