With the awful inevitability of a dog chasing deer into oncoming traffic in Richmond Park, I present to you Trenton Oldfield (Hell’s bells, the names even rhyme), Australia’s shame.
Yesterday, Trenton Oldfield did this at the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race:
First, Sir Matthew Pinsent, the former Olympic rower, thought he saw debris in the water.
Then, he and hundreds watching on the banks of the river thought it must be a dog, swimming towards the Oxford and Cambridge boats as they sped past Chiswick on a choppy Thames.
But when he realised that it was a bearded man in a wetsuit who was heading straight for Oxford’s vessel, he desperately signalled to stop the Boat Race, eight minutes after it had begun.
Staring from the water at Sir Matthew, the assistant umpire, was Trenton Oldfield, an Australian activist who had swum in to publicise his bizarre manifesto.
As the two crews stopped, the oars inches from Mr Oldfield’s head, officials dragged him out of the water and on to another launch.
Minutes later, wrapped in a blanket and grinning broadly, Mr Oldfield was led away by police, and was being held last night on suspicion of committing a public order offence.
Trenton Oldfield can thank Will Zeng, Oxford’s no 2, and Zoe de Toledo, Oxford’s cox, for their quick reflexes and presence of mind. Without both, he would have been decapitated. It appears that he doesn’t realise this, because during his arrest (after the rower-chasing exercise), he was smiling far more broadly than Fenton the Dog would have been when his owner caught up with him. Spectators, river police, RNLI rescuers and rowing crews alike were treated to victory gestures, ‘thumbs up’ signals and a look-at-me shiteating grin.
Elitism leads to tyranny, says trustafarian
It didn’t take long for information about Trenton Oldfield to emerge. The man has a master’s degree in ‘Contemporary Urbanism‘ from the London School of Economics (what is it with the LSE? First Gaddafi, now this numpty? And why do they have so many ‘qualifications’ in meaningless drivel?). He is also a fellow of the uber-posh Royal Society of Arseholes (sorry, Arts) and a trustafarian who boasts about his charitable sector work on his LinkedIn profile (some of those charities need their purposes reviewed as a matter of urgency, too. Charitable my foot; political more like). Also, his name is ‘Trenton’. Presumably his Boat Race adventures mean that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat will soon be brought about by a bevy of Tarquins and Julias and Tristrams. I kid you not. Apparently (according to his hilarious RSA profile):
Trenton’s foremost preoccupations include unearthing the socio-political history of fences/railings – including when they shifted from keeping things in to keeping things out, the spaces in cities people have set out to make together, contemporary places of work, emotions in finance, the processes of creating and conceptualising ‘a home’ in a new city, the tension existing between danger & beauty embodied for example in aeroplanes and how social relations (dissolving of nation states and rise of cities) might change on earth with the colonisation of other planets [admin: full stop, inhale]. Trenton is also working on debates within inter-disciplinary urbanism around notions of ‘Darwinistic individual selfishness’ – or ‘Who Dares Wins Urbanism’ attempting to make apparent the predictable, though overlooked failures of individualism within and apparent across the ‘leadership’ of the centre, left and right [admin: full stop, inhale].
Trenton has worked for over a decade in non-governmental organisations specialising in urban renewal, cultural and environmental programmes. He was Coordinator of the Thames Strategy – Kew to Chelsea, Strategic Project Manager at Cityside Regeneration and a Community Development Worker in North Kensington [admin comment: Kensington needs Community Development Workers?]. Alongside his formal work he has continued to explore his questions about cities via his personal projects that have included installations in the public realm, film, guest editing and guest lecturing. Trenton has been active on the boards of the Westway Development Trust, London Citizens and Subtext. In 2007, with Deepa Naik, he formally established This Is Not A Gateway, a not-for-profit organisation that has set out to inject a criticality into discussions about cities via creating a platform for existing, though overlooked multi-disciplinary critical actors and provocateurs. In 2009 they established Myrdle Court Press to publish the work of critical urbanists from around the world. MCP’s first title was Critical Cities; Ideas, Knowledge & Agitation from Emerging Urbanists. Trenton is currently researching the socio-political history of fenced green spaces in London for a forthcoming book [admin comment: soon to be 'prison yards I have known?']. This research is part of his attempt to find a way to go beyond the agreement that exists around ownership, specifically land ownership in the 21st Century.
[I realise I should have edited that for length, but I just couldn't bring... myself... to... excise... a... single... word.]
Why don’t you get a job? (with apologies to The Offspring)
Even worse, before his Boat Race adventures, he published a two thousand word ‘manifesto’ that is a wonderfully fitting and utterly hair-brained tribute to the wreckage that postmodernism has made of at least one of our universities. It is also littered with basic spelling and grammatical errors, and is generally poorly written. This man should not have been allowed anywhere near university, let alone a master’s qualification from a university still ranked (although Goddess knows how) in Britain’s top ten. Maybe it’s the LSE’s hard scientists who do all the heavy lifting.
Then again, it looks like Trenton is rich enough to pay the international student fees. Some of us have to get scholarships, you know. There was no way I was getting anywhere near Oxford without two of them (thank-you Clarendon, thank-you IHS).
[An aside: there was a moment there where the whole business made me think of that line from Yes Minister: 'well, he'll know how to behave if he went to an English university, even if it was the LSE.' That confidence, it would appear, was misplaced.]
