Not enough books and no sherry: why the fake don's study fails
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Wednesday 14 March 2012
In a bold experiment, a London sixth-form college has created a mock-up of an Oxford don's study in order to make "students from disadvantaged backgrounds" feel less intimidated by the prospect of applying to the university.
Brooke House Sixth Form College in Hackney has spent £10,000 on creating a simulacrum of donnish luxury and ease, the kind of ambience where its alumni might, if they're lucky, enjoy "cosy tutorials": it features a button-back Chesterfield sofa, three free-standing bookcases (with, OMG, leather-bound books), pictures in gilded frames, classical busts and a couple of chandeliers. "If you go to Oxford it is a daunting experience," headmaster Ken Warman explained. "But if our students have already done it, they will be much more able to cope without being thrown by the unfamiliar surroundings."
Sadly, the college's idea of an Oxford tutor's study is wildly off the mark. What they've created here (see picture) is a mock-up of a Travelodge boardroom, sparsely furnished by Ikea and World of Leather. The true "don's study" looks nothing like this. I mean, where are the two cavernously deep, horsehair armchairs, from one of which the quaking student reads his thoughts on Coleridge to the languid, pooh-poohing tutor in the other? Where are the floor-to-ceiling library shelves? (Bookcases indeed.) Where's the desk, piled high with uncorrected essays? The porcelain phrenology head? The ashtray overflowing with Marlboro Lights? The two bottles of sherry? ("Will you have the dry? Or the [shudder] slightly less dry?") Where's the electric kettle plugged into the floor socket? The unspeakably dirty mug bearing the words "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons"? Where's the proof copy of a new biography of Milton, written by the don's hated rival and soon to be sleekly eviscerated in the London Review of Books?
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