Glass of wine being poured (formal fomo?)unsplash/Terry Vlisidis

Every single Cambridge student, no matter how loudly they proclaim that they are in fact ‘the natural predator of the Union hack’, will flirt with some internalised feelings of Cambridge exceptionality eventually. A young adult simply cannot have their dinners served to them at the tables of a mediaeval dining hall multiple times a week and maintain that they have not found themselves even a little bit romanced by the stained glass. The fact of the matter is that the unique style of a Cambridge education does, indeed, manifest in its social peculiarities – those anecdotes that genuinely do differ somewhat from those of your friends over at Nottingham or Cardiff or Bristol. It is therefore not particularly surprising that the drinking culture of its students, like so many other things about the University of Cambridge, is in some way anomalous.

“Yet, I would argue that a large part of this culture is actually motivated by a will to defy itself”

The very want to reject the institution’s reputation of atypicality pushes its students to such extreme lengths in order to offset it; desires to prove that a Cambridge degree is not earned at the expense of the ‘archetypal’ university experience is ironically the very thing leading its students to set themselves aside as unique. The result is, overwhelmingly, a paradoxically uniform approach to even the most spontaneous of nights out and a relationship with alcohol that is characterised very much by extremes.

The key perpetrator in this is no doubt the unique pacemaker of the white-hot, eight-week Cambridge term. Due to the breakneck momentum of term time, it may be argued that there falls a background pressure to make the most of every opportunity imaginable during term time prior to each term’s conclusion. Alcoholic events are no exception, providing your average ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra zombie with a timetableable affirmation of ‘normalcy’. By sequencing drinking in this way, a week’s worth of drinking is shoehorned into a single nominated night or two; a night’s worth into a couple of hours. As a result, many students end up getting exceptionally drunk within concentrated periods in order to still end up in bed with sufficient time to make the next morning’s lecture or supervision.

This predictable yet concentrated rhythm, signposted by its slew of ritualised club nights (your ‘Wevses’ and ‘Lolacoasters’), perhaps voids these nights of their impulse and diversity. This only enhances the patterns mentioned previously, with many students compensating for the fact that ‘Cambridge nightlife’ is an oxymoron by drinking excessively whilst partaking in it. Hence, in attempting to make a club’s atmosphere as instantly effective as possible, Cambridge students start measuring out the night’s capacity for excitement in cans and bottles.

“No matter how academic the bricks, ethanolic plaster between them is never warranted”

At other universities, where the nights often stretch out longer, students tend to stagger the rate at which they drink. This ensures that, although they likely consume an equal or even greater number of units on evenings out, they are able to metabolise it more gradually. Clubbing, particularly for those at major urban universities, routinely slips into the smaller hours of 5 or even 6 a.m. — an unthinkable prospect for the Cambridge student that typically sees lights-out at 3 and, owing to the admittedly mediocre and repetitive nature of nightlife in this city, is usually grateful for it. In short, there is a want to party like students do elsewhere; a contradictory need to uphold the tokens of Cambridge responsibility that make doing so impossible.

It is worth noting, nevertheless, that a sizeable portion of the University population does not drink. Although pressure to actively do so truly depends on individual experience, we must consider the runoff from the presence of alcohol occasionally being used as a step-in for sociability. The equating of drinking regularly to ‘reclaiming’ the ‘typicality’ of a non-Cambridge university lifestyle can be damaging.

Furthermore, it means that anticipation surrounding several of the calendar’s most substantial events have grown synonymous with alcoholic liberty. One would not be surprised if non-alcoholic groups feel themselves slightly dislodged at times from aspects of the wider Cambridge social ecosystem. Whilst there are no doubt tight-knit communities to combat this, not drinking in this city may certainly present its unique challenges for those that still desire to occupy spaces where drinking is commonplace. Sometimes an especially bad Woo Wednesday is simply unsalvageable whilst sober, a formal a little too boozy to feel entirely integrated into conversation, or an Oshu C-Sunday interview a little too lucid.


Mountain View

Head to head: how to spend first year

A reconsideration of this university’s alcohol consumption, therefore, is due.

It is irrelevant whether one has never once had the displeasure of visiting the box that is MASH’s dancefloor, or finds themselves on a first-name basis with the Revs bouncers — we must all work to ensure drinking takes place responsibly and look out for our friends whilst we do so. To put it plainly: Cambridge is, for better or worse, a distinct experience; sacrificing your health and relationships in order to only suggest otherwise is just not worth doing.