Mr X and Mr Y are both Presidents of their college’s drinking society. We caught up with them to chat about falling in the Cam, the perfect swap and Caesarian Sunday.
“There’s pringles absolutely everywhere”. Mr X has finally arrived for our interview, fifteen minutes late. Mr Y explains that it was their alumni dinner the night before while Mr X asks if either of us know a carpenter to fix the chest of drawers he apparently broke (he can’t remember) in the early hours of the morning.
It soon becomes clear that Mr X is late and battling what looks like a monumental hangover because, after helping the society’s other twelve members see off nine bottles of Cava at pre-drinks alone the night before, he broke into another college (“please don’t say which one it was”, he asks) and ended up in the Cam, but not before “running around said college’s library taking selfies with loads of pissed off people at midnight’”. He grins, “that was fun”.
Falling into the Cam soon becomes a recurrent theme as we discuss initiations. “I’m usually the one in charge, trying to rein it in” says Mr Y, the longer-standing and supposedly more sensible member, “although I did oversee an initiation in which two of the initiates ran into the Cam because they didn’t know it was there. I suppose falling into the Cam is sort of our go-to thing”. He then gestures at Mr X, “last time he was too out-of-it to even move.”
Mr X grimaces and, as Mr Y tries to think of something he himself has done, asks “Didn’t you once crawl up Castle Hill on your hands and knees through stinging nettles?” Mr Y pauses. “Oh yeah, that was me”. He laughs and then adds, “seriously though, the best thing that anyone’s done was when an old boy was found stark naked in a random male third year’s bed after a dinner. He’d tried to get in bed with this guy because he thought it was his guest room. One of the porters had to remove him and clothe him. His girlfriend still doesn’t know”.
Yet, despite their raucousness, being banned from both their college and a stately home and having narrowly escaped being banned from one college (coincidentally the same anonymous college mentioned earlier) after “an old boy pissed in their fountain” (Mr Y explains “they gave him a hefty fine and left it at that”), they insist that what makes their society unique is how they go for “the gentlemanly vibe”. “We’re definitely more ties than togas” says Mr Y while Mr X describes his society as “a lot more respectful”.
This does in fact seem to be the case. When asked whether he thinks that Cambridge Drinking Societies are sexist, Mr X in particular is keen to defend Cambridge’s drinking culture. “People always get so up in arms about it but it’s not really a thing. I don’t know of any men’s society that’s made women do something that they don’t want to do. In fact, girls make us do things! At the end of the day, you know what to expect from a swap and if you don’t want to do something, then don’t go”.
“We do actually have a swap themed ‘Mr X and hoes’” coming up, just to take the piss out of drinking society sexism”, laughs Mr Y. Mr X looks horrified. “It’s a joke” he explains, “please don’t let The Daily Mail get hold of that!” . Mr Y continues “Yeah…I’m probably going to go as a hoe, but that aside, I think people really do look for sexism in everything. At our freshers’ dinner we had two girls turn up with the aim of writing it up for The Tab. We were like ‘What do you think is going to happen? If you’re going to do that, then you’re not coming’. They agreed not to, but it’s quite offensive that they assumed they’d have some grim story about it to share”.
So what would be their perfect swap? “I can tell you what makes a bad one”, answers Mr Y, “We had one swap in first year with an awful society from a neighbouring college. They’ve consistently been appalling value on every single swap we’ve had with them. We were playing drinking games and they were refusing to drink. We just got really wasted to the point where by the end of formal we didn’t notice that they’d all left”.
“Ok, so that’s bad hosting and a bad example”, says Mr X. “But drinking isn’t the main thing; I’ve done swaps sober before. The main thing is that you’re still up for some fun. Also, charm. You have to be able to talk with whoever you’re drinking with, at least on a basic level”.
Having previously only experienced the side of drinking societies characterised by slogans like ‘beers, boys, banter’, I have to admit I’m surprised by Mr X’s response. I become even more so as the pair tell me how they feel how the public’s view of Cambridge drinking societies.
“It’s very ‘ra’ isn’t it?” says Mr X, “I mean Bullingdon Club and all that. I wish I was in the Bullingdon Club, I’d love fifty grand in my back pocket!” Mr Y pipes up, “We do have a very patrician image, which is odd as most of our members went to state-schools. We’re just like any other university, pre-drinking, getting lashed and having fun. It’s just we wear ties while we do it.”
He continues on this theme, “I can’t stand some other societies. It’s so ‘lads, lads, lads, it’s like looking into a night-out in Newcastle!” Mr X agrees. “If you use the word ‘lad’ seriously”, he says, “there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. It’s sad that ‘lad’ culture is slowly creeping into Cambridge”.
It’s not just ‘laddishness’ that the pair objects to however. “I hate this anti-private education thing, it just doesn’t come into it” says Mr X and as Mr Y starts to explain how “Mr X rose up through the ranks of a comprehensive…” he interrupts. “I’ve been very lucky but it’s not my fault. I get written off because I was at Public School”. Mr Y shrugs, “no one cares about it, even in the Pitt Club. It’s not a thing anymore so people need to stop pretending it is.”
As our interview draws to a close I’m left with just enough time to quiz the pair about Caesarian Sunday. “We’re doing a brunch swap then an evening swap” Mr X informs me, kindly telling me that a ‘brunch swap’ is “basically a swap with brunch”, in case I couldn’t figure it out. “And Life”, adds Mr Y, “We do love life. And sitting on the lawn with sliced melon.”
And their best memories of the Sunday that senior tutors dread?
“I wouldn’t know,” says Mr X, “I can’t remember”.