Society Spy: Sheila and Her Dog

The Society Spies go back to (primary) school.

Cambridge Drinking Societies Enid Blyton Features Pingu Society Spy Student The Famous Five the tab Winnie the Pooh

Can you imagine what it would be like to be a six year old at university? Picking your nose in lectures and having to put your hand up to ask the lecturer if you can go to the toilet; being served up the same turkey twizzlers in the buttery every day (well, perhaps that would be an improvement); having to talk at length on macroeconomics when really all you can think about is the fact that your supervision clashes with Rosie and Jim. We’ve made it sound pretty grim but this week a certain group of Cambridge students proved to Society Spy that being a six year old at university is not as bad as you might imagine.

We all have our escapes from the torments of a Cambridge degree (yes, fourth/fifth week blues have hit us too) and for members of the Sheila and Her Dog Society, that escape is regressing back to an idealised childhood. Founded in 1986, there is an intriguing myth surrounding the name of Cambridge’s silliest society. There was a woman named Sheila who used to shout at the original members for making too much noise. Sheila had a dog. Not really a myth, is it; it's actually quite straightforward. However to someone who hasn't done much research into the society, it does indeed appear to be a giddy riddle. The general format of the social is to turn up to a meeting in one member’s room and read some children’s stories in silly voices whilst eating sweets and drinking hot chocolate and throwing teddies round the room. The dress code is dressing gowns and once the meeting commences, by dropping a penguin named Alan, all members are, to all intents and purposes, six year olds.

Sheila’s reputation as the silliest society in Cambridge has been challenged by the PoohSoc, a similar society dedicated to the reading of Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Although the two societies have been known to liaise and go to formal hall together, this is merely a method of ‘keeping your enemies close’ as there is an ongoing feud to reign supreme over silliness in Cambridge. This war has produced a tragic fatality. Alan the First, penguin and fundamental Sheila mascot, was kidnapped, tortured and killed by PoohSoc.

The initial instinct of the Pooh-tyrants was to torture the innocent Pingu by putting him in the freezer but this was a schoolboy error; they clearly don’t know where penguins come from. Without going into too many gross details, when Alan was finally returned to Sheila and Her Dog, there was evidence to suggest that a microwave and/or kettle had been involved in his death. With much lament, Alan the First was succeeded by Alan the Second who was, by all accounts, a bit mean. We’re still not quite sure how a stuffed penguin can be mean but this is the feeling that members got from the despotic leader and so Alan the Second was overthrown and replaced by Alan the Third. In light of this history of battle, Society Spy went along this week to find out just how silly Sheila really is and the verdict was pretty damn silly.

We were welcomed by friendly and a few eccentric characters, despite one who was blatantly suspicious of us and referred to Max as ‘Tab Boy’, a bit too rudely to be quite in-keeping with her persona as a six year old. We personally think she might have had a bit of a crush and wanted to play kiss chase. The afternoon was spent reading Enid Blyton’s ‘The Famous Five’. It has to be admitted that reading these stories again – with characters called Aunt Fanny and Dick – is much more entertaining aged twenty than during ‘literacy hour’ as a youngster. It’s just a shame that they’ve taken the buzz out of the blue Smarties; all that the meeting was missing was that authentic e-number rush now confined to the distant memories of children of the nineties.

Many people choose being part of a drinking society as their escape route and there are parallels between those and Sheila and Her Dog: drinking is a central function of both, with alcohol in the former and cocoa in the latter; you have to wear something weird to join both, blazers for the drinking societies and dressing gowns for Sheila. However by choosing Sheila and Her Dog, you ensure that you don’t end up locked out of your room in the small hours vomiting into whatever the Dean is not likely to discover. So there are many benefits to being a six year old at the University of Cambridge but you should only join this society if you’re really very silly. Or six years old.