I DON'T like discouraging my children but 12-year-old Sarah is already talking of going to Oxford or Cambridge, and quite frankly I'm against this. Whatever those universities may be saying in public, part of their selection procedure most definitely does discriminate against applicants from the state sector.
Only at an English public school can young men learn to throw their beds out of the window with the kind of panache required of a Christ Church undergraduate. Similarly, the lobbing of bread rolls `a la Peterhouse is not a skill to be picked up lightly. As for booby-trapping the door so that one's scout gets a bucket of water down her back when she comes to clean, that takes at least a decade at one of our nastier public schools to master fully.
I speak as one who attended both Oxford and Cambridge but only in the capacity of a boyfriend. It isn't difficult to get into either university as a boyfriend. The standard of competition is really very low. My recollection of the selection procedure is that it was all about demonstrating potential and imagination. If you seemed like the kind of young man who thought there was more to taking a girl out than getting legless in Browns and spraying her new dress with cheap Champagne, then there was every chance you would get an offer, quite possibly from more than one college.
The problem with boyfriends at both Oxford and Cambridge is that our ancient universities draw on a very shallow pool of talent. With certain of the more venal colleges handing over nearly half their places to a brace of English public schools, Oxbridge is full of young men who have idled away their adolescence singing in Latin and lunging at each other's genitalia.
The vice-chancellor of Cambridge lamented last week that state school pupils are put off applying to his university because they feared they would not be able to cope with an elitist "social atmosphere". What a curious statement! Only in England would the behaviour of these emotionally-stunted, affluent, braying oafs be considered "elite".
We all know that university life is only 50 per cent about education. The rest of one's energy goes into sex, drugs and stealing traffic cones. I don't want my daughter getting in with the wrong set and ending up as wife of the next Conservative leader.