"I had just entered fairyland and was walking towards the Summer Court"Connor Wang (with permission for Varsity)

I decided early on that I would not be going to a single May event during my time in Cambridge. As someone who grew up without ready access to money, the idea of spending eighty, ninety, or sometimes even two hundred and fifty pounds on a ticket seemed ludicrous. On top of that, I’m not someone who usually enjoys parties, preferring quiet movie or board game nights with a handful of friends. Worse yet, if I woke up on the day of the ball with a headache or just a general unwillingness to go out and have fun, then I would have wasted money that could have gone towards so many other things. Even if I enjoyed the event immensely, is it possible to have two hundred fifty pounds worth of fun in one evening? This all assumes that one already has a full set of evening wear ready to go, which many of us don’t.

“Despite my initial disgust, I was unexpectedly talked into attending a May event with my friend”

It seemed like just another one of those outlandish Cambridge things that draw a clear line in the sand between those of us who were born for this and those of us who had to work extra hard to get here. But despite my initial disgust, I was unexpectedly talked into attending a May event with my friends when we found someone selling their tickets at less than half of the original price that very morning. It still wasn’t cheap, but at forty pounds, I could just about justify it to myself as a one-off experience. After purchasing my ticket, I felt that I had nothing to lose: I was in the right mood and even if the event turned out to be horrible, at least I would get to spend a fun evening with friends.

As soon as we arrived, I realised that this would be different from anything else I had attended. The dresses were nicer, the suits more expensive, and the venue itself - Magdalene College - was something straight out of a wonderland. After entering through the college gates, we walked through the woods by the canal to get to where the event was taking place. I had just entered fairyland and was walking towards the Summer Court, live music beckoning from the distance. On the other side of the canal were tourists who looked at us in our lavish dresses. I had my first Great Gatsby moment of the evening then: as I saw myself through their eyes, I found myself at once within and without, and I couldn’t say for a moment which was more real: their experience or my own. Even though the organisers didn’t make use of the whole college grounds, it was still the biggest party I had ever been to.

There was a tarot card reader, a giant swing, garden games, silent disco (which got shut down for security reasons after people started dancing on tables), and even a ceilidh at midnight. Most importantly, the best dessert shops in town were handing out our favourite sweet treats. And while you’d think that a student event which comes with free, limitless prosecco, beer, and even cocktails would escalate very quickly, everyone handled themselves well. Although you could certainly tell that the crowd became more inebriated as the evening went on, everyone remained dignified and friendly.

“It felt safe and private in the strangest way, like everything in the world might be okay after all”

But then again, perhaps that is unsurprising considering that many of the guests had been used to this their entire adult lives, having ready access to whatever they wanted. Being able to have as many drinks as you want without having to think about money, as many servings of dessert - limitless enjoyment and pleasure at your fingertips. Why wouldn’t you take as much as you could? I realised that growing up decidedly not rich has kept me sheltered from substance abuse, something I have seen my privately educated friends struggle with more frequently.


Mountain View

Entitlement and cold pasta: Working at Trinity May Ball

Unlike any party I’ve ever been to, there was a real sense of community despite the large number of attendees. At every corner you might bump into a friend, and even strangers were happy to act as such, drunkenly discussing their research in the toilet queue. It felt safe and private in the strangest way, like everything in the world might be okay after all, and everything was exactly how it should be right now. It was a whole universe outside of which nothing else existed. Perhaps that is just to say that it felt very Cambridge.

My eyes wide open with admiration and joy, I watched elaborate dresses and suits gliding along narrow garden paths strewn with lanterns and fairy lights, excitedly chatting to their friends. I’m from Austria, where we know how to organise a good ball - but I had never seen anything like it, and I wondered if I would see something like it ever again. Once more, fictional comparisons sprung to mind. I imagined that I had wandered onto a set for the Great Gatsby. No, I was at one of Gatsby’s parties. Then my mind wandered down the garden path to the Night Circus and my fellow attendees were revellers, enchanted by magic tricks and prosecco.

As I sat inside a tent on a soft cushion, I couldn’t help but smile at the decadence and think that maybe it was okay to have this much fun for a night after working so hard for a whole year. Surrounded by jazz tunes and forgetful dancing, I finally found myself relaxing, and I realised that it’s important to do things that will take your mind off work completely for a short while.

Maybe we shouldn’t be upset at each other for going to these things, but at our colleges for not providing proper funding to their own end-of-year events to make them accessible to all their students. I left enchanted and slightly disappointed when the event was already finished by 1 a.m. Apparently May balls go on for longer, but then again, May balls cost over a hundred pounds to attend. I finished the evening hungry for more, and ever so slightly more understanding of my richer friends.