Lions and Vikings and Mermaids, Oh My!

St Andrews is known for its wealth of student societies. With over a hundred to choose from, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Volunteer blogger, Catriona Scott, writes about what it’s like at the Freshers’ Fayre, and her experiences of student societies.

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The hustle and bustle of the Freshers’ Fayre.

Your first week at university is a busy and bewildering time, and the Fresher’s Fayre is, in its way, a microcosm of Freshers Week. It’s hectic, busy, and crammed with as many people as freebies. The Freshers Fayre is a place to find out more about societies, to meet people, to sign up to what feels like every mailing list imaginable, and fill your pockets with leaflets, free goodies and sweets. It’s an exciting event, as the University has over one hundred societies to choose from, so you’re certain to meet like-minded people, whether you want to work for a student newspaper or play board games, go on excursions or dance, watch films or try new food and drink. The Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Society is a good option for that, and has been a staple of St Andrews’ societies since 1981. There are also a lot of societies specific to geek culture, from Quidditch to Doctor Who, Project Anime to Sherlock. As well as learning more about the university’s societies you might even meet a lion – that is to say, Rory McLion, the mascot for the Charities Campaign subcommittee. For my part, when I was in first year I was most excited to meet the Vikings and the mermaids – that is to say, the members of the University’s mediaeval re-enactment society, the Shire of Caer Caledon, and the members of the Performing Arts Fund, Mermaids.

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Rory McLion: a well loved public figure in St Andrews!

Mermaids gives students the opportunity to act, write, direct, produce, and work on the technical side of thing with light and sound. Their funding enables up to thirty shows to be performed each year, which is far more than many other universities in the country.  Having been used to only putting on one show per term at school, I was surprised to find out that, yes, there would be more shows I could audition for, and I could audition for them all if I wanted to. I was so excited to get involved that I took part in everything I could, not just auditions but a day full of workshops and a social, with Mermaids’ infamous free wine. You can easily get involved even if you’re not a first year – Mermaids also has a Freshers’ Drama Festival in the first semester, which is a chance for anyone who hasn’t been involved before to put on a show.

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Directing my first play, This Breathing World, back in 2014.

While I was involved in the acting and directing side of things during most of my time at university, Mermaids also gave me the platform to have three plays I had written performed, which later led to me pursuing a degree in playwriting. One of these plays was even performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August – Mermaids provides funding to take student theatre to the largest arts festival in the world!

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The Shire of Caer Caledon at the Freshers’ Fayre.

I had been involved in a lot of theatre at school, and while the Freshers Fayre meant I could continue to be involved at university, it also gave me the opportunity to try something completely new. The Shire of Caer Caledon was the society I was most excited to join. Ever since I was small I had loved mediaeval history, but had never had the opportunity to be part of a mediaeval re-enactment group – and I didn’t know what to expect when I went to the taster session. Mediaeval re-enactment essentially involves recreating aspects of mediaeval life, from clothing to music, fighting to food. The taster session I attended saw ‘Shirelings’ (the pet-name members of the society give themselves) making their own mediaeval clothes, creating edible decorations (called subtleties) out of marzipan, and learning how to fight with swords, spears, and shields. I remember making a rather lopsided marzipan dragon before joining the combat session, and it was there I met someone who would become a close friend of mine. This friend went on to produce a number of the plays I would act in or direct over the years through Mermaids – it’s a very ‘St Andrews’ thing to know someone through your mutual involvement in lots of different societies!

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At combat training.

Every Sunday I met the Shirelings to work on drills and fighting techniques, with the aim of passing the battlefield safety test so I could fight in the annual Beltaine Faire. The Shire hosts the event which combines living history, traders, mediaeval music, children’s activities and combat re-enactment, so all the skills I had learned would be put to the test as I fought alongside my fellow warriors against other re-enactment groups in front of an audience. As well as fighting with a sword, I also learned a whole range of other new skills, and made lots of firm friends along the way. From visiting castles in the Highlands to making my own Anglo-Saxon clothes, cooking with actual mediaeval recipes for feasts and playing board games at tavern nights – not to mention drinking far too much mead – the Shire not only helped me to learn and grow, but also to have a better understanding and appreciation of mediaeval history. As my degree was partly in mediaeval history, I found this new knowledge to be especially helpful and, since graduating, I have become a member of another re-enactment group, the Company of St Margaret, and expanded my skills and knowledge further. I would never have known about this group if not for the Shire.

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A photo from my first Feast.

Although I have only spoken about the societies I was involved in, I think it would be fair to say that the positive experiences I had would be similar across any of the societies you can get involved in at St Andrews: not only can you meet people with the same interests, but you can learn new skills and hone old ones, as well as getting to have lots of fun. I have had so many life-changing experiences thanks to my involvement with societies – from having plays I had written performed onstage, and at the Fringe no less, to fighting a horde of Vikings in front of an audience. I would urge you to get involved with lots of societies, make friends, make memories, and have as much fun as you possibly can. At the University of St Andrews, you don’t just work hard – you play hard too!

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About Catriona Scott

Catriona graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2016 with a Joint Honours degree in English and Mediaeval History, and from the University of Edinburgh in 2017 with a degree in Playwriting. She has previously written for Broadway Baby, the largest reviewing publication at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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