I can distinctly remember my first. It was on a drizzly, grey Cambridge morning and I had been invited to absolutely nothing so I tagged along behind my ‘cool’ friends (needless to say, two years later we scarcely acknowledge one another’s existence) who had been invited to our senior drinking society’s brunch. I had a glass of champagne, I left, I went to the gym with a friend and afterwards we decided to see what all the fuss was about.
In case you hadn’t gathered, I’m talking about Caesarean Sunday – that glorious Cambridge tradition dating back to…well we don’t actually know when but we do know that it all started when someone from Jesus stole a bottle of Pimms from Girton and started the custom of ‘the fight’. In my first year I trotted along with my friend, saw a few rugby ‘lads’ pretend to throw a few punches and try to look scary, and watched the guy I had a crush on run around while wrapped in a twister mat for a bit.
It’s hardly material for The Daily Mail and when the aforementioned ‘cool friends’ turned up with the blues they’d swapped with in tow, I remember feeling distinctly disgruntled. It wasn’t just that they were all there with their swishy hair, immaculately manicured nails, expensive-looking silk blouses and delicately applied ‘natural’ make-up that incensed my immense jealousy. No, it was primarily because they were all there and (trust me) well and truly initiated in what is now an annual tradition.
For me on the other hand, it was like being back at school again. Standing there on the periphery of all that drunken debauchery, all I wanted was to be one of the girls being held upside down whilst being fed a lethal combination of spirits. It felt as if, along with pulling all-nighters and screaming at the television during the Boat Race, getting outrageously drunk on a Sunday morning was something you had to do in order to truly call yourself a Cantab.
It’s taken me two years, a year out of Cambridge with an eating disorder and more therapy than Katie Hopkins’ children are going to need to realise that this is most definitely not the case. Quite the opposite: what makes me a Cantab is the fact that I was somehow clever enough to get here in the first place. The same can be said for all of us, although this Sunday, I’ll still be thinking of some of the people who are going to be on Jesus Green.
Not the Caesareans, the Green Giants, the Wyverns, the Harlots or the Misfits, or indeed any other drinking society conducting initiations. Instead, I’ll be thinking about the casual observers: me two years ago.
How many people are going to be there, enviously wishing that they were properly part of the riotous behaviour? How many people are going to be there, secretly longing for their photo to be in The Daily Mail? How many people should really just give in and instead spend the day enjoying themselves (or just revising) at home without feeling socially awkward?
Arriving in Cambridge, more than at any other university (except perhaps the Other Place) most of us feel a tremendous need to find our position within hundreds of years of tradition. We feel a need to learn to row, to cycle past King’s wearing a gown or to attend a debate at the Union Society in order to feel that we’ve truly been here, made the most of our time and experienced everything Cambridge has to offer. We want to make the effort we put in at A-level worth something and find our niche area where we’ll be accepted, loved and appreciated. Consequently some of us choose to devote themselves to experiencing Cambridge’s rich academia alone while others see getting drunk and watching a few boys ‘fight’ one another as part and parcel of studying here.
I’m not for one moment condemning Caesarean Sunday. I think it’s fantastic; it’s one of the many traditions that make Cambridge…well…Cambridge. But the best thing about Cambridge is that you don’t need to immerse yourself in our weird and wonderful traditions in order to self-define as a thoroughbred Cantabrigian.
So if you’re one of those people who’s going to end up gormlessly observing Jesus Green’s alcohol-infused depravity this Sunday, chill out. In ten years time you will not look back on your degree and regret not seeing your big-toe in the edge of a photo in The Daily Mail. Instead, catch up on Game of Thrones, go punting or, if you’re really desperate, go to the library.
Unless you’re a fresher. There are some traditions everyone needs to experience at least once.