Some years ago, after I had junked my PhD and was waiting for the call from MI5 (I got quite a long way) I temped at Leeds Met University on the clearing hotline. The first few days were panicked students ringing to see if they had got in, of whom the winner as blind!man, who had got a letter from UCAS but hadn't asked anyone to read it. This was in the days before most people - even middle-class people - had the internet at home (i.e. well over five years ago). He had a letter, hd said. I said now if he looked... "I'm blind". Me: "OK. Is there anyone in the house who can rea it for you?" His mother was. Seriously, if he had been sighted he wouldn't had looked at the bloody thing. Talk about 18 year old boys...
Anyway, after a few days of sorting out sixth formers, serious clearing started. Lots of slightly embarressed men in their early/mid twenties who had screwed up the first time round and wanted to start again. They were easy. I had had them in my tutorial group (and an armed robber - fantastic guy, sad example of how once you've got that on your CV you're stuffed). There was even my old sixth form tutor, for a pupil of whom I was able to drum up a place. And there was "I want to be a midwife".
IWTBAM rang during a quiet time. We had university internet access, so you can guess what we did - legitimately - during the quite times. I discovered Harry Potter, which was pre-OOTP and obsessed with Avery*. She was apologetic. She was also 100% identifiable from the off. She had seen the advert on Yorkshire Television. She was really sorry, but she didn't know where to start, and maybe we could help her? She lived - I don't know where, but I know where. There were children playing in the background. She was in her late twenties, older than me. She had left school at 16, got married, had kids, worked. Now the oldest was ten. She wanted to be a midwife. And she had not the slightest idea how to go about it.
She was clever. It was easy to tell. She was articulate; she could tell her story. She knew what she was talking about. Her youngest child was about to go to secondary school, and now she wanted to train as a midwife. What she didn't know, had no idea of how to find out, and no easy way of finding out, was how to do that. But I had the internet, and she had seen us on television.
Leeds Met didn't do it. But there were several universities in the area and I had Google. I had Leeds Uni. admissions at my fingertips. I had enveloped-stuffed for York. And I knew the local sixth form colleges. I had never wanted to be one, but I knew how to train as a midwife. Her GCSEs were OK. She needed an Access Course - here was the number, ask them this. Phone Leeds, they'll be nice to you, honest, don't worry, the country really needs women like you who want to train, tell them this, I promise, tell them what you've told me and they'll help you. You can get a grant - phone this number. I knew all this, though I had never needed it.
She phoned back a few days later, and got passed through to me. She had spoken to Leeds, and they had been kind and friendly. She had phoned the FE college and had a place on the Access course. She started in a fortnight and had worked it around her shifts. I have never heard anyone sound like that, the sense of "I can hardly believe this is happening to me". And it had been so easy...
Seriously, this woman was on a different road and I could tell by her voice. I have never forgotten how she sounded, as if her future had been turned around by really basic access to information - because I didn't do it for her. When she knew who to speak to, she spoke for herself. But the knowledge of who to speak to was genuinely far away. And she was lucky she got me. Because I knew where she had to go, and I'd done two weeks temping in midwifery in York, and I knew they were desparate for clever, dedicated women like her, and that they would say the right thing to get her through.
Which is - and you can tell I've been out and am a bit drunk, yes - why it fucking well matters that Cameron hasn't a man on his Christmas card list that hasn't been to Harrow. Because this woman was older than me, and had worked for herself, and her children, and her partner, far harder than I ever had, because finals aside I cannot tell you how easy I had it at university**, and still I was the one with the knowledge, and that's what f*cking privilege means, internets.
NB. This job followed the one for the council about getting one's kid into primary school. I wish I'd complained about the panel that blatantly didn't understand what urinary tract disorder meant in practice, and I'm glad that we held back the woman who was never going to complain in a million years and told her and her friend - crucially older and a native speaker - at least how to get a "good enough" solution. Though I ought to have told them to wait for an hour and gone with them.
*Today I wrote to a Rev'd Dr L'estrange. Oh dear.
** I have a pretty much photographic memory when I apply myself. I ought to have done medicine. Oh well.