The Amaze-Ball Part 1 (or Hanging Out with the Smart and Pretty Kids of Cambridge)

I have a friend who studies at Cambridge. Actually, I have had a few friends who study at Cambridge. Also, my brother studies at Oxford. A few other friends have or do study at Oxford. This makes me smart by association. It unfortunately doesn’t actually MAKE me smart, as I learnt when I hung out with a bunch of Rhodes scholars and my bro on Christmas Day a couple of years ago, but I still like to brag about them. I like to drop it casually into conversation as if it ain’t no thang (some people actually act like it ain’t no thang, to which I say, ‘what do you mean you aren’t impressed? It’s mother flippin’ Cambridge and I KNOW people who STUDY there. I know people who are PAID to study there they are so smart.’ I mean, I also like them as people, but I also like them because they are very very smart and I like to hang around in the same air space as them, hoping that some of their smarts will waft out of their mouths and I’ll breathe it straight through my nostrils into my BRAIN. Yeah. That’s How Brain Smarts Work. I know. I did my Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney, which is… not an un-reputable place and highly relevant to the study of brain smarts.)

I feel like I’m getting off track. Perhaps its because I’ve drunk approximately 3/4 of a Stella Artois Cidre.

The point of this post is I have smart friends in high places. And, more importantly, one of them invited me to their oh-so-special-and-pretty-May-Ball. You can only go to these extravaganzas if you know someone in the college (I think. And that is what I will continue to think because it makes me feel oh-so-special) and my friend invited me, because she thought I might enjoy it and because she is oh-so-lovely-and-pretty herself. The May Balls, held at various Cambridge colleges, are quite the ‘thing’. They have themes, they have fairground attractions, they have alcohol, they have food and they go ALL NIGHT LONG (which I didn’t quite appreciate until I got to Cambridge on Wednesday night and I was given my ticket and it said that carriages would arrive to take us home at 6am. 6am! As in, on AN ENTIRELY different day to when the ball started!)

The day started with a horrific bus trip on the National Express. I had never taken the bus to Cambridge before, but when I checked the  prices and found out it was a good half the price of the train ticket I thought I couldn’t really justify the extra expense. All those bloody toiletries in Morocco were essentially the difference between my bus ticket to Cambridge and the train tickets. I thought, how much worse can it be? I take the bus to Oxford all the time. Well, it can be much much worse. The Oxford tube (the bus service to Oxford) is a lovely double-decker thing, reasonably new, comfortable and properly ventilated. The National Express is none of these things. It is a regular ol’ single storey bus (boo) and seemed to have it’s heaters on (it was 22 degrees outside, if not more) working in some sort of duel to the death with it’s completely ineffective air vents. The air vents weren’t cooling in anyway, they were just re-circulating the overly warm and humid air already stifling the bus. I ended up taking off my shoes, socks and wrap, pulling up my pants to thigh height, rolling up my sleeves to my shoulders and then collapsing in a dehydrated and sweaty heap across two seats, glaring at anyone who hovered near my extra seat in an attempt to suggest that perhaps I should move and let them sit down (MOVE ALONG, THERE ARE PLENTY OF SEATS FUTHER DOWN THE BACK). A mother sat herself and her screaming baby down in the seat in front of me (WHY WHY) and it then took us an hour and a half to get out of London (it was meant to take us 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to Cambridge). When we finally got to Cambridge we hit more traffic, the bus slowed to a crawl and crept into the centre of the city after the longest half hour of my life. WHY, NATIONAL EXPRESS, WHY?

My friend met me at the bus stop and as soon as I was off the sweaty steam bath that was the National Express bus I immediately started to cheer up. It’s hard not to cheer up in Cambridge. It’s too darn pretty. Pretty people in pretty clothes ride pretty bicycles with pretty baskets everywhere. I mean, its all very self-consciously pretty, but, hey, if you were that pretty you’d be pretty aware of it too, wouldn’t you?

I had been worried about arriving too late at my friend’s house and be rushing around to get ready, but apparently the ball didn’t get going til around 9pm, so I actually had heaps of time. In fact, I had so much time I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. So, I just wandered around in full make-up and dressing gown, read the London Review of Books (and its hilariously and previously unknown singles section!) talking to my friend’s housemates, her friends and just generally making a nuisance of myself as they did useful things like did their hair and ironed their clothes and cooked dinner. I did enjoy swanning around in a dressing gown and make-up though. It made me feel like I was an actress waiting on set for her close-up. Ah, the simple things.

After dinner, we all put on our costumes/black-tie ball gowns and suits, which made me painfully aware of the fact that going to the USA and eating omelettes the size of hub-caps and smothered in cheese sauce; or going to Morocco and eating pastries for three meals a day actually DOES have an effect on your waistline. Never mind – with some ingenious squishing down of my boobs, some deep breaths and my friend’s determination, we got the zip up.

And, we brushed up pretty nice, all things considered:

Me and Michelle, ready for the Pembroke May Ball

Me and Michelle, ready for the Pembroke May Ball

On a side note, how AWESOME is my dress? The theme of the ball was The Tempest, so I had originally wanted something blue and floaty, something Miranda-like or Ariel-like or fairy-sea-like. But, then I walked into a charity store and saw that thing and I was like, ‘Shiny tartan with a demi-train? Well, I have to try that on.’ And then when I did try it on and I realised it matched my hair colour and was a 1980s dress trying to do the 1930s and it was from New York and it had boning and also beading on the back (which you can’t see in this photo), I was like, ‘There are so many good things about this dress I CAN’T EVEN HANDLE IT.’ You’d think that with so many amazing good things the dress would explode in a ball of ugly, like when two beautiful people have a kid and it turns out to have a mono-brow and a really prominent chin, but, no, no, this was actually the most awesome dress of awesome and to top it all off the charity store lady gave me some earrings that matched for free because they didn’t have backs and because I didn’t haggle over the dress’ price (seriously, dudes, who haggles in a charity store. Really.)

