It’s happened again. You’ve barely got back to College after the Michaelmas holidays and are happily getting back into the rhythm of things when suddenly it happens: May Ball Ticket Season. Suddenly everybody is planning, some in extraordinarily minute detail, what it is that they will be doing for a week that is 5 months away. And for the next 5 months there will be just one thing to motivate you to get a move on and finish that lab report. The thought of, sometime in the middle of June, having absolutely no work to do and enjoying May Week.
I feel this need a bit of context. Cambridge is hard work, the workload differs from subject to subject and year to year, but the one thing that everybody agrees on is that you do need to work hard.
So, sometime in the middle of the nineteenth century, a group of students got together in one of the many pubs available for such a purpose and thought about this for a bit. They’d evidently been having a bit of a rough week, maybe missed an essay deadline, or struggled with a question sheet, or blown up their supervisor’s coffee, or something, but whatever it was it had made them a bit disillusioned with the whole thing. What they really needed was some motivation to go back and finish that essay, tackle that horrendous question 18, or apologise to their supervisor and dig pieces of coffee cup out of his hair. So they thought about this long and hard – how were they going to motivate themselves? What could they do?
Then, one guy had a fantastic idea. An absolutely amazing idea. An idea the like of which had never been thought of before. Once all the exams were over, when the only thing awaiting them was a ridiculously long 13 week (13 weeks!!) summer holiday, they were going to throw a party. And not just any party. They were going to throw a party the likes of which Cambridge had never seen before. There were going to be multiple live stages, acrobats, orchestras, hog roasts, dodgems, pizza, whisky, crocodile canapés, music, comedy, burlesque, poetry, singing, vodka, wine, jewellery, hot dogs, dancing, ostrich burgers, water features, ice luges, punts filled with beers, fireworks, hypnotists, magicians, steaks, champagne, silent disco, dresses, tuxedos, fireworks again, and Bastille. There was going to be all that and more for just one night, when students could forget about the real world and immerse themselves in a party like no other.
His friends (for they were his friends) liked this idea. They liked it a lot. But then one of them (the sensible one who is always telling you that going out when you have a meeting at 8am the next day isn’t a good idea) pointed out that such a party would be rather pricey and, having just finished their exams, students might want to save up their money for their summer holidays. This was a valid concern, and one that had the friends stumped for a few minutes, until some bright spark suggested that the tickets could be sold months and months in advance in the cold, rainy month of January. Not only would students then buy these tickets in their thousands but it would give them a ray of hope through the bleakness of winter and at the same time motivate them to work, dreaming about whole summer nights spent drinking and eating and dancing in a world of their own.
And so it happened. And it was amazing. They told all their other friends, who promptly became their enemies when they copied the original group’s plan and held their own balls. Soon every College was holding a ball at the end of the year and so, for one glorious week in June (All praise May Week! Nobody knows why it is called May Week when it is actually in June) Cambridge was transformed by night into the party capital of the world. This now happens every year and it is absolutely extraordinary.