Diary of a Fresher: 'Drink socs go against most of what I stand for'

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The Independent Online

A little while ago, there was a flurry of excitement around college. Something about "being picked" by third year girls. I had no idea what this meant, but several of my male friends, it seemed, had already been "picked". Apparently, it all revolved around a mass social outing in a few evening's time, for which older girls picked fresher boys as "dates". To my relief, only a handful of girls are eligible to pick, so being left out doesn't necessarily mean I'm completely hopeless.

I remained bemused, however, and ended up talking to my new best friend and confidante, Frank, during a late night, red-wine-assisted conversation in my room. He'd been "picked", and seemed a little concerned that I hadn't. As he explained how the point was, essentially, to go out, get drunk and meet girls, and that the chosen few would be repeating the procedure in a week's time, realisation gradually dawned on me. I'd heard about this before. I was witnessing the birth of a drinking society.

Drink socs are the UK's answer to American fraternity and sorority houses. There are tens, possibly hundreds of them, each containing a share of the social elite of either gender. Their function, as far as I can tell, is to facilitate drinking, sex and the warm fuzzy feeling of pack mentality. Drink socs go on "swaps" with other colleges' societies (of the opposite gender), which usually involve eating at a curry place in town that allows you to bring your own alcohol.

Unlike at my relatively clique-less school, here the in-crowd is extremely well defined. And I've inadvertently befriended several of them. This isn't exactly the way I'd planned things.

I'm not one for conformity. The social elite, with their arrogance and hang-ups and pseudo-individualism are the people I mock. I persuade myself this is because such groups tend to be unpleasant, not because it's something I've never really been a part of. But drink socs go against most of what I stand for: they're exclusive; they promote social homogeny; they're cultish; they hold physical attractiveness to be paramount.

"So why are you so interested then?" asks Frank. I don't know.

Over the next few weeks I learn a lot more. Certain characteristics seem to be indicative of drinking society membership. Physical beauty coupled with the inclination and means to drink copious amounts of alcohol are fairly central. Playing sports helps. I don't know any smokers who aren't members. Slightly counter-intuitively, heterosexuality isn't a predicate. But more than any of this, there is a certain ineffable something everyone in drinking societies seem to share, something vaguely akin to charisma, so much so that just by looking at someone you can normally tell whether or not they're part of one.

It still seems slightly creepy to me. In another chat with Frank, I try to work out what I'd do if I were actually offered membership.

"You'd accept, no?"

Maybe. Much as I'd love to be sufficiently self-confident to be able to reject this sort of thing outright, I'm just not. However bizarre the whole set-up is, its animalistic appeal is still attractive. Being part of a drink soc means you're a particular kind of person. Your peers as a whole have given you their seal of approval. You've made it. My friends from back home would disown me, of course.

I'm not sure where this leaves me. I've gone from being part of the counter-culture to being a hanger-on to the in-crowd. Does that count as a sideways move?