Out of the libraries and into the greenLaura Spence

I won’t pretend I made an active decision to attend Christ’s May Ball: rather, a combination of poor organisational skills and a lack of friends at colleges more renowned for their balls meant that it was the only ball still selling tickets when I finally got round to looking into the matter. And, with a last-minute ticket at Trinity sorted out for the previous evening, feeling the effects of the night before, my main hope was that I would manage to stay awake at a college hardly known for its party atmosphere. How misplaced my apprehensions were – Christ’s was, by some distance, the best May Ball I’ve been to in my three years at Cambridge.

It might seem a push to claim that spending £130 for an evening’s entertainment is ever good value, but with a ball so heavily laden with food, drink, and entertainment, with such attentive décor, and that made such use of its grounds, it was hard to ever feel short-changed. From first entering right until the end of the night, the quality of the food and drink was of the highest standard. From the delicious Hungarian chimney cakes to the hunky gourmet burgers to the roaming sushi, it was virtually impossible to stay hungry. The vegetarian options were equally as impressive, with sweet potato and paneer wraps on offer, and halloumi burgers going down a treat.

Christ’s queues were minimal or non-existent which allowed time to try almost everything on display. And unlike other balls I’ve been to, where the best stalls often run out frustratingly early after long queues, the food kept on serving and the drinks kept on flowing. It was at times almost hard to grasp just how much the committee had laid on for us. At about 3 AM a friend wanted to grab yet another pulled pork bun, only to be told apologetically that he would have to wait a minute as a fresh batch was being cooked up. I don’t know what demand there was for a fresh batch in all honesty – there was literally no-one else queuing. But it was there if you wanted it, and it was there until you left. Rather than the bog standard bacon butty affair that you find at other balls, Christ’s once again outdid itself. Freshly toasted smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels and grilled croissants were rustled up by a well-oiled catering machine, accompanied by copious amounts of Buck’s Fizz to wash it down.

Drinks were similarly impressive. A Hendrick’s gin bar, a cider and ale tent, a spirit and mixer stand, shots and champagne jelly were all in abundance, and freely available. Sweet and devilishly strong cocktails were served up by the increasingly merry jokers at The Cocktail Box. Though popular, efficient and systematic production meant that the wait was never a chore. If the crowd was getting too much for instant service, lashings of vodka were offered out by the barmen, whose antics almost made queuing an event in itself.

The choice of theme – ‘The Emerald City’ – might have seemed an odd at first, but was a real success, allowing for impressive aesthetics without ever feeling overbearing or forced. The yellow brick road led you through to the emerald city, where vibrant green light and giant poppies really transformed the college. The cardboard character cut outs by the crazy golf were a bit naff, but they were an exception to the rest of the creative décor. Witches on stilts and a real tin man posed for photos and added to the atmosphere. Even Christ’s famously ugly New Court was put to good use –windows were illuminated with blocks of colour that made the building light up strikingly.

Christ’s deceptively expansive grounds were used to full effect, offering a wide range of ents. I’ve never seen zorbing at a May Ball before but I wish I had - it was a lot more entertaining than the usual dodgems and fair swings. Laser tag, shisha and oxygen bars were just some of the highlights and, again, a general lack of queuing meant that you could try out almost everything. The headline acts were perhaps a little underwhelming on paper, but Mausi’s set was energetic and went down well. Truly Medly Deeply - by now a Cambridge institution - were predictably popular with their range of covers, and To Kill a King were about as squeaky clean as the fun being had by most of the ball’s attendees, at one point getting the crowd to enthusiastically chant ‘thank you’ to the organisers. Musical talent was on display throughout the night, and the only real disappointment was that audience numbers often meant good acts were largely wasted on small crowds. The Ouse Valley Collective were one of the best bands I’ve seen in Cambridge, but were given a 4am set and ended up in front of at most 15 people. In fact, generally the ball felt, if anything, on the quiet side. The lack of queuing was a real blessing, but the dance tent was often empty, and, with so much on offer, the crowds tended to be scattered around.

I came hoping to make it to the end, and I left almost in awe of what had just been laid on for me. I hadn’t heard of much of a reputation surrounding Christ’s May Balls before I arrived, but on this display at least, it was up there with – and even surpassed – the best of them. Even the late rain failed to dampen spirits –umbrellas seamlessly appeared to the extent that the wet weather really wasn’t an issue at all. It was going to take a lot for me to overcome the tiredness and hangover carried over from Trinity, but at the end of Christ’s I could’ve kept on going, and that is a real testament to the organisers. 

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