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Devil's Advocate: Does St Andrews Have Too Many Traditions?

YES: Fraser Laing

St Andrews has a very neat trick for dealing with fresher nerves. After the endless voice cracks while talking to your new flatmates and your parents just being really, really fricking annoying. After that nervous encounter with a fellow distressed newbie, you get the question you (or at least I) never expected, “Have you got a gown yet?”.

Luckily, your newfound bestie (for now) is able to guide you to buy a gown. A journey which you will soon discover is tantamount to being marched, with the gun of tradition to your temple, into fiscal hell.

Entering the gown shop (random room in the union) you’re greeted by lots of smiling faces. You’re suited and booted and handed a brand-new lump of red carpet, then ushered by yet more overly happy faces…to the till. In a daze, you bring out your card and over the babbling you hear, “That’ll be £170”.

“What! 170 quid! For the remanents of my granny’s carpet! What the f***!”. But you’re too nervous to say anything. You tap your card. And away goes your budget for the month. However, all of this is part of the St Andrews master plan you see. Not to pay for the university deficit, no. But rather to alleviate your fresher nerves by making you so unimaginably, unbelievably angry.

Beyond the red lumps of felt, there are a few more traditions which deserve the boot.

First on the list is anything in Latin. At Debate Soc there is “The Gaudeamus”. It’s a song, I think. And according to the internet oracle (Wikipedia) “The Gaudeamus” is an “endorsement of the bacchanalian mayhem of student life” and “contains humorous and ironic references to sex”. Debates Soc is great but I’m yet to see any “bacchanalian mayhem” or much humour for that matter. Instead, the ‘song’ becomes a part of the Debate Soc ‘ceremony’ which makes both those singing and those listening want the ground to swallow them up, and not in an ironic sexual way. “The Gaudeamus”, therefore, is the first inmate of ‘Room 601’.

Next into St Andrew’s Orwellian torture chamber is the word “Bejant”. To be fair, I only ever hear this from a friend who’s in the Kate Kennedy Club (I don’t actually know what the club does, she never tells me). But nevertheless, she says “Bejant” a lot and it really annoys me so you’re going to have to hear about it. The term “Bejant”, according to the mighty oracle, means “yellow beak” in French and is an “allusion to unfledged birds” (probably). Basically, the university, the KK and innumerable other secret societies I’ve never even heard of are calling us seagulls. Which after getting s*** on by one recently I don’t take very kindly too.

The final entrant to ‘Room 601’ is anything cold. Especially cold water. Why are we so obsessed with jumping into cold water? May Dip this, Pier Jump that. In my humble opinion, the North Sea is for sailing to Norway and putting big white windmills in, nothing else. And I’ve been on enough Scottish beach holidays to know that anyone who says the North Sea is fun, is lying. The only reason people keep up the lie is to pretend that they’re hard or ‘quirky’. Stop lying to yourself! Accept you’re a wimp like the rest of us and get back to the library.

On a more logical note, we don’t need to get rid of all traditions, we just need to be more selective. If it’s in Latin, fugit it. If it’s cold, get back to North Point Cafe. And if it costs £170, put your card away. But if it’s genuinely fun then “Just Do It”. Make your liver explode on Raisin. Spend ‘quality time’ with your academic family. And avoid that PH cobble stone sign like a cold sore. Just be selective.

We must all remember the totally un-butchered Burkean adage that, ‘St Andrews is a contract between those who have graduated, those who are studying and those who are to matriculate’ (auch that was painful!). But remember if we are not selective then future “Bejants” and entrants to ‘Room 601’ will have to endure crippling renditions of Latin songs and jumping into freezing water. So be strong, channel you’re inner Simon Cowell and smash the proverbial red buzzer next time you see a bad St Andrews tradition.

NO: Rosie Miller

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a student in possession of a sound mind must be in want of entertainment. Enter the charming archaism of St Andrews’s many traditions. Effectively, if Leeds uni were Fifty Shades, it’s safe to say that we would be Pride and Prejudice.

