Apart from the icy Fenland winds of mid-winter, the matter of selection is another of Malcolm’s irritating, long-standing disputations with the University of Cambridge.
It goes like this:
Once upon a time there was a truly outstanding applicant coming their way. He was accepted by one of the venerable Cambridge colleges on the basis of gaining two just E grades in his A-levels: then, as now, the very basic level of higher-education qualification.
The applicant’s personal problem was he didn’t know whether he was being offered a place on the basis of his sporting excellence (he was also a cricketer and a footballer of some quality) or that of his intellect. When another, provincial, red-brick university set the standard higher, he went for the challenge, and surpassed it.
The bod-in-question went on to pioneer a new academic sub-discipline. He once told Malcolm there had been only four people in the UK capable of assessing his Ph. D. thesis: today he presents papers to conferences attended by thousands.
Probably no loss to Cambridge and its prestige; or for the bod-in-question. Possibly, had he the additional kudos of “Cantab” after his titles, things might have moved a bit faster, his resourcing been a trifle more generous. Perhaps, too, the quiz-machines in the pubs of Cambridge might have set the bar a trifle higher: the bod-in-question reckoned to tour the drinking dens of his adopted city and finance his drinking habit (and more) thereby. He was, indeed, banned from at least one hostelry because of this: the fleecing of the machines, that is, not the imbibing.
Whether he would have remained the all-round good egg he is, well, that is an imponderable. He might have acquired the usual Cambridge chip worn on the Cambridge shoulder. He might have ended up cheering on Cambridge United, at home and away.
If there is a “moral” here, it is not to trust others’ notion of “excellence” above all else. And to find one’s own way in the world.