Ananda Rabindranath on the world of wizards

As a student at the University of St Andrews, have you ever wanted something a little different, a little quirky? Perhaps you would like a break from your studies, or just another way to meet your fellow students?

The list of societies available is both long and diverse, but one particular society that seems to be both outside the box and on the rise is the Harry Potter and Gin Society (HAGSoc). With 220 paying members and counting this year, and nearly 600 on the mailing list, this novel society has clearly come a long way since a group of students sat down together in their hall of residence and dreamed it up a year ago. An official affiliated society since March this year with a passionate committee, HAGSoc certainly raises eyebrows and has piqued my curiosity.

A line of chatting students that extends down the corridor and out the double doors into the stairwell greets me at the Salad Bowl where I am to sit in on HAGSoc’s first session of the year. As music from one of the Harry Potter films filters through the air, I am told in no uncertain terms that “I love Harry Potter and everyone should”.  Enthusiasm and excitement oozes from this society and its members in a manner that is completely unexpected. Once inside the Salad Bowl, the conversations seem to be mostly focused on Harry Potter, although I am constantly reminded that gin is also on the menu.

At this first session, the members are to be sorted into houses, and the building excitement and anxiety, regarding which of the Hogwarts houses they will be assigned is palpable. Clearly this is serious business- in the most light-hearted manner. We have also all been handed a quiz, and I soon find that this is serious magic territory. The second question asks for the incantation for levitating objects, and as I have a look at the enthusiasts gathered in the room, there don’t seem to be too many problems with the answers. I overhear someone ask “I know this is a dumb question, but is the cat Miss or Mrs Norris?”. Although the intensity is far higher than expected, the atmosphere is far from intimidating, and I find myself drawn in rather than excluded.

This society has not been modelled on any other existing Harry Potter or gin society, and the ideas that float around are original and open-minded. I get a chance to speak to the committee after the first session, and they seem to be as surprised as I am at the interest they have received this year. “Excited, overwhelmed, amazed” – these are the reactions of the committee.

Although the feel of the society seems to be tailored more towards Harry Potter, the society is adamant that their passion for gin will be more prevalent this year. They are keen to evolve more sessions for their society focused on gin and the activities I am told to expect range from Pub Quidditch to ‘Nearly Headless Nick’s Death Day Party’ on Halloween, to a University Challenge Competition in the style of Hogwarts. At just £3 for membership, this society is accessible and seems to be good value for money. The committee is keen to “avoid charging students to enjoy Harry Potter”, and this strategy seems to be working in terms of attendance.

Although it is early doors for the society, such a fanatic following appears to hold the club in good stead for the future. Bethan Rowlands, the society president, explains that, to her, HAGSoc represents how societies in St Andrews are run by a student led system where “anyone can have an idea and go ahead and do it”. She also highlights the suppoer the society recieved:“it’s been nice to have an enthusiastic and helpful response from the other established societies who help out and get involved rather than rival us.”

This atmosphere of collaboration is clearly a valuable attribute to have within the student community, and HAGSoc, with its quirky, fun-loving and laid back attitude is well and truly cast in this mould.

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