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My mother came across an excerpt from the book, THE Middle Class ABC written by Fi Cotton-Craig & Zebedee Helm [1] in the Daily Mail, July 4th 2013, and was puzzled as to how it was meant to be funny and asked if I found it funny. As a matter of fact I did not and nor could I appreciate how it was supposed to be funny. We all have days where our sense of humour stays in bed, but this was not one of them. Particularly what was written under the subheading “University” appalled my mother [2] and outraged me. This review/response, however, is not only about that, but the whole book.

As expected from the title, this book goes through the alphabet listing various objects and places which are then written about in a sarcastic condescending tone leaving a sour taste in the mouth and a slight increase in blood pressure.

Under the heading of Ugg boots we find “…there is no French translation for ‘warm’ or ‘comfy’.” This is incorrect. “Confortable” is used in French to refer to clothes, chairs, rooms, journeys, life or a position that is comfortable (Collins French Dictionary). Fi and Zebedee are advised to get their facts sorted before writing again.

A question to you reader, would you call a Piccolo a small Flute or a cup a small mug or a mobile phone and tiny telephone? I didn’t think so. Apparently it is funny if you believe there is a “big difference” between these; especially a Ukulele, small guitar and a small double bass.

This is what Fi and Zebedee have to say about University in relation to the middle class, but to keep things in an orderly fashion I will break the paragraph down sentence by sentence.

“University: Once university was only for the properly posh, who went there to munch crumpets and talk about love. Later, it was for the Middlings, who went to make love, eat pasta, put up posters and go on marches. Now it is for everybody and we go there to catch sexually transmitted diseases, acquire massive overdrafts, watch daytime TV and eat Pot Noodles. As we all know, at no stage in history has anyone gone there for an education. It is still essential for the middle classes to attend university, however, otherwise there would be no reason to ever return from gap years.”

“University: Once university was only for the properly posh, who went there to much crumpets and talk about love.”

Suffering crumpets! Is this true? Admittedly the institution of the University used to only be available to those from wealthy families, but with the surge of socialism attending university became a viable option for many more people who had good enough grades. There is debt for a lot of students but this is only repayable once you start earning more teaathan £15,000 a year. Then there is “…talk about love” is this Fi and Zebedee’s way of referring to Philosophy?

“Later, it was for the Middlings, who went to make love, eat pasta, put up posters and go on marches.”

Is this because the “properly posh” didn’t have sex? As for pasta last I heard it was quick, good value for money and doesn’t go off so it’s ideal for busy people without much structure in their daily routine – as is couscous, rice and frozen foods (which are also popular among students and the general public). Fi and Zebedee may want to have a chat with the Salvation Army, Greenpeace and PETA. Seriously though, most of the time students are up to their necks in work and down-time is spent in many different ways, however I am surprised that going to the pub or alcohol consumption wasn’t mentioned.

 “Now it is for everybody and we go there to catch sexually transmitted diseases, acquire massive overdrafts, watch daytime TV and eat Pot Noodles.”

Well I can’t talk on behalf of the authors; Fi is described as a “man magnet” by Hodder & Stoughton. However, contraception in freely available and you are no more likely to catch an STD at University than you are down your local night club! Catching an STD is usually to do with promiscuity and carelessness. Promiscuous people are everywhere. Also, if anything, university students would be more careful than non-students. I cannot imagine that a student would want to graduate from 3-4 years of hard work to immediately wind up being a mother/father.

Yes this is because of the rise of socialism, meaning that university was not only available to those who were smart and had money. Overdrafts/debts are a problem and have been an issue for many years now; especially for undergraduates. From my experience postgraduates however are either usually sponsored or self-funded.

The next bit “watch daytime TV” – you’re having a laugh, right? Any university student that wants to pass their degree will not be watching Daytime TV. This is a fact, right up there with the French translation of comfortable.

Fi and Zebedee then tap into the stereotype of the student diet of Pot Noodles. This eye-rolling line is far to overdone, and is it actually funny? Throughout 4 years of attending University I’ve only seen 2 people eating Pot Noodles. This stereotype is as valid as the French walking round with strings of garlic around their necks.

As we all know, at no stage in history has anyone gone there for an education.
It is still essential for the middle classes to attend university, however, otherwise there would be no reason to ever return from gap years.”

University has always been a place to study, learn and to develop socially and intellectually. For instance Alan Turning was an undergraduate at Cambridge University (UK) and Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, the man that discovered the rays known as x-rays, studied Physics at University. Medical science moved in leaps and bounds with this discovery – without this there would be no MRI or fMRI, and lives have been saved because of Röntgen’s work.

I know this book is meant to be comical, but this line, quite frankly, pissed me off. After my undergraduate degree I wound up at the Job Centre, I guess like a lot of English Language and Linguistics graduates where my ‘advisor’ was condescending and patronising all because I had a degree: “oh well you’ll be fine, nothing to worry about, what with your degree” – well obviously not because look at where I am! “You students, all you want to do is work in libraries” – I don’t think science or business graduates would agree with that statement.

I did not spend all of my savings (which was in the thousands) and work, to the point of developing insomnia, for 4 years to end up in a Job Centre and to read that I didn’t attend university for an education. Then what in Al-Karaouine’s [3] name did I go for? If I wanted to sleep around, get myself inebriated 7 nights a week, eat Pot Noodle and watch Daytime TV then I would have stayed at home.

To finish of their sketch of University they bring up ‘gap years’ honestly, this sentence barely made sense: if the middle class did not go to university then they would have one gap year after the other. Pragmatically speaking I think the use of gap year is referring to travelling abroad, doing volunteer work and things in that ilk. So making the point that those from middle class families can keep their children without them ever having to work?

In a nutshell: The authors are clutching at straws of stereotypes to make a parody of the middle class – as a parody it delivers the ridicule as promised but the amusement is does not – with factual mistakes and insulting remarks.


[1] THE Middle Class ABC by Fi Cotton-Craig and Zebedee Helm (2012), published by John Murray.

[2] My mother has never been to University and was at first skeptical about my going there.

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2 thoughts on “Written under the heading “University” appalled my mother and outraged me

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