This is not meant to be derogatory, however; a good old costume drama takes the biscuit when it comes to British television, and the plot of St Andrews’s festive calendar proves no less compelling. The September Pier Walk opens proceedings with all the glitz and glamour of a BBC prime-time special. We then cut to a few missteps on Patrick Hamilton’s cobbles – not to mention the elopement of at least three naughty siblings at Raisin Weekend – and we reach the spine-tingling conclusion of May Dip, in which romantic wrong-doings are cathartically avenged in the course of a suitably public spectacle. The last episode rather loses its way – something about throwing miscellaneous foodstuffs at fourth years(?) – but it would be churlish to deny that it has a certain charm. Besides, I reckon a 25% Rotten Tomatoes rating tells you all you need to know about Leeds’s sub-par alternative.

Critics might argue that the uni’s ever-expanding repertoire of traditions is getting rather out of hand. The fact that May Ball has decided to don the cap of perennial status, holding fast to its customary title despite taking place on the 19th of March this year, suggests a trend to this effect. And let’s not forget the elusive activities of St Andrews’s ‘underground’ societies, for whom nocturnal black-tie clad processions appear to be inexplicably frequent; I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and take their claims of a long-standing tradition at face value, (to be fair, unlike the bulk of their members, I don’t speak Latin).

I would question the oft-drawn conclusion, however, that this multiplicity is a bad thing. I mean, if we’ve learnt anything from the Marks & Sparks marketing team, it’s that more really is more when it comes to capturing the public imagination; if we can enjoy Percy Pigs in greater varieties than could plausibly be deemed necessary, then why shouldn’t our traditions be given the same treatment?

In fact, I’d argue that several unexplored avenues remain at our creative disposal. Boozy Balgoves definitely deserve more official recognition, while the absence of a bi-annual Chariots of Fire re-enactment is, let’s face it, a missed opportunity. Dust off your red gowns, I say; we could even negotiate a Pret-a-Manger Pilgrimage into the mix – I’m sure we can dredge up some tenuous historical symbolism somewhere.

Speaking of ‘unexplored avenues’ – and at the risk of sounding rather gloomy – I’d argue that our traditions fill something of a gaping void in the St Andrews social agenda. Pubs are great and all, as are The Vic’s valiant attempts to impersonate the clubbing scene, but Groundhog Day rather weighs on the consciousness upon entering Molly’s for the third time in a week. What’s more, for all its sticky-floor, school-gym charm, Club 601 isn’t exactly something to write home about – especially not to fellow uni-goers, for whom our nightlife seems to be the subject of ridicule.

What does provide me with ample conversational material, however, are tales of North Sea swims, costume-clad foam fights and university-sanctioned, (ish), inebriation. In the absence of such rituals, our university experience would be reduced to nothing more than an extended sojourn in the self-proclaimed ‘Home of Golf’ – yes, that was genuinely the most enticing title they could come up with. I don’t know about you, but that alternative doesn’t bear much contemplation.

In fact, I’m confident that, given its obscure locality, St Andrews would be all but forgotten were it to cast aside its trusty sidekick, tradition. Even the most dedicated Royalists can surely recognise that two decades' worth of teenage ‘Wills & Kate’ content is rather stretching it. Besides, let’s not pretend it was the “world-class teaching” or “cutting-edge research” that led you to choose this prestigious establishment; amongst the plethora of shiny, cliché-ridden university literature, these were hardly points that stood out from the crowd.

Realistically, you read the Daily Mail’s coverage of St Andrews’s outlandish traditions and, amidst gawping at their morally dubious choice of accompanying photos, were, if not immediately converted, at least intrigued by what the East Neuk of Fife might have to offer.

After all, when it boils down to it, our traditions, for all their unfathomable roots and thinly veiled pretention, provide a university – and life – experience that is genuinely like no other. (At least I hope not; I reckon another Raisin Weekend would do me in). So, let Leeds have their ‘superior’ nightlife; I have my entire twenties to exhaust that particular avenue. For now, my sentiments align with the eternal wisdom of Robert Burns: if in doubt, one can always raise a toast to Auld Lang Syne.

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