Here are a few selections from the more coherent bits of his ‘manifesto’:
When hasn’t elitism lead to tyranny? When hasn’t the belief of being ‘more’ than another person led to tragedy? Who benefits from elitism? One won’t be surprised to learn the etymology of the word ‘elite’ derives from ‘the elected’ … unfortunately not elected by democratic means, but rather, elected by god. Yup…‘elected’, ‘selected’, ‘chosen’ … by god … inherited. When has this understanding of oneself or by a group of people ever been a good thing? When has this understanding not resulted in tyranny? Is tyranny surely not the inevitable outcome? And in contrast, when hasn’t the pursuit of equality, not resulted in these long passages of tyranny being overcome, even if temporarily?
I dunno, Trenton. Soviet Communism was rather taken up with equality, and so was Pol Pot as he suffocated all those eye-glass wearing intellectuals with plastic bags. Hey, it’s a form of recycling, at least…
My swim into the pathway of the two boats today (I hope) is a result of key guerrilla tactics; local knowledge, ambush, surprise, mobility and speed, detailed information and decisiveness. There is no choice but to be apprehended in this action. I know this area very well and have planned the swim as best as I can, taking into account all the local knowledge I have gained over the years. Guerrilla tactics could be summarised as; ‘preparation, creativity, daring and attrition’. The aim of employing these tactics is to shift from being a ‘victim’ … of having things done to one, to being the ones setting the agenda, placing elites more and more on the back foot, increasing their costs, causing confusion, fermenting internal mistrust, creating embarrassment (a Tory’s worst nightmare?), frustration and manifesting a vulnerability. [admin: full stop, inhale] This will provide the time and space for an ongoing development of post-elitism, post-capitalist thought and debate.
And, I must confess, the section that made me furious rather than merely amused or sad, where he likens himself to Emily Davison, the suffragette:
Our current disorganisation and indirection is an advantage. In the past, guerrilla tactics have been employed by small groups of people. Today there is the opportunity to also undertake this alone, as an individual. Part of my inspiration for today’s action comes from a protest action that took place 99 years ago – when Emily Davison ran into Epson Derby race [sic]. On the 4 June 1913 Emily ran into the horse that the king had entered. She died from the injuries sustained from action. She was demanding rights for women. It was an individual act born of a political and philosophical position. This action is also part inspired by the anti-imperialism activists and guerrillas. This includes trans-Atlantic slaves who not only forced their freedom by revolting but undertook tactics of breaking tools, working slowly, acts of sabotage, feigning illness and maintaining their cultures. They found ways to continually undermine [sic] the system in small and large ways.
Trenton, I’m looking at you
Dear Trenton, I think you have a serious dose of what is known in the trade as ‘first world problems’. Emily Davison, by contrast, did not. She had real problems, and a real cause. You, it seems, hang around poor urban communities (I note that you’re a Frantz Fanon fan, always a bad sign) and by the end of your inept ministrations, I suspect a large number of them would like you to Fuck Off And Die. Or at least, get a real job. Oh, wait, you don’t need a real job. You’re rich. Bugger, makes it a bit awkward for the rest of us working stiffs.
Then, of course, there’s what you did to the Oxford and Cambridge rowing crews, whose event you ruined, whose hard work you brought to naught, which lead Cambridge to ‘celebrate’ the hollowest of victories and Zoe de Toledo, in a moment of desperation, to plead for a re-row. Here is Will Zeng’s observation (via Twitter):
When I missed your head with my blade I knew only that you were a swimmer, and if you say you are a protester then, no matter what you say your cause may be, your action speaks too loudly for me to hear you. I know, with immediate emotion, exactly what you were protesting. You were protesting the right of seventeen young men and one woman to compete fairly and honorably, to demonstrate their hard work and desire in a proud tradition. You were protesting their right to devote years of their lives, their friendships, and their souls to the fair pursuit of the joys and the hardships of sport. You, who would make a mockery of their dedication and their courage, are a mockery of a man.
And then there’s British ‘fair play’…
You are Australian, and as a result I’ve already received some mild stick from Oxford friends about my Australianness, so I think two observations are in order. The first is from assistant umpire, Sir Matthew Pinsent:
“It seems to me,” Pinsent said, “there’s something peculiarly British about the fact that when a bloke deliberately ruins a classic sporting occasion, we’re the ones responsible for rescuing him and getting him to shore in one piece.”
I seriously wonder how Australian sporting organisers (and Australia is a country that blesses elitism in only one field, sport) would have reacted to your stunt, Mr Oldfield. I strongly suspect that you may well have finished up with an oar wrapped around your head, which, as Pinsent points out, would have been fatal. See the principle of leverage. And there would have been very little public sympathy.
You may have spent a long time in the UK, but I don’t think you understand the country or her peoples very well. Maybe you should try to learn. A conversation with Sir Matthew Pinsent may be a good place to start. The startling thing is, Pinsent is so decent he would probably sit down with you and give you a few lessons on UK, plc.
A word on elitism
This last comment is mine, and probably political, but I think it needs to be said. Some people are better than others. Stronger, swifter, cleverer, lovelier to look at, more perspicacious, more disciplined. As the evidence rolls in, it is becoming increasingly clear that those attributes are doled out in a genetic lottery (it is though there really is a Venus up there deciding in advance who gets to be beautiful, a Mars deciding who gets to be brave, a Minerva deciding who gets to be clever). This makes your soul-destroying envy particularly pointless. People with great gifts may be persuaded to share them with the rest of us if we make a collective decision not to run them down just because they have been given something the rest of us have not. Being clever or sporty or beautiful is a bit like being gay. You are born that way.
Trenton Oldfield, your talents and attributes are more than half-chance. So are everybody else’s.
[Thanks to DeusExMacintosh for the graphics; she's the one with the black belt in photoshop].