A garden party is the best kind in May Week, argues Megan ConlonKim Fyson / Wikimedia Commons / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

Ah, May Week. Those famed seven days of post-exam chaos. Back in first year, I thought a night of drinking and dancing while dressed to the nines was the most ideal way to forget the stresses of term time. Little did I know, the real party lay atop the hill in the gardens of Murray Edwards College.

After the whirlwind of exams, I found myself eagerly clutching my tickets to both the Trinity and St John’s balls, readying myself for consecutive nights of extravagance. Surely, this is what Cambridge is all about? While, yes, my attendance of two of the most renowned (not to mention expensive) balls, made for some excellent photographs in front of the iconic architecture, my memories of my first May Week are primarily of a different event: the Murray Edwards Garden Party (affectionately known as MEGP). With the theme being ‘Summer of Love’, we ditched the black-tie attire in exchange for gogo boots and flared jeans and basked in the glorious sunshine the day brought. There was everything you could want from a May Week event, from an endless supply of spirits to live music, face painting and even a bouncy castle. Forget the mile-long food stand queues and painful heels, this was an event where you could truly let loose.

“Even the rain couldn’t stop us from dancing”

Likewise, the following year did not disappoint, with the Murray Edwards gardens being transformed into wonderland in time for my gaggle of friends to arrive dressed as all the whimsical characters of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. With my college husband and I as the King and Queen of Hearts, we had an Alice, a White Rabbit, and even a red rose! We weren’t alone; the theme inspired a menagerie of whacky costumes, so even the character actors who wandered the gardens weren’t out of place. Every detail brought the place to life, with a life-size chess board and a magical archway constructed by the college gardeners making for ideal photo spots. Music from the main stage bounced off the college walls, and even the rain couldn’t stop us from dancing.

Of course, other May Week events have enticing themes too. A couple of my favourites for this year are Christ May Ball’s Saltburn-esque ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ theme, and Jesus College’s ‘Into The Surreal’. However, these will forever be constrained by the dress code. Black-tie. A garden party offers attendees the option to wear whatever they want, still allowing for formal dress if that is preferred.

“MEGP has always held a special place in my heart, and its cancellation is a huge loss to the May Week calendar”

Another advantage of a garden party is the timings. My attempts to last until the famous survivors’ photograph at Trinity and St John’s meant I left both with a sour taste in my mouth, the excitement of the night having long worn off and fatigue setting in by the time the clock struck 7am. MEGP, on the other hand, has always begun earlier, at 4pm, and ends just as the sun is setting at 9pm, meaning those who want to continue to party can head into town, and those who have had their fill of excitement can return to their beds for an early night. Most college balls seemingly mandate attendees to be nocturnal, and the best parts of the night are spread more thinly over the longer period of time. A garden party, on the other hand, offers more concentrated fun, and little opportunity for the event to drag.


Mountain View

Darwin without a chance of meatballs

Murray Edwards is not the only place you can experience the daytime celebrations as Newnham College also prefers a garden party over a ball. While this year’s promises to be a stellar event with the ‘Myth and Magic’ theme inevitably prompting an array of ethereal fashion choices, MEGP has always held a special place in my heart, and its cancellation is a huge loss to the May Week calendar. Now we will never know what could have been, and my friend and I’s coordination of Wizard of Oz costumes will have to be put on hold.

So, in the aftermath of my devastation, I can only imagine what MEGP 2024 might have been, and manifest my purchase of an alumna ticket for its return next year. To lament the theme that never was, there truly is ‘No Place Like Dome’.