I stumbled into Cambridge, England on “Suicide Sunday,” a joyous occasion in which the local university students
cut loose and get wasted blow off steam following the completion of final exams. The streets are packed with tourists and students, the former gawking, the latter playing. To witness the events is figuratively intoxicating, while to participate offers a more literal experience. The booze flows plentifully, and merriment is omnipresent.
So, how can you get in on the action? Call ahead to the Cambridge University to find out when Suicide Sunday will be (it’s always in June). Once you hit the ground, here are a few ways to pass the time:
1. Pour yourself a drink: If you’re clever, enter one of the colleges. The signs prohibit non-student entry, and there are security guards just inside those doors (as I learned the hard way). But, if you can slip inside, you’ll be at the center of the party. It’s fairly likely that free liquor will flow your way.
Backup Plan: If the rent-a-cops bust you, shoot for an aquatic landing. Take a “punt” (flat-bottomed boat) or other vessel onto the River Cam. Slip up to the shore and climb out. Bribe a student (in the boat and on shore). Get wasted. Too easy.
2. Stay on the river for a bit: “Punting,” mentioned above, is really nothing more than pushing a boat with a pole along the River Cam. You can either rent your own and try your luck or hire a “chauffeured” punt to bring you along the river. Keep in mind that there will be plenty of self-hired punts out there, so you’re best bet is to stay in the hands of a professional.
People Watch: There are parties at the colleges all along the river. Watch for the splashes, as drunk students tend to toss each other into the water. Sometimes, small wrestling matches occur that ultimately lead to a trip into the drink. You can enjoy the show from start to finish.
3. Fill your stomach: The most common picnic fare seems to be beer and cheap Indian food. Join the party! Both are plentiful. Grab your grub and head out for the punt bridges behind St. Catherine’s (on Silver Street). Look for a spot in the unmowed grass, and chow down. Buy a little extra – you may be able to host a small party of drunk college kids!
Heckle the Help: When you’ve finished eating, stake out a spot on a bridge. To fit in with the locals, pick up a few water balloons. Then, hunt drunks. You won’t be alone. More than a few people were on the prowl while I was waiting for my punt.
4. Enjoy the architecture: Yes, there is a cultural aspect to Cambridge University. The easiest way to satisfy your intellectual obligation is to wander the streets and enjoy the downright regal architecture that the various colleges offer. Also, you can do this while meandering from one rockin’ party to the next, so you don’t have to sacrifice any precious drinking time.
Watch for Pitchers: The clean cut British boys pushing punting tickets aren’t as skilled as the souk-minders of Marrakech, but they’re trying. Don’t get sucked in by their innocent charm while you’re snapping photos of the buildings. Make your arrangements for punting when you get down to the river.
5. Protest, protest, protest: Cambridge, England is not unlike Cambridge, Massachusetts, in that there is always some group fighting the social and political injustices of the world. On the most recent Suicide Day, I saw a bike rally chanting: “Free Gaza now!”
Let It Roll: Speaking of bikes, they’re the most popular form of transportation in Cambridge. Look for them when you cross the street. Hell, rent one for a while. It’s nice to see the world like a local.
Disclosure: Many thanks to Visit Britain, which picked up the tab for this trip and to British Airways for the flights. Obviously, it did not pay for my opinions. If they did, I doubt this is the story that would have been commissioned.