The one annoying thing about the ball is that there is a big long queue to get in. So, though the thing started at 9pm, we got in a taxi around 7:30pm and headed off to Pembroke College. The line was already forming, but we had luckily got there just in time – a large group of people arrived just after us and the line continued to grow at an alarming rate. The main entertainment of waiting in line was watching the other people arrive (and judging them harshly on their sartorial choices), taking photos of each other and attempting to remember lines from The Tempest (despite being in the bloody play at acting school I couldn’t remember anything. We ended up quoting Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo And Juliet instead. And then we moved on to ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’ and ‘Clueless’. Because Cambridge kids are smart, but they’re not above a good film adaptation of a classic text, as long as its amusingly and wittily done). We also spent a lot of time talking excitedly about all the things we expected to find inside. Oysters! Champagne! Dodgem Cars! (YES! DODGEM CARS!) We discussed our plan of attack in detail, which mainly involved who should go to the coat check at what time to ensure that we all managed to get as much of the good food and alcohol as possible before going on the dodgem cars.

When we finally made it inside, the first table we encountered was the champagne. It wasn’t our fault, it was right there as we walked past. We downed a glass each. Then grabbed another (please understand – the tickets were very expensive. We were trying to get our money’s worth). Off we went to explore. A jazz band was playing covers of everything from The White Stripes to Emelie Sande. Paper cranes hung in the trees (I later found out they were made out of pages from The Tempest – excellent attention to detail, Pembroke College, excellent). There was a fountain surrounded by a fake grass lawn and white picket fence. Ballet dancers frolicked on the lawn, tapping a tambourine and doing pirouettes (one of my companions affectionately nick-named it the ‘Ballerina Petting Zoo’ – I told him he’d probably get in trouble if he partook in non-consensual petting or if he offered the ballet dancers money in exchange for petting them. He continued to use the phrase). We got vegetarian paella and admired the chocolate covered fruit (but decided, in the end, we couldn’t get that straight away).

There was so much going on it as hard to take it all in. There were drinks tents everywhere. Jaegermeister, Absolut, beer, cocktails, VKD (oh boy did those pre-mixed drinks ever take me back to my days at college…). Food of all types – 6 or 7 different types of burgers. Hog Roast. Popcorn, fairy floss, ice-cream and doughnuts. Things kept changing at different hours, new rooms would open up, new activities. A casino with a grand piano and whiskey tasting, which was then following by gin and tonic tastings. A circus arts class. A laughing class (seriously, kids, is is that depressing at Cambridge?) Giant puppeteers on sticks dressed as alien-type beings. More dancers with fans and scarves. A photobooth. A silent disco. A room of cheese. A ROOM OF CHEESE (oh and did it ever smell in there – did it ever smell DELICIOUS in there). It kind of felt like being a kid on their first visit to Disneyland – ‘ooh, Mum, can we go there? Ooh, now can we go there? Ooh, now can we go there? Can I eat that? Can I drink that? I want to do that! No, I want to do that! Now lets go here! No, there! Now here! Now over there! Now I’m tired and have to lie down on the grass for a little bit. OOH, let’s go see what that is over there now!’ I hardly feel that I got a chance to take anything in properly, we were always looking for the next thrill, the new fun thing to be doing, the new person to talk to, the new place to be. It was completely hedonistic and over-the-top and utterly ridiculous and, yes, ok, just lots and lots of fun.

There were plenty of ‘new’ things to nominate as my ‘new’ thing for the day and really the whole experience could just count as one new thing, but I feel the top experience was going on the dodgem cars in a ball gown. I mean, who gets to do that (except for all the pretty and smart kids of Cambridge)? My pastry belly didn’t even stop me. I was going to sit down in those dodgem cars even if it resulted in serious bruising of my internal organs from the boning in my dress or a split zipper (it resulted in neither – thank God). As we were in the dodgem cars as duos, we divided up duties – I used the pedal and my friend used the wheel. My job was pretty easy. Just keep my foot to the floor. I was highly impressed with my friends’ bumping skills (both friends – I went twice. It was important to make the most of the dodgem cars) and oh my how I giggled. It was pretty ridiculous. I mean, it’s actually a pretty uncomfortable experience (like I have subsequently realised about many things I loved in my childhood – jumping castles, climbing trees, somersaults, cartwheels, trampolines…). Even when you bump into other people, you also get bumped. It can hurt! It seems like a particularly inefficient way of wreaking a terrible revenge on a person (unless it’s a metaphor manifested in physical form about the damage you do to yourself when wreaking a terrible revenge on someone else? OH, MAN, DODGEM CARS ARE DEEP). But I think it you go into it thinking its going to be fun, the fact that you’re getting a little beat up in your highly uncomfortable metal car is just a bit of a joke. And it perhaps it serves as a valuable service for adults – a good venting of all your pent-up road rage in a safe environment.

So, that was the ball. Well, that was half of the ball. More to come.



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