Last week, I entered a backstreet Venezuelan joint in Elephant and Castle. ‘Hello,’ I said, ‘I want a table for dinner’. The man behind the counter smiled and replied in a language which I instantly recognised as Venezuelan. ‘Ah,’ I said. ‘Somos ingleses. Pérdon’. This normally does the trick in getting people to speak your language on their property, but even as I persisted in demanding a menu in English, the man persisted in saying something about pollo. I know from Sicario 2 that this is cartel slang for an illegal immigrant, so I assured him that my papers were in order. Unconvinced, he violently gesticulated at a picture of a chicken. I took this as some sort of macho Latin American insult and vacated the premises.
This was the least of my misdemeanours in a week when, after spaffing my degree up the wall and getting drunk under the table by some Monopoly-loving Russians (mates before states), I totalled half the plumbing and denimwear in South London, sent some truly ill-advised texts and set off a skyscraper’s fire alarms. By its end, I had to guess my own address on a job-application form. Returning to Cambridge in a cold lonely sump of self-contempt, I immediately proceeded to ruin a friend’s girls’-night-out with that staple of debonair charm, ‘How many of the ice cubes from this pitcher do you reckon I can fit in my mouth?’ Chewed up in the halitotic maw of Revs before it spat me back out, I went through the usual This Is Your Life routine of bumping into half-a-dozen unconnected acquaintances I haven’t seen for ages, because they all hate me. And rightly so.
It may sound like I am a reasonably diverting person with whom to pass the first week of post-exam freedom, even though (or especially because) my entire time at Cambridge could be described as a severe and continuous lapse of judgment. In fact, I am not even the interesting kind of disaster. Emerging from my final exam, high on the pleasures of academic malpractice, I unselfconsciously told some guys from my seminar that there are few problems in my life which can’t be made better with a spreadsheet. They blanched and changed the subject. It did not help a week later when my Russian mate told me that once I get over this whole pious daydream about writing, I should join his quants hustle on Wall Street. He needs someone to type up LinkedIn ads.
I pondered all of this in Revs, which is underrated as a setting for inward spiritual torment. The mate whose drink I’d sucker-punched at Spoons immediately ditched me. A classmate from my seminar came over and said that it was very kind and generous of me to have circulated an exam-cheating spreadsheet, which had saved her proverbial bacon. Kind? Generous? I went home in a fit of pique at having squandered my illegal advantage, angry enough to no longer be sad. Still, it was kind and generous of my classmate to compliment me for virtues I don’t possess.
It was a week of such complete and anarchic humiliations that I was left with no choice except to write an article about them, in the manner of those Norwegian techno alchemists who turned Mike Posner’s guitar track about the loneliness of clubbing in Ibiza into an Ibiza club banger. There was a period of some months where, a prisoner of the library, I was not doing enough dumb shit to carry a piece. I am glad to know, perched dizzily atop the detritus of three years at Cambridge – friends hurt, articles retracted, teachers let down – that I still possess the moral and intellectual earth wire of stupidity.
But I am no longer notorious. I used to fancy myself the bin Laden of Peterhouse, languishing in my dingy college cave as the drones of Cambridge circled overhead and I planned my next great provocation. It never came. The other day, I bumped into a second-year Petrean at a cocktail do somewhere else. I introduced myself as the college’s Darth Sidious, granted by all who know me the respect that flows from hatred. She had never heard of me.