Refrigerate, Set and Match

Jelly wrestling in Cambridge has been forced underground. ROISIN KIBERD investigates.

A foot slams into the glutinous orange mess, the stiletto still strapped-on but stained with the burgeoning mess. Now jelly is splattering everywhere; I have to duck as globs of it fly up in squeaky missiles. The two women in the ring are struggling to stay upright as they tackle each-other; hair is matted with the stickiness, their bikini-clad figures dripping with a mixture of fake tan and orange goop. Forget YouTube videos and salacious tabloid stories about frat-boys cheering on liquored-up college girls; this jelly wrestling isn’t glamorous. Its savage, competitive and very, very messy.

I’d love to say that the first rule of Ladies Jelly-Fight Club is you don’t talk about it, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I first discovered this underground phenomenon through hearsay and whispered tales circulating in Cambridge ladies’ sports circles; a group of female students, wary of attracting media scandal, but seeking the rare gelatinous thrill of fighting in a shallow pool of dessert, had taken jelly wrestling underground, staging tournaments fortnightly in undisclosed university locations. Fights are arranged through a complex code of postcards on the UMS network (greetings from the chosen college name the host each time, with novelty royalist postcards indicating a ‘Battle Royale’) Newcomers are not encouraged, in the name of secrecy, but are tolerated as long as they bring along a bowl of jelly for the fight (‘Sainsbury’s Basics’ range is a favourite, with 9 soluble cubes for 20p and the colour a vivid artificial orange.) Bets are made on matches, with the winner collecting a portion of profits. Similarly, the loser is made to clean up when the match is over.

I approach one of the competitors, a slight but athletically-built classicist from Gonville and Caius, who provides only the alias ‘Corinna’. I ask her what drives her to compete in such a messy and hazardous sport.
‘I get bored with all the reading time on my course,’ she shrugs. ‘ I didn’t make the rowing team, and I don’t find solo sports such as running competitive enough. All the library hours breed a kind of frustration in me, its great to translate it into something more…more..’ Physical? Violent? I volunteer. ‘Its in all Cambridge students natures to want to be the best. If we didn’t aim high, then we wouldn’t have got in. But I want more than a first in my subject.’ Her eyes spark. ‘I literally want to pulverize the competition.’

A children’s paddling pool is brought in and inflated with a foot pump while the competitors- Corinna and a brawny NatSci known as ‘Bellonna’- psych themselves up and strip down to their bikinis. To the side of the pool are several men, the only ones in the room and ostensibly the boyfriends of tonight’s competitors . None look particularly worried, sitting in collapsible chairs with cans of beer in hand. After this somewhat lengthy interlude, the pool is inflated and bowls of jelly are poured in by all present, like some kind of violent and barely-dressed pot luck dinner.

The two take their places in the ring. The NatSci is at least 5.11 with enormous rower’s shoulders; and I wonder what Corinna’s strategy will be to defeat this girl-mountain. A bell is rung and they begin to circle each-other, eye contact unbroken across the shallow, gelatinous sea. Then unexpectedly Bellona lunges at her prey, dragging her down face flat into the jelly. Three minutes more and Corinna is pinned under her opponent’s formidable weight; three counts and she’ll be beaten for good.

Then unexpectedly the bell sounds again; the match is dissolved with news that a college dean has heard the noise and is on his way. most of the audience floods up stairs and through windows back to the above-ground world, with the room cleared in minutes of everything but the upended paddling pool and a puddle of jelly beneath it. I am forced to abandon my expose and follow Corinna through a window. I search around in vain once back on ground, but she’s vanished with only a sticky trail of jelly left behind her. Perhaps one day the matches will merit the prestige and respect  of a true Cambridge sport, with official tournaments  and Blues awarded to the champions. For now, however, it remains clandestine; Cambridge isn’t ready for this jelly.