Breaking into a May Ball: Tales from the Trenches

For one anonymous student, breaking into a May Ball is a rite of passage that every Cambridge Student must attempt at least once.

Anonymous student

Breaking into a May Ball is Shawshank-levels of fear and adrenaline.Gail Lewis for Varsity

It is a dark time for the Cambridge student. However, times were darker when I arrived at Selwyn College Winter Ball in 2019 as an eager-eyed gatecrasher. It was late, and the sun had set; but it was not just the lack of ambient light that was the problem, esteemed reader. There was just no feasible (free) way in.

My mother had always told me to aim for the stars. But after a term punctuated with too much tippling, my January mocks laid bare the issue. A First was now a pipe dream, and before you speak of the elusive Blue, or the yet more elusive wife, let me silence you: I am a Mathmo.

Like some second-rate American sex comedy, my friends and I hatched a plan at the beginning of our final year: we would lose our May Ball breaking virginity before we left. You see, a normal Cantab dreams of steamy passion in the UL as an Exam Term escapade. Others perhaps of bracing leaps over King’s Chapel spires, or of Wetherspoons’ Happy Hour Brunch-esque all-you-can-drink C-Sunday debauchery.

These were never scuppered for me, for they were never within the realms of possibility in the first place. Where others sought athleticism, bravado and daring, I satisfied myself with cunning, confidence and getting my money’s worth. As Cantab as Trinity Burnt Cream.

“If I may paraphrase Jay from the Inbetweeners, gate crashing a Ball is a lot like a rollercoaster: ‘Fucking. Mental.’”

It all started 7 months earlier. So, off I went with 3 of Cambridge’s finest criminal masterminds to the 7th best party in Cambridge. Unlike LawSoc Ball, Van of Life was within walking distance if we failed, and is it really breaking in if you paid for a taxi to the venue? We were not willing to find out.

Full of courage (although, wanting to make the most of the Ball, not of the Dutch variety) we arrived at the ball, replete with novelty bow ties and outrageously fake identities concocted en route. We soon realised the enormity of the task ahead of us.

The first 30 minutes were a blur: exterior crawling with security, cameras on seemingly every surface. We scaled up walls and ducked under hedges. We dodged cameras and climbed through windows. We sprinted past flashlights like CUAC’s finest. We asked a rather nice couple to let us back onto the street when we failed to get past the fence.

Canadian Ice Hockey superstar, Wayne Gretzky, once told us: “Our doubts are traitors and cause us to miss the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt”, summed up rather more eruditely by Shakespeare: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take #YOLO”.

The remaining option was bleak, but with newfound strength from Britain’s finest playwright, we marched on Selwyn’s Main Gate.

In we walked as a quartet, jackets in hand and smiles gleaming under the lights, straight past security.

Off came the novelty tie. First marquee: a food tent. The belt came off too. I looked around for a burgeoning bouncer, politely requesting my wristband before proceeding to escort me from the premises with the grace and decorum I have come to expect from the Ballare Posse. None were in sight. Mummy, I made it.

If I may paraphrase Jay from the Inbetweeners, gate crashing a Ball is a lot like a rollercoaster: ‘Fucking. Mental.’ There is something positively uplifting about strutting through a dancefloor, bubbles in hand, flitting entertaining acquaintances (‘I didn’t know you were coming!’, ‘Neither did I…’) and pestering the DJ. We had come in as a merry quartet, and it was only right we dominate the karaoke with a sensational performance of Katy Perry’s 2008 smash hit ’Hot ‘n’ Cold’ (to whoever’s request we stole, we’re sorry, but we were probably better anyway).

Since then, I have made my way to 4 other Balls. While a gentleman never tells, John’s May Ball, King’s Affair, Churchill Winter Ball and Sidney June Event may wish to re-examine their security provision. As a note of caution, Emmanuel’s architects designed a building more secure than HMP Belmarsh. Hats off to them.


Mountain View

The benefits of being a May Ball flower

The misdemeanours go on: from the unregistered performer acquiring a replacement wristband from the committee, to the couple emerging from the bushes at Sidney, ignored by the embarrassed security guard suspecting the worst. As I sit here procrastinating with this article, so very far away from Cambridge, I can’t help but feel a smile when I reflect on the many friendships made and the bizarre situations I have found myself in, as well as the opportunities that will be missed this May Week – the culmination of my season.

To those looking to follow my footsteps: be daring, exude confidence, and respect the game. Don’t let your methods become common knowledge, and most of all: remember that it isn’t the number of ribbons on your wrist that define your May Week experience. Anyway, that’s all from me. Work hard, and let’s hope for a good 2020-21 season: I may have a job, but I still ain’t paying.