Tab Confessional: To Drink, or not to Drink?

Are Drinking Societies worth all the hype? Three anonymous Cantabs spill the beans in our Confessional…

Amy Lambert Cambridge cambridge drinking societies Cambridge University Drinking Drinking Societies Queens' Stephen Fry youtube

So, I know that recently it looks like The Tab has had drinking societies coming out of its ears.  From how to get in them, to the lifestyle that may occur if you belong to several, drinking societies appear to be quite de rigueur.  But what, I hear you cry, exactly are drinking societies? How do they work? What makes them tick?  Why should I care?

Here be answers, friends.  For your elucidation and enjoyment I have interviewed a drinking society fanatic, a drinking society tee-total-er and an individual with some of the strongest anti-drinking society opinions around.  All three have entered the confessional in order that you, the reader, may be privy to those secrets known only by a lucky few. Read, digest, and make up your own mind about one of Cambridge’s most controversial institutions without even needing to venture outside your walls…

Amy Lambert: How did you find out about drinking societies? What are they?

Drinking Pro: Whispers and rumours in first year.  A Drinking Society is a group of same-sexed individuals who organise meals with societies of the opposite gender.  They meet, drink and get laddy.  Some have strict rules dictating membership.

Anti- Drinking Societies: I think that they are impossible to avoid if you ask about the social life in Cambridge! You hear about them in the press and stories from people you meet who came to the Uni. But I never paid much attention until I came up for fresher’s week. By then, they were quite hard to ignore!

Teetotal-er: I heard about the drinking societies from a friend who was part of one in the year above.

AL: Why were you interested in being a member of a drinking society?

T: I liked the idea that people from different years could go out and socialise together. They also appeared to have a lot of fun!

DP: I enjoyed the inherent flattery of being approached by something that’s a little bit secret and special.

A-DS: Very little.  While I am not averse to drinking, and like anyone at university I have drunk too much on a couple of regrettable evenings, I’ve never been too keen on joining. Members don’t go on a swap with the aim of having fun and meeting new people, they go to get hammered. And what- just because you are wearing a blazer with a hilarious crest on, vomiting in the street is ok?

AL: What was your first impression of the society?

DP: Brotherhood, superb alumni and great history.

A-DS: I had my first run in with them during my first week in Cambridge, while still a young and wide-eyed fresher. I had wandered into my college bar with a friend and was surrounded by a group of lads in stash. Seeing their odd behaviour, I very politely asked one guy what the hell was happening. The only response I got was him screaming in my face ‘DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM????’ like a Big Brother contestant at a club opening. That and the sight of one ‘gentleman’ basically molesting not one but two girls who were obviously on the way to unconsciousness convinced me drinking societies were a bad idea.

T: They were well dressed! On a deeper note, they were a bunch of really genuine, nice girls. I was a little apprehensive about the fact I didn’t drink but they totally respected that and were really accommodating.

AL: What qualities do drinking societies look for?

DP: It all depends. Fundamentally it’s like-mindedness.

T: The name in itself suggests that they look for people who like their alcohol and can consume impressive amounts. That is true in many cases, but my society obviously weren’t too fussed about this, as I don’t drink at all! Generally I think drinking societies are looking for people who are up for meeting new people and having a good time.

A-DS: I don’t think all the societies are the same. For instance, I think more of the girls look for how attractive you are, while guys tend to look for the most ‘laddish’ behaviour. There are, I know, some groups who accept anyone who wishes to join.  But those groups who ask only the most popular, the prettiest, the most promiscuous? ‘The best university in the world’ should not be made up of people who only value these qualities.

Suitable Swap Attire?

AL: What were the worst aspects of initiation?

T: Asking for a hug from a stranger and getting totally rejected! Unfortunately this was my first task and left me rather dejected, but then in my defence I was dressed as a bunny…

DP: Losing a pint of blood en route to Wyverns onto my new tie.

A-DS: I have friends in societies whose initiations asked fairly harmless things, drank a lot but not dangerously and had a great time. On the other hand, I have also ended up looking after another friend from another society, so drunk it was touch-and-go if we should call an ambulance.

AL: Would you recommend being in a drinking society and why?

DP: Absolutely. It’s the best and worst thing about Cambridge; clearly the whole process is disgustingly elitist and pre-university I’d have been completely critical of it. But you have to be pragmatic and you’re just spitting on yourself if you don’t embrace it and make the most out of it. The only thing worse than a drinking society knob is an alternative knob who refuses to get involved on principle – deep down they’re just gagging to go out, get battered and have fun.  The drinking soc is a means to an end.

T: Yes I would definitely recommend being in a society; it is a bit of light-hearted fun.

A-DS: No.  However, I have seen someone who was not affiliated with a drinking society on a night out who was drunk enough to wet themselves (that one was in Fez…). If people want to drink to excess that is their choice and they will do so with or without a group. But don’t ask me to join in telling war stories!

AL: Are there any disadvantages to being in one?

DP: Being labelled as both a wanker and as having the morals of an alley cat. Labelled fairly though, in most cases.

T: In their nature they are exclusive and this can lead to various political situations. I really hate cliques, so I suppose being part of such a society is quite hypocritical, but at the same time I think this can be avoided though by frequently ‘guesting’ ringers and hanging out with people outside your society.

A-DS: Drinking societies turn what should be reprehensible individual behaviour into a group institution.  Enough said.

AL: How much stash do you/the society have? Do you think it’s enough?

DP: Tie; bow-tie; cufflinks; scarf; hat; polo shirt; shirt; deck shoes; pillowcases. Loud and proud.

A-DS: I have earned stash through representing my college at sports.  That’s enough for me.

T: My society has a charm and stamp which I think is sufficient! I am quite keen for stash but don’t want to go overboard- a blazer would be nice though.

Cherub Deck Shoes- Custom Made

AL: Do you think that drinking societies make a mockery of Cambridge social life?

A-DS: No, I think they are intrinsically part of it. None of us came here for the great social life, so it is understandable that these societies exist. My objection is that these societies give the idea that the ‘right group’ are those too drunk to speak. Encouraging binge drinking is not going to magically make the clubs better or the other students more likely to sleep with you.

DP: I do. It’s impossible to explain to outsiders without sounding like a 200% bell-end. I’m often forced to play the Stephen Fry Cherub card if I feel my explanation isn’t going down too well – everybody loves big Steve.  Even the alternatives. (Editor’s note- Stephen Fry is an ex-Cherub and has been recorded on TV wearing his society stash).

T: I am not sure mockery is the right word. Yeah, it is quirky and unique and typically Cambridge, but sporting societies exist in universities all over the country and so I think the concept of a drinking society can be appreciated from the outside. Drinking societies constitute a large part of the Cambridge social make- up and it doesn’t hurt to be part of one!

AL: Any further comments?

A-DS: If you want to meet people from around the university, get involved in one of the million constructive clubs. If you want to drink to excess, go to Sainsbury’s and grab a Basics bottle of vodka then accept the consequences. Don’t try to justify immature and dangerous behaviour as a way of meeting people. Call it what it is: a drinking society’s only purpose is to validate destructive behaviour under the thin veil of socialising. Is this something we should encourage?

Stephen seems to think so…

Stephen Fry sporting his Cherubs tie on University Challenge