Martha Rawlinson

The genius of the ballcrasher is one of May Week’s more shadowy charms. Those that dare practise the discipline may not have the universal appeal of a cool, riverside glass of Pimm’s, or the casual gamesmanship of a frame or two of croquet, but they do have each other.

Take Pembroke’s June Event two years ago: as the sun set on that warm summer evening, the pavements around Trumpington Street began to hum gently with an excited string of elegantly dressed students. Those excited young revellers, eager to taste the delights that their Student Committee had spent the last two terms organising for them, may be forgiven for not noticing the tall, dark-haired student hanging out of a first floor window on Pembroke Street. Attempting to scramble through a bathroom awning window, this hero was midway through his third or fourth attempt to break into the ball. Most people witnessing this would have crossed to the other side of the street; or alerted the authorities. Not our man Feste though. No, he sees Touchstone dangling above the glistening concrete and offers some sagely advice: "You know, there’s an open window to your right. I think I can see a ledge that you could shimmy along just there."

"Oh," Touchstone replies, his scrambling legs pausing momentarily from scraping the brickwork, "I’ll give that a go. Thanks." Touchstone pulls his head out of the window and turns to his counterpart. Their eyes meet and in a flash each knows full well what the other’s doing there. As subtle as a heartbeat, the jokers have the measure of each other - ‘You’re up to no good too’. Touchstone then follows his new friend’s advice, pins himself to the wall and scurries into the college through an adjacent window. "I’ll try and get a door open for you," he shouts over his shoulder, "go round the back."

So begins the story of Touchstone and Feste, leaders of a motley gang of Cambridge ballcrashers hell bent on enjoying the luxury of the university’s May Balls without paying a penny for the privilege... Oh, and if there’s an ice sculpture to knock over along the way, or a Survivors’ Photo to spoil, then they’re bang up for that as well.

When we caught up with the pair last week, the heroes recounted how that first night they gorged themselves on Pembroke’s food, booze and entertainment before, in the bleary light of the morning, slipped back to one of their college rooms to drink strong coffee and regale each other with their own litany of past conquests.

Feste’s been crashing balls since his first year when, disgruntled by the fact that his college was ordering him out of his room for the duration of their event, he decided to exact his revenge. Vacating his room in the morning of the ball, Feste and a college buddy holed themselves up in a laundry cupboard for hours until the college’s silly, overblown little party got under way and they could brave it down the staircase to join the festivities. "May Balls are full of rich, pompous idiots," Feste claims, a derisive glint shining in his eye, "always going around saying things like: ‘Oh! I couldn’t possibly do that in this suit!’. It’s pathetic."

Touchstone’s motives for ballcrashing are far less political than his buddy’s. For Touchstone, it’s all about the game and the artistry of the piece. "You could boil it down to all the free rides you can get on, or how much champagne you can drink: I don’t care about any of that." Touchstone clarifies: "All I care about is that it’s something exclusive and, despite all their efforts to stop me, I’m finding a way around them". There’s a pause: "It’s a game," he says, forcefully, "and I love it."

"So," I ask, "what tactics do you use to play this game?"

"Primarily," he says, "it’s about misdirection." Feste nods approvingly. "It’s like Derren Brown; you have to build a situation and get someone to start thinking in a certain way. Then, by aligning tiny principles of behaviour and reaction, you can achieve the most unlikely outcomes. It’s fascinating, really."

The course of a good ball crash doesn’t always run smooth, though. Touchstone warmly treats me to a story about his most epic failure. "It was at Emma," he starts, smiling, "I walked up to the main gate and demanded to see the May Ball President". The confused be-sashed official stared back at him blankly. Touchstone continued: "‘Look! Do you not who I am?! Get Richard. Go and get Richard immediately, I need to speak to the May Ball President!’". Apparently the official didn’t do as told, instead he just stared at our jester more intently. "Listen!" Touchstone begins again, "I’ve been patient enough, will you just get the f***ing President!". The official cuts him off, unable to take any more: "What are you talking about?! I AM the f***ing President!"

Our jesters are, of course, not without their jaw-dropping successes. Last year’s May Balls were hit uniformly by the pair: Queens’, Corpus, St John’s, all crashed to devastating effect. Visitors to YouTube may have already seen some amazing footage of the crashers in action; they’re slowly amassing quite an army of followers.

The jesters are not too keen to talk about the specifics of their methodology, preferring instead to focus on the mythology that surrounds their illicit passion. "Crashing has been around as long as May Balls," Touchstone declares, "I know it goes back to at least my grandfather’s generation". It turns out Touchstone is not the first crasher in his bloodline. "My grandfather was at Trinity," he starts, "and he loved sneaking into John’s functions". "Did he give you any tips?" I ask. "Well, not tips as such," Touchstone answers, "but he had hand-drawn maps of the college, complete with possible entrances". Has he tried them? "Well Cambridge doesn’t really change," he starts, then sighs, "but most of the routes have been blocked off by now; well, all but one."

"All but one?"

"Yes, there’s rumour that there’s something underground, a passage; I haven’t checked it myself, but I’m almost certain-"

"Dude," Feste interjects, "I’m not sure we should go into that". Touchstone pauses, nods and, grinning, sits back into the leather sofa. "Yeah, maybe not," he says.

"So," I ask, "what have you got planned for this May Week?" Feste and Touchstone smile at each other. "Okay; we’ve got some things planned," Feste starts, coyly, "but you’ll have to read the blogs". Touchstone laughs coolly: "Needless to say, we’re going to do the big ones".

Varsity neither condones nor has prior knowledge of the ballcrashers’ actions.

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