DAISY MITCHELL takes a look at the various initiation experiences going on this week…

banana cam cream ferret girton green monsters gymslips harlots hedonism Initiations Misfits Newnham Nuns sexual squid Squires sweat

 Many Cambridge College drinking societies will be initiating new members at some point during this infamously hedonistic week. On Sunday I witnessed our four most recent recruits successfully negotiating a series of challenges in the pouring rain that left them covered in various foodstuffs, overspill vodka, and a lot of mud. Fortunately it was nothing a prolonged dip in the crystal waters of the Cam, intended to illustrate their commitment to the cause, didn’t solve.

The unwillingness (or inability) of three out of four initiatees (one of whom decided to take a shower having already dressed and applied her make-up) to rouse themselves from an alcohol-induced stupor and head to Cindies, confirmed that their rites of passage had been sufficiently booze-orientated. (Arguably we had misjudged the size of the hastily poured shots in plastic cups, or the advisability of consuming strawberry vodka jelly that someone had cycled through.) 

The level of alcohol consumption expected at male drinking society initiations is undoubtedly much higher. The university drinking society, ‘The Ferrets’, are rumoured to have to consume 80 units of alcohol during their initiations, 20 times the maximum advised daily for men, and numerous initiations involve drinking throughout the day, often from an early hour. Increasingly, however, drinking societies seem to be moving paradoxically away from their namesake activity and adopting initiations that involve dares, challenges, eating delicacies fit (or unfit) for animals, and promiscuous antics. Here’s a quick look at the sorts of things undergraduates are expected to do for the honour of taking part in swaps as an ‘official’ member of the squad, or receiving a pretty hideous piece of society stash.


Food, or unappetising combinations of food and drink, is a staple ingredient of initiating procedures. ‘Dirty pints’ lined with things like spicy sauce and cigarette ash are commonplace, and initiatees into one Emmanuel drinking society have to finish between them a vat of home made ‘Bloody Mary’ cocktail containing raw vegetables and enough spice to burn your mouth off. Societies like Magdalene’s ‘Wyverns’ are renowned for their multiple ‘course’ initiations, one of which involves the consumption of a live goldfish, and similarly St Catherine’s ‘Whiskers’ are made to struggle through repulsive concoctions including cat food. Bumping into one of my friends from Christ’s on the street the other day, I noticed he had a carrier bag containing a sizeable raw fish and some squid. For their initiations, he informed me. Obviously.


Other initiations seem more appropriate to some sort of army training scheme. The wrestling spectacle on Caesarean Sunday last month serves as part of the Girton ‘Green Monsters’ initiations, and acts of bravado are similarly popular. Swimming in the Cam is a commonplace, and many drinking societies set challenges from current members to initiatees in order to make them prove themselves, such as the Corpus Christi ‘Pelicans’ initiations, which involve completing a drinking challenge set by every existing member of the society. Speeches, performances, punting, and other such physical activities, or excursions to Grantchester have been adopted by various societies; an ability to drink is not the only thing expected of prospective candidates.


The third variety of initiations, more common to girls’ societies than boys, is those involving the other sex. The Newnham ‘Nuns’ shot to tabloid fame with their task of having initiatees apply condoms to bananas without using their hands, but such racy challenges are widespread. Licking whipped cream off boys bodies is part of the initiations of numerous female drinking societies; the Girton ‘Gymslips’ faring particularly badly in that they are made to lick whipped cream of the bodies of their male drinking society, after they have finished fighting, covered in face paint and sweat. Boys’ societies have used whipped cream to different effects; a member of the Trinity Hall ‘Crescents’ described his initiation as having been ‘made to have whipped cream licked off you by a girl you really didn’t want to lick whipped cream off you’. St. John’s ‘Jezebels’ initiations in a Cambridge club last term took this trend to the next level last term with initiatees being dared in public to approach strangers and kiss them.