Students are now the only ones who can't afford to behave like students

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The Independent Online

God, it used to be great being a student. Free tuition, cheap accommodation with food thrown in (sometimes in an orchestrated, Animal House fashion), and a grant to spend on nothing except a few books - if you didn't know where the library was - and the ultra cheap booze that was exclusively on permanent special offer at the union. And when the academic year was over, guess what? You could sign on for the entire summer and concentrate on re-sits, thus obviating the need to do any work at all during actual term-time. Everybody hated students. But students were too off their faces to notice that.

Back then, the idea was that the happy élite who had got into university needed to have no responsibilities encumbering those final years of freedom prior to getting down to the serious business of being great and good. Students worked hard (the story went) and had to be allowed to let off steam, whatever the boring old permanent residents felt about having wave after wave of condescending children of privilege breezing into town and wrecking it for the winter.

In the past 20 years, though, that ancient tradition has been completely turned on its head. Now, it's the students who are burdened with responsibility and debt, worried sick about where the next penny is coming from, and prodded by government into getting part-time work in the hours when by rights they ought to be partying.

It's All Other Young People who dedicate themselves to binge-drinking, sleeping in gutters and dancing topless on the tables of bars. As for those student unions - whose coveted late licences, wondrous booze offers, louche sexual attitudes and hangar-like ability to contain hundreds and hundreds of sweaty young bodies used to make the rest of the youth population green with envy - their policies have been adopted by every city centre bar and pub in existence.

Now, thanks to the policy of controlling all inflation except that of house prices, it has become socially acceptable to live at home with your parents when young, offering a miserly portion of your disposable income for food and board, and the rest of it for having a high old time. Jobs in a time of high employment can be found more easily locally than the right college course. The result is that nowadays it is non-students who get the cheap digs and are encouraged to extend their youth for as long as they possibly can before eventually bending to the yoke of responsibility. To become a student, on the other hand, is to accept that childhood has ended, and life is about to get serious. Incidentally, the same reasons - stress and pressure - are offered for the more widespread drinking habits of young people as used to be trumped up to explain the sort of excess that only students indulged in.

What are we to make of this astounding act of collective role reversal? Perhaps it is merely evidence that a consumer culture entirely focused on removing the money of young people from their pockets (which is why all advertising is targeted at them) tends to champion short-term gratification over long-term investment. Or perhaps it explains the Government's obsession with getting 50 per cent of school leavers into higher education. It seems like an unduly complicated way of getting drunks off the streets. But when your only other idea is marching them down to the cashpoint and shouting at them for forgetting their PIN, I guess the profit margin on the great big loans looks quite attractive.

¿ It would be wrong for me to claim that some of my best friends were transsexuals. But in my defence I do know and respect a couple. So why is it that every time someone tells me how great it is that Nadia, a transsexual, can win Big Brother, I cringe? Maybe it's because the self-congratulation seems as liberal as thinking it fabulous that bearded ladies can get jobs in the circus.

A game of two halves: wealth and press intrusion

Yesterday's Football Association press conference was a downbeat affair, with only accredited sports journalists allowed an audience with celebrated athlete Sven Goran Eriksson. No one was there to ask, for example, whether it was Sven who coached David in being a master of love or David who coached Sven. Just as well really.

In principle I agree with Eriksson's statement that the prurient interest in his private life is "sick". But at the same time I can't help feeling that the Swedish sex god is rather playing both ends against the middle.

The intrusion must indeed be foul. But the high profile he endures is surely something he uses when he wishes to negotiate an even more exorbitant salary. Perhaps he should announce that three-quarters of it will be donated to children's charities, but only if the press keeps its nose out of his bedroom.

Maybe those who find themselves in the public eye should think about adopting such strategies more widely. After all, without the perceived glamour of huge wealth adhering to them, they would probably become less interesting to the public anyway. The only trouble is that they would probably become rather less interesting to members of the opposite sex as well. Best all round to keep on taking the money, then.

¿ Meanwhile, Iorworth Hoare, the serial rapist who won the lottery, ought to be considering similar action himself, since he's a marked man for ever if he keeps the money. Tabloid journalists ought to be grateful to him for illustrating to them what the word "lottery" actually means. But clearly a lot more in the way of adult literacy could be achieved with £7m. The Iorworth Hoare What's in a Name Foundation? I think it has a ring to it.

Seaside special

I visited the Kent seaside town of Broadstairs for the first time this week, and it was a truly fantastic, quintessentially English experience. But not in a knotted-hanky, kiss-me-quick kind of way. It was much deeper and richer than that.

For a start, the castellated, Union Jack-flying building which dominated the seafront turned out, of course, to be the real Bleak House. Who better than Dickens to reclaim the flag from the BNP?

Plus, since it was Broadstairs Folk Week, the entire town was overrun with morris dancers. Morris dancing is a much-maligned English tradition, but the ancient symbolism of the dances, the acting of the fool and the accusations of the hobby horse are powerful and fascinating theatrical creations.

They're also more culturally complex than they're often portrayed as being. According to experts, some morris troupes paint their faces black in honour of the Moorish dancers who inspired them and gave them their name.

In these days of panic over the fate of our "island race", it's good to consider that the very oldest English traditions may be international in origin, and that no matter where they came from, they're wonderful.

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