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Stalin’s cock and Oxford Tories: Courtney Love is still out there

Daniel Swain recounts the time he met Courtney Love

Cartoon: Bryant Apolonio
Cartoon: Bryant Apolonio
Cartoon: Bryant Apolonio

I was drinking with my boyfriend in the bar of the Oxford Union when a text came through to say that Courtney Love was upstairs at the weekly meeting of the Oxford Union Conservative Association. I had only turned up for an ‘authentic Oxford Union gin and tonic’ (which was pretty bad) but this promised to be better than the best gin and tonic.

The Oxford Union Conservative Association (OUCA) would make a campus Liberal society look like a cadre of Sandinistas. They’ve been disaffiliated from the Union twice, once for singing an SS drinking song at their Christmas luncheon. Their honourary patron is a defrocked priest.

The door to the Union’s historic meeting room was manned by a campy undergrad in Vivienne Westwood tweed: ‘Eintraay for non-membars wuhl beh fuve poundz’. He was actually too rich to enunciate.

She was drinking sauterne with a group of OUCA members, some of whom actually wore cravats. (None of whom you could describe as genetically variant.) She looked bored with her own beauty, and soon you were too. It was the kind of transparent prettiness that made you more interested in what made her more interesting than other pretty people. Her outfit of tartan and fox fur with a racing hat conveyed the sense that the only English style left is irony. It was a message lost on her audience.

The traditional purpose of ‘Port and Policy’ (which is actually what OUCA calls its weekly meetings) is to resolve one of the many tensions in conservative thought. This week’s topic for discussion was: “That Individual Liberties Are Less Important than the National Interest’.

Courtney Love only made two contributions to the debate. Her first interjection went:

“Stalin’s cock was this long,” – she holds her hand a good foot apart – “Do you think this means you should reconsider your fascism?”

The presiding defrocked priest was unimpressed. She was drunk (which was sad). But her brashness was a positive force: the female members of OUCA did not ask a single question that evening, they just sat silently fingering their pearls. Later, she asked:

“Hugo Chavez once asked me to sleep with him. Do you think I should fuck him if he promises to give the West more oil?”

You might wonder how she ended up here. The explanation isn’t really satisfying. In her hands she held what was purportedly once Winston Churchill’s cane. She had come to Oxford to trade it for legal representation in an ongoing court case. She generously let the cane circulate the room for photographs. Then she generously circulated the room for photographs.

At the end of formal proceedings Courtney Love was unanimously elected the lifetime ‘OUCA Officer for Rock and Roll.’ By way of thanks, she leapt on the antique table and, draped in the Union Jack, sang the theme tune to Dad’s Army. She knew every word. And sounded amazing. Later, while dancing to ‘Onward Christian Soldier’ she overheard the Scottish accent of one of our party and misinterpreted it as a sign of a working class heritage. She whispered, “get me out of here”.

We agreed to meet her later at a touristy pub called the King’s Arms. On arrival she said “I want you all to know that I’m not a conservative. I’m a radical. Like Margaret Thatcher”. After an awkward pause, she laughed once to let us know that she knew the comparison was totally wrong. And then again to let us know that she knew it was half-right.

We didn’t want to order drinks because we had a vague sense she was a recovering alcoholic but somehow we ended up with a few jugs of Winter Pimms. She volunteered: “Just before anyone brings it up. He broke my heart and I’m not going to talk about it.”

Nobody was going to bring it up but, if we’re honest, we did want her to talk about it. I hope I don’t make her sound pathetic. She wasn’t— she made you feel pathetic. When she told us about her legal troubles (millions stolen, contracts broken) we couldn’t follow her stories but we certainly believed them at the time.

“My parents weren’t rich. They worked on a farm.” We nodded, guilty about our privilege. “Well, they owned a farm. Or, at least, inherited it.” She sighed. “Whatever.”

Upon discovering I was an Australian she grabbed my arm. “Let me tell you something that will shame you. Like, totally shame you. Well—your Prime Minister, Paul Keating—

“Julia Gillard?”

After a moment of puzzlement, she corrected me: “No, your current Prime Minister, Paul Keating. His fucking daughter offered to eat out her sister out in front of Kurt, if he fucked her in return. Can you believe that?”

I could not believe that.

Her driver arrived early. There were no departing air kisses or cute waves or any other celebrity affectations. Certainly no autographs. But she left us with the false sensation of actually knowing Courtney Love, which was very kind.

She collapsed into the back seat with Winston Churchill’s cane placed suggestively between her legs, looking wild but regal, erotically assertive and aware of all her charms and powers. Just like Margaret Thatcher.

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