Even in the 1970s, the college tutor was a remnant of a former decade. John Lennon glasses, a mane of hair, a straggly beard, he seemed to occupy a sphere of reality entirely removed from those of us who listened to BBC Radio 1, watched Top of the Pops, and followed football teams.
The tutor talked of things beyond our understanding and people of whom we had never heard. Once standing at a supermarket checkout, he chatted with the assistant about shopping and problems with his motor cycle, it was a brief glimpse of another person. For a moment he might have been someone who might have heard of musicians other than those who took to the stage at Woodstock, someone who might have known who had won the FA Cup.
His influence endured long after his classes were forgotten. The conversations in which he engaged seemed to suggest that intelligent people should not engage with trivia, should not even be aware of such matters.
It was reading The Guardian in college days that brought a sense of relief. It was written by intelligent people and it had reports on football matches.. It must be acceptable to know who had won the cup final at Wembley, to know the results from the previous Saturday’s matches did not make one stupid. A senior member of the staff in the Greater London Council brought further reassurance as he sat on the train one morning talking of the sporting virtues of Liam Brady, the Arsenal and Ireland footballer.
The passing years confirmed that the most intelligent of people might enjoy the silliest of trivia. There were government ministers who watched Coronation Street, prominent public figures who confessed a liking for the Eurovision Song Contest. The tutor’s intellectual purity was an exception, not a norm.
Newspaper reading habits changed. My only subscription is for the online edition of the Financial Times. I enjoy it for the incisive writing of its columnists and the eclectic subject matter of its supplements.
Serious material can be presented with the lightest of touches, reviewers even comment on releases by bands the tutor would not have given a hearing. It took years for me to learn to distinguish between the intelligence of people like the writers of the FT and intellectual snobbery I encountered in college years.
It is odd now to meet people who might speak on matters of the utmost gravitas, but who would not have a clue about the previous evening’s Champions League results, or the plots in the soaps, or what bands might be selling records. Perhaps if you caught them at the checkout in Tesco’s, they might be talking about ordinary things.