Hit & Run: Best job in the world?

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The Independent Online

In the "My Oxford" column of the new Oxford Today magazine, Ian Hislop is asked if he'd like to be a student again. "Oh yes," he replies, "and I've a major fantasy that, somewhere, there [is] a college so desperate that they will ask me to be Master." As job applications go, this has a touchingly scattergun quality: any college will do, as long as I get to be Master. It's a fantasy shared by many: a job combining the roles of academic, diplomat, upholder of tradition, guardian of protocol, sports cheerleader, party-giver, gourmand, gossip, wine-tippler and amateur fundraiser.

Some college Masters, like that of Trinity, Cambridge, are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the PM. Others, at lesser colleges, are voted in by a committee of fellows (the backstairs rivalry and politicking that accompany the process were dramatised in CP Snow's novel The Masters.) The lucky winner, however, has a life in clover ahead of him or her: salaries vary at each college, but you'll have free board and lodging in the Master's residence, dinner at top table in Hall every evening during term, a generous allowance for entertaining eminent public figures, unlimited access to the college's (often very fine) wine collection, and the certainty that an oil portrait of your handsome self will hang in Hall for generations of quaking undergraduates to gaze at.

The breed has historically enjoyed a reputation for extreme, though blithely tolerated, eccentricity. The Rev William A. Spooner, warden of New College, chronically mangled his words ("You have hissed all my mystery lectures; in fact, you have tasted the whole worm..."). Benjamin Jowett, late-Victorian Master of Balliol, was a classical scholar and theologian (his work The Epistles of St Paul was much admired) obsessed with draining the Thames Valley; one of his students immortalised him in verse: "First come I; my name is Jowett/ There is no knowledge but I know it/ I am the Master of this college/ And what I don't know isn't knowledge."

Maurice Bowra, Warden of Wadham for 32 years, wrote waspish parodies of his friends' verse and memorably observed: "Buggery was invented to fill that awkward hour between evensong and cocktails." The Brideshead generation passed through the hands of Francis "Sligger" Urquhart, a man "mild, monkish, white-haired, elusive in manner," according to Anthony Powell. He used to take his favourite students on reading parties to his chalet in the French Alps. Evelyn Waugh and his friends used to sing, "The Dean of Balliol sleeps with men," under Urquhart's college window, to the tune of "Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May." Nobody ever said the job came with the respect of the student body.

John Walsh

Apple sauce not included

If it takes a Beckham to turn a trend into a mania then pocket-size porkers will be rubbing their trotters in glee with the news of Posh's early Christmas present for David. She's only gone and bought him a pair of micro-pigs. Already snorting their way into the homes of Jonathan Ross and Rupert Grint, these miniature cross-breeds – friendly and toilet-trainable, say fans – are now climbing Christmas wish lists nationwide. But be warned, Victoria – your £700 piglets will soon weigh as much as 10-year-old Brooklyn and reach his dad's knees. Which surely stretches the definition of micro.

Simon Usborne

Boris, you wasteman!

When a plucky Boris Johnson successfully dispersed a group of teenage hoodies terrorising a member of the public with an iron bar, was it a case of luck over skill? Having managed to seize the bar when it was dropped, Johnson – quite understandably – scared the youths off, waving it as he gave chase on his bicycle. But minus that weapon, what remained in Johnson's hoodie-scaring arsenal? He called them "oiks". Oh Boris. You need some more streetwise insults. Luckily, 16-year-old Will Franco and Connor Russell, from LIVE, a London youth magazine, have provided a quick crib sheet.

Wasteman noun – a low person, a nothing

Neek noun – a fool

Moist adj – childish, fond of 'dead cusses' [weak insults]

Beg noun – a person butting-in unnecessarily, eg, "Go away you beg, can't you see I'm talking to these girls?"

Washed adj. – a pointless, redundant person. For example, "Duck out, you washed people" [Go away you guys, you're nothing].

Kate Burt

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