The grey light of the morning has set in by the time we stumble out of the tent, the Ceