Odd socs: Inside the UK’s strangest societies
The Freshers Fair is a minefield – choose wisely.
With Freshers Week just around the corner, societies will be trying to recruit you from every direction.
Struggling to decide? You needn’t worry – we spoke to the members of the only societies really worth joining.
The Viking Society
When people ask Thomas Severn why he founded the University of Plymouth Viking Society, he says: “Why not? Vikings are brilliant.”
When they’re not marauding on campus or learning to fight with authentic steel weapons, the society can be found downing flagons of mead, “the sustenance of Vikings”, at one of their famous banquets:
“There are candles and a long table covered in food – some of the members kill the rabbits themselves. We’ll feast and drink and laugh, we’ll get full, and we’ll tell stories. Of course the more we drink, the taller the stories get.”
What would Thomas say to aspiring Vikings? “If you’re the sort of person who likes a wild night with good company in a smoky room with lots of mead, then join us.”
The Burlesque Society
“Burlesque is a form of dancing where you take your clothes off throughout,” says Leicester Vixens president Ellie Johnson, “But it’s really important to stress that it’s not stripping.
“Stripping is something you do for other people – burlesque you do for yourself.”
The Vixens may be a burlesque society, but that doesn’t mean they’re all fishnets and corsets: “People think of burlesque as just cabaret, but we do a lot of modern stuff too.
“Yes, we use gloves, fans and feather boas. But we also have hula hoop training classes and belly-dancing classes. I’ve performed shows in a top hat and suit with a cane.”
Ellie emphasises building self-confidence as a reason many people join – even though some members aren’t exactly lacking in that department: “We have a performer called ‘Cherry Diablo’ who uses ostrich feather fans and dances to really heavy, obscure rock music. The audience is always captivated.”
Just for the girls then? Not quite: “We have had some male performers,” Ellie says, “The audience were quite taken aback – they’d never seen ‘boylesque’ before.”
The Ukulele Society
According to Sussex’s President, Robin Brown, the Ukulele Soc is for the hobbits amongst you: “Many of our members tried to learn the guitar, but found it too difficult as their hands were too small.
“The ukulele has allowed these people to play much more comfortably.”
There are many reasons to start playing the ukulele – hand size being the tip of the iceberg: “The instruments themselves are popular with students because they’re very, very cheap, and you get a lot of bang for your buck. “
No matter the size of your hands or the price of your ukulele, there’s room for you at UkeSoc: “Our membership is quite diverse, both in ukulele ability and culturally. For this reason, we try really hard to make sure that everyone feels comfortable and welcome, but that we are also challenging everyone to learn something and improve every week.
Not convinced? According to Robin, the performances are a big draw: “They always inevitably end in a big happy drunken sing-along with everyone in the bar.”
And no, it doesn’t have to be Wonderwall.
The Cat Society
“It’s not a major society,” says Phoebe from the Oxford University Cat Society, “But it’s quite niche and fun.”
“Niche” is certainly one way to describe CatSoc: “We meet up on a Tuesday evening and draw cat whiskers on ourselves in lipstick or Sharpie.
“Then we talk, with a vague focus on cats.”
But CatSoc don’t just talk about their furry feline friends – occasionally they spend time with them too: “Many of our members were on their years abroad in Kobe this year, so they had a Kobe ‘branch’ and went to cat cafes.”
But it’s not always so easy: “The Oxford Branch tried to organise a meet and greet with a local cat, but the only flaw in the plan was that we didn’t know how to get him to turn up.”
CatSoc hasn’t actually had the opportunity to introduce cats into the society itself, but we are assured that they do all spend time with them “on an individual basis”.
Still, they’re doing better than the Oxford Dog Society: “There was very briefly a rival DogSoc, but that died out. It’s probably because cats are cooler.”
The Fetish Society
“Many people don’t understand the appeal of being hurt for the enhancement of pleasure, especially if this is taken to an extreme like drawing blood.”
If whips and chains excite you then Birmingham FetSoc will be right up your street – as long as you don’t mind a little pain.
And FetSoc chair Ashleigh says it’s all in the name of learning: “It’s about education. We teach the difference between hurting and not harming.
“Of course there are other forms of play that equally out there for the uninitiated,” she says. “‘Breath play’, for example, involves controlling the breathing of your sexual partner.” As you do.
But it’s not just about the sex: “The important thing is promoting a safe and healthy space for members to come and explore a wide range of sexual and nonsexual activities.
“We just want to encourage like-minded people to experience things they might otherwise not.”
The Quidditch Society
If you’re nimble with your Nimbus, Quidditch could be the sport for you, just don’t mention you-know-who.
“Obviously we like Harry Potter, but that’s not the reason we play,” says Callum Humphreys of the Leicester University Quidditch Society, “It stands as a sport in its own right.”
Like most sports, Quidditch is far from being just a game: “It does get very competitive – you start out playing just for fun, but it is a very serious sport.
“It’s unique; it’s a game that can be played on many levels. There’s a great community feel.”
In the absence of magic, some exceptions do have to be made: “The point of the broom is that it’s more of a handicap – dismounting it is a penalty.”
The positions are the same – each team has three chasers, two beaters, one keeper and one seeker: “Seekers still follow the Snitch, but the Snitch is a person dressed in yellow with a tennis ball in a sock tucked into their trousers.”
As for Callum’s favourite player? It’s not Viktor Krum: “I don’t have a favourite fictional player.”
Any real life champions? “I don’t want to single anyone out. There are so many good ones!”