CUSU: Then and Now

Think CUSU is an odd place now? Try the 1990s, say ELOISE DAVIES and DMITRY KIRPICHENKO.

1992 1993 Alcohol CUSU Drugs handbook LesBiGay strange societies welfare

A rare and exciting historical document has come into The Tab’s possession. A lost Shakespeare play? A map to Atlantis? Photographic evidence of what really killed the dinosaurs?

No, even better. It’s a copy of the ‘The CUSU Handbook, 1992-1993’.

Where said rare artefact ought to have gone long ago

CUSU is, of course, an institution close to the hearts of many in the student population. This masterpiece clearly deserved thorough historical investigation, to improve our understanding of the vital role CUSU has played in the past and continues to this day.

We have endeavoured to complete this task with the utmost care. Here is a summary of our findings:


Here CUSU provides one of those helpful, practical insights it is famed for. “As far as welfare goes,” opines the Handbook, “Cambridge’s big problem is its collegiate structure.”

“The tutorial system… can be an institution of patronage and control.”

Advice on the use of drugs is characteristically libertarian; “two words of warning: do not let yourself be pressured in to taking any drugs against your wishes, and remember that if you are offered drugs, they may not be what you are told they are.” Otherwise, enjoy.

Oh, apart from the really hard stuff, of course: Alcohol is said has numerous debilitating long term effects. “Heart disease, muscle disease, breast cancer, brain damage, impaired sex life… [continues for 4 lines]”

The impact of heroin on the other hand, is relatively modest: “dependence is common but not inevitable”. LSD is “not associated with dependency”, so who cares?

Give up hope of welfare, all ye who enter here


LBGT did not exist. Instead, there was the exciting lifestyle of the LesBiGay group. For instance, “for bisexual women there is brunch every third Sunday in King’s”.

It also informs us that, “it has become almost a cliché to say that somewhere in the region of 80% of people employed in Hollywood are gay or bisexual.”

0.3% of CUSU statistics may be made up


The early 90s saw a far wider range of societies than today. Perhaps it was that extracurricular activities were more often part of room allocation systems. Perhaps there were fewer distractions in the pre-internet age. Perhaps we’re just more boring.

Whatever the answer, here are a few particular gems.

The pretentious…

Free Derrida Association

“Free Derrida by emancipating yourself and seizing your intellectectual means of production from the functionalist oppressors.” 

CU Heraldic and Genealogical Society

“One of the most prestigious societies in Cambridge… Gowns must be worn.”

Dress down Friday for the heraldic crew

CU Mystical Society

“We believe in a sacred reality as the essence of life, but do not limit ourselves to any one approach, creed or belief system.”

Trinity National Theatre

“Full of zany and talented people who eat stir-fried rice.”

The exclusive…

The Tristan Marshall Society

“Probably the most exclusive clique in the University. Only those name Tristan Marshall need apply. Varsity experience non-essential but helps.

Contact: Tristan Marshall (Girton) and Tristan Marshall (Clare)

And the less exclusive…

CU Liverpool Supporters’ Club

“Do you enjoy a good piss-up?”

CU Irish Society

“We basically meet together, complain about the Guinness, promote Irish culture, complain about the Guinness, run Irish language classes, complain about the Guinness and discuss matters Irish. Whether you are Irish, from North or South, fairly Irish from North, South or West, not really that Irish but interested, then look into our non-political, non-religious society dedicated to the more positive aspects of an island west of here.”

The leprechauns wouldn’t put up with this crap

The Dionysian Society

“Buy cheap French plonk from a Calais hypermarket.”

The niche…

Ambridge Anonymous (CU Archers Society)

“Dum-De-Dum dum-de-dum. dum-de dum-de dum dum…. Do you have an unhealthy obsession with Nelson Gabriel? Do you lie awake at night worrying about Lizzie’s future?  Is your sole ambition to assassinate Linda Snell?

Well, one of our members is as sad as you! Still, most of us are quite normal, honest.

Our formal halls and termly parties are the highlight of Cambridge’s social calendar. You, too, may live a happy, fulfilled life as an Archers listener in an uncaring world.”

So much better when combined with a certain radio sitcom

The slightly worrying…

CU Role-Playing Society

“Aims to promote role playing in all its multifarious forms.”

The just plain bizarre…

The Sheila and her Dog Society

“We are disembowelled to the tusk of impruning the grape wicks of plastic children’s nomenclature and udders blackcurrently languishing in lobsters, to woo. We tootle around mouthwatching colleagues in dressing gowns, curdled Tories and conflagrate much cocoa, mascots, dragon’s teeth and cocoa.

Translation: We are dedicated to the task of upholding the great works of classic children’s literature and others currently languishing in obscurity, to wit: Winnie the Pooh, the Moomin saga, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We tootle around many colleges in dressing gowns with cuddly toys and consume much cocoa, biscuits, dragon’s teeth and cocoa.”

Yep, I could conflagrate a couple of these any time

And a few more familiar names…

CU Women’s Campaign

“Ecstasy, excitement, ectoplasm – just a few of the amazing by-products of the Women’s Campaign Where else could you climb the heights of joy, freedom, discovery and ooze through the space-time continuum? The answer to this and many other questions ‘nowhere else, sister’.”

Cambridge Union Society

“Members have use of the Union’s extensive facilities… We even have satellite TV! Make the best of your Cambridge years.”

Union Society Boycott Society

Our vision

“The Union Society… is an elitist debating society… Most freshers do not join. Most of those who do, later regret wasting their £60 and feel that they were smooth-talked into it.

They seek attention by entertaining racists, fascists and arms-dealers. Debate is judged on confrontational rhetoric, not content. Bankrupt this dinosaur; build a central student union. Join the boycott by not joining the Union Society.”

Complaints about the Union overcharging? Surely not? The past truly is another country…