Thursday, February 09, 2006

Having a ball

Y'know, I was always under the impression that balls had gone out of fashion with corsets, carriages and Rhett Butler...

Here, however, May Balls might actually be the biggest deal of the year. All of the wealthy colleges have them -- and to give you a sense of just how big these blowouts can be, Trinity supposedly spends £1 million annually on theirs, which covers the live fireworks show, the big-name bands (this group called the Rolling Stones played there a few years ago...maybe you've heard of them?), and the extravagant five-course meals, followed by breakfast and boat trips down the River Cam. There are also a couple of uber-snotty colleges who hold tiny little soirees that are white tie formal. That means top hat and tails, folks. No one actually wants to attend these, apart from the oldest of old-boys and members of the colleges themselves...Then again, they do truck in their own ferris wheel so you can soar above Cambridge all night swilling champagne and frisbeeing your tophat into the courtyard of the neighboring college.

Consequently, every one of Cambridge's 14,000 or so students is champing at the bit to snatch up tickets. Herein lie the problems I face:

1. My college, while lovely, is poor.
2. It does not have a ball. It has a spring garden party, which is sort of like a ball without the lush spendings, gourmet food, a-list bands or customized fireworks.
3. Tickets to the big balls (Trinity, John's, Clare's, Caius -- all the colleges on the river) are reserved first for college members.
4. This reservation policy usually leaves about 40 tickets for the countless hordes from less financially endowed colleges at which to throw themselves, en masse, in a ritual that tends to involve: waiting until midnight for disclosure of the secret ticket selling location; sprinting in your pants (that's underwear here) across a frigid campus in February, elbowing aside anyone who looks like they might be headed to the same place; clustering together in a seething horde for about eight to twelve hours; filling out a form which then goes into a lottery from which you may, just may be a lucky winner.
5. If you are a lucky winner, yours is the privelege to shell out £300 or so for a pair of tickets to all-night debauchary. I don't even want to think about what £300 could purchase back home. Crap. Just did.

So, what's a girl to do? Well, obviously bribe every semi-acquaintance at the big name colleges, offering to pay even more than £300 for tickets. A friend from the BIG party offers to find her tickets, but no guarantee. Then she runs into the problem of a slightly less-big-name college with a damn fine reputation taking pity on her plea ("It's my first wedding anniversary that weekend and we're only in Cambridge for a year and I'll also give you the rights to my middle name and my firstborn...").

Only in Cambridge would I ever experience a dilemma like this. Go for the five-star party I'd never attend in any other part of my life? Or hold out for the six-star party on the river?

I almost want to take a shower now...feel so...posh wannabe.

In my defense, these things did make Time magazine's "top 10 parties in the world." Not going would be equivalent to visiting France and scoffing at the prospect of seeing the Eiffel Tower. Hell, worse: the Eiffel Tower doesn't offer fireworks and free champagne.

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