The ritual of "Suicide Sunday" is a Cambridge University tradition marking the end of exams. I'd heard it was a day of Gatsby-esque debauchery, but updated for modern times, so instead of people drinking prohibited booze with men who wear suits and fix baseball games, you have viral videos of people daggering at and defecating on each other. It seemed like something I just had to check out for myself, to see if the Classics crowd could match up to the Sports Science boys I met in Newcastle.
But, there was a small problem. I didn't have an "in" this time, presumably because people like this are considerably more media savvy (probably because their parents own half of it) and they weren't going to let a little shit like me and an SLR camera into their secret society.
So if I was going to go behind enemy lines, I was going to need a disguise.
This is what posh guys wear, right? Blue Harbour chinos, a navy jumper tied carelessly round the shoulders and any kind of shoe which looks like it couldn't stand up to more than a hundred yards of walking. I think that's part of their swag, an outfit that says, "I'm dressed completely inappropriately for modern life, but I live so far outside of modern life, that I honestly just don't give a fuck." As they say, walk a mile in a man's loafers, and you'll understand why you wear trainers.
On the path to post-exam oblivion, we were confronted with this fashion trailblazer. He seemed to have taken my assumptions about the impractical dress sense of people who've never done a practical day's work in their lives and run with it, pitching up somewhere between "Slave 4 U"-era Britney and Imperialist beach bum.
The first proper event of the day was the "cardboard boat race", in which some students had to get from one end of the canal to the other in a ship made from old wine boxes they found in their parents' house. This provided a chance for the campus clowns to shine, like this guy, who spent the day scaring the geeks like some kind of sub-aquatic Jeremy Beadle. (That or he was a police forensics diver looking for people who'd leapt into the drink after only scraping a "B" in Beckettian semiotics.)
It wasn't hard to work out that this wasn't exactly the cool crowd. They mostly seemed to be a mix of engineering students hoping that their unsinkable vessel could get them an internship at British Airways, and that breed of international student that is raised by nannies in between Singapore and Zurich, then thrown straight into the deep end of British student life. Guys who smack it on University Challenge, but conk out after half a pint of Coors.
I guess confidence like this is to be applauded, but looking at the photo, it's not hard to imagine it being a future political career-killer. I can foresee it being brought out in a smear campaign against a Tory chancellor, condemning him to a lifetime of being referred to as "captain" in Private Eye. Guys, if you're reading this, I've already made copies.
We headed towards "Jesus Green", a local park that would serve as Suicide Sunday's Ground Zero. By the gents' toilets, we spotted this charming bit of graffiti. Say what you like about the internet bringing strangers together, it's not often that hateful nationalists find a platform to argue with people who love perennially underachieving death rock bands so much they're willing to go out into the night with a marker and deface public property.
One of the most telling aspects of the day was the sheer lack of police around. These were pretty much the only feds we saw all day, and to be honest, I doubt these even are feds, they look more like ringers who'd intended to spend their day volunteering for St John Ambulance. If an event like this happened in Regent's Park, the rubber bullets would be out by midday. Not here.
These girls were performing an initiation ceremony for one of their members, a girl called Phoebe who was being appointed "Lady Of the Lash" (I shit you not). I don't know much about politics, but I assume she'll be sitting in the House Of Lords by Monday.
The ceremony consisted of the rather untaxing tasks of drinking a bit of bubbly and dressing up wearing a funny hat. American frat boys do this kind of thing so much better, there'd be Jaegermeister and togas at least, and bodily fluids and white slavery at best. But it being Cambridge, it was some girls dressed up like cake giggling a lot.
Somehow, I ended up being conscripted into some kind of society version of Take Me Out. I stood around for a bit like an awkward child in a choir he doesn't want to be in, and then it was my turn to declare who I was and what I did. Honestly, I think I would have got a better reaction if I said, "I'm out on bail, but all I can say about the charges is they relate to ALLEGED abuses of power that occurred during my time as chief exterminator at Ascot Racecourse," rather than "I'm a journalist… sort of."
The ringleader looked at me like I had a rare form of smallpox for a second and then said, "You can go now." There was to be no entry into some Masonic swingers society for me tonight.
It was roughly 2PM, and so far I hadn't witnessed anything I'd class as "suicidal". But the festivities had already taken their toll on some people. Kudos to his friends for protecting their boy from an inevitable cock and balls facial, but I'm not entirely sure he could breathe underneath all the fluffy pink wool. Look at the poor bastard, mummified in a pink towel, a martyr to the lash, dreaming of high society and low sobriety.
Yeah, laugh it up, I know they might look like they're plotting another Virginia Tech, but these guys are the ones who'll be changing the face of the internet whilst the crew of HMS Lad are making tea for country solicitors and waiting for their dads to croak before they blow the inheritance on hard to please wives and Ponzi schemes.
These guys rocked up on the river looking for laughs, but not even the Ladies of the Lash were prepared to give them any. Just look at the crushing disappointment in their eyes. It was the joke that wasn't funny by 3PM.
This is just a dog in a boat. I thought you might like it.
We decided to head back into town, where we came across these three gentlemen. I say "came across", you couldn't really miss them shouting, "Come on Henry mate, let's get some more beer in you!" like they were motivational coaches in some twisted, sponsored charity walk in which one drunken idiot was forced to parade from one end of town to the other. Come on Henno, that community centre isn't gonna rebuild itself.
There we go. Back in the game.
If this guy really is a Bantersaurus Rex, then the Asteroid must've already hit. He was a survivor, a lost beast stomping through the deserted plains. Is this the tragic natural conclusion of the 90s lad phenomenon? A sad and lonely man looking for answers in a pot of barbeque sauce, asking himself why he's wearing a T-shirt designed to make himself look like a moron, when he goes to the world's most prestigious university? Is this what Loaded magazine fought for? Is this what Jimmy Five Bellies died for? I think not.
"Time to get out of here lads, you can't move for pigs in Jesus Green, they've got the bicycles out and I've still got half a bag of puff in my cargo shorts. The family doesn't need another one of those to its name."
God, this looks so much like one of those continuity phone call sections from Made In Chelsea it's jarring to see it in real life – "Spence bro, I'm in Camers, Suicide Sunday with Binty and Rooska, absolute tekkers bro." Posh guys need to stop saying "bro". Actually everyone needs to stop saying "bro".
We may have laughed at the plight of the Maccy D's Bantersaurus, but his demeanour set the precedent for the rest of the night. It seemed that the town had now been reduced to slightly pissed man-children strolling over to parties we weren't invited to, with their depressingly attractive girlfriends in tow. Look at this guy; he looks like a newsreader doing an impression of a rapper for a Children In Need sketch.
It became increasingly clear that the real action was going on behind closed doors. I circled round the queue for a bit looking for a way to get in, but my weak attempt at the Cambridge garb was sniffed out instantly. They were far too canny to let a camera into whatever was going on inside. Whisper it, but maybe the upper classes are beginning to understand the wider world.
But you know what? The parties were probably shit anyway. People who can't drink, dancing with people who can't dance, all guffawing at Henry throwing up again and making gun fingers to Taio Cruz tracks. It seemed like organised fun at its very worst, people who don't usually do this sort of thing doing a half-arsed impression of how the rest of the country lets its hair down. YouTube Illuminati conspiracists simmer down; these people are actually as boring as fuck.
Or so I assumed. With one, last contemptuous shunning, it was time to board the 23.15 back to the real world. It was one I was glad to go back to, a world where wearing khaki shorts and a red blazer with white piping would get you glassed. And rightly so.
I wondered to myself if my life would've been better if I'd knuckled down and gone somewhere like this (which I obvz could have), and how it would have changed me. And then I realised that for all my time spent shivering at bus stops in Clapton, narrowly avoiding robberies and paying peak-time Oyster prices, I had something these people probably wouldn't have for some time. A job (sort of).
Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive
Photos: Nicholas Pomeroy
Photos: Nicholas Pomeroy
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