Oh alcohol. There's an allure in pouring you down our throats so strong, so overpowering, that means we're happy to sacrifice the following day for you. We'll happy splutter our way through god-awful cocktails, down shots of acidic filth, and chug on gassy pints in order to maximise your effects. We condition ourselves into thinking that whisky doesn't scorch the back of our throats, that cider doesn't smell like the dodgier subways in city centres, and that Fosters doesn't taste like shit (okay, maybe too far) in order to enjoy you.
So far gone is our obsession, our determination to experience every humiliating consequence that booze affords us; that drinking, at some point in the hazy and probably forgotten past, became a platform for natural human curiosity.
Who can remember the most? Does this stain? Can I shot this? Who can throw up the least? What's the fastest way of getting this vodka into my face? What would actually happen if I tried to kiss the bouncer? Can you be arrested for this? Where are my clothes?
It's beautiful, really. Aside from all the vomit. And social damage. Other than that. Forget that. The point is, drinking does a strange thing to us. It makes us question who we are (and where we are, and who it is in our bed, and...), and it brings us closer together. If we can both down a pint in less than four seconds, then it probably means we should be best friends. Or something.
I was recently given the rare and questionable honour of being allowed to sit in on your standard rugby lads social. For those of you who, like me prior to the event, only know of rugby socials from the infamous headlines they make, this was both a daunting and exciting offer. I was being given a prime spot- a real life woman feminist on the inside of a banter-heavy LAD social. I was eager with a morbid curiosity to see how offended I would be, what laws would be broken, and what limits these boys could be pushed to.
Under strict instructions to not to take photographs (so as to protect the secretive nature of the pre-drinking), and more importantly not to partake in the drinking games (for my own safety), I watched, mystified, by the events unfolding in front of me. Several, several pints were set out on the table at arrival. The boys were suited up, arrived on time and took their seats. After calming down the general hubbub of 20 guys chatting happily away- with a general sense of dread and excitement bubbling at the sight of all the drinks prepared before them- the drinking began.
The pre-drinking session strictly adhered to Gentlemen's Rules. I'd never seen these in action before, but they basically consist of self-governed laws that tell you what you're not allowed to do during a drinking session. Swearing is out. The word "drink" is out- "consume" or "beverage" replaces. I think there's a rule about using only your left hand. Toilet breaks must gain permission from the leader, the social secretary. People must be referred to using their full titles (as assigned by the social secretary) or their surnames. There are plenty more rules that probably went straight over my head- but the general gist is that you have to behave yourself. The penalty for breaking a rule is you have to drink. Or consume. Whatever.
So far so civilised. Guests were at the disposition of the witty social secretary, who had set up various drinking challenges for the boys. Pint downing competitions, readings of poems, a race to see how quickly members could produce then drink a cup of "Earl Jag" (pronounced /erl yay/- Earl Grey with a generous shot of Jagermeister, for the uninitiated). Some members, for their previous sins, had to chug a lethal and vile looking combination of cider, Jagermeister, ale, and god knows what else. Drinking game rules were heartily enforced, and any pint-downing punishment was cheerfully accompanied by a bizarre loutish rendition of Yellow Submarine.
They were all considerably less sober than when they started, and in fear of being vomited or spilt on, I scarpered from the midst of the group to a safe corner to watch the nature documentary unfold at a distance. Wise move on my part, because the social become more animated and less orderly as the night went on. The atmosphere was incredible- of solidarity and competition. I've never seen so many people having such a good time doing something that they're all aware will make them vomit- sorry "chunder"- in the impending hours. Partly, I was jealous that I couldn't get more involved in the excitement. Mostly I was just relieved that it wasn't me being forced to sing "Goodbye My Lover" topless on a chair having just downed several ales.
So what did my insight to this ritualistic and overtly masculine bonding session provide? I'm not really sure- in my keenness to make my experience as authentic as possible (for purely journalistic reasons, you understand), I'd had two whole pints of fruit cider and a shot of blackcurrant poison and neglected to take notes. In any case, I was impressed with how organised the rowdiness was. Guests happily submitted to the rules and tormented each other tirelessly on failure to adhere.
The social was deemed a success by all, not least by the takings at the bar, and everyone uprooted ready to go the nearest club for a night of more drinks, fist-pumping and general debauchery. In high spirits, the boys went for a quick "tactical chunder" to facilitate more drinking later on and pootled off on their merry way. The damage was minimal- only a few things had been broken within repair, no one had spilt or vomited anywhere inappropriate, and I hadn't found even the smallest thing to take offence by. I was impressed. This rugby social proved that while the whole uniLAD debate fades into obscurity, these boys still know how to have a good time, without ending up in the columns of the Daily Mail. And almost everyone left with as many eyebrows as they started the night with, so everybody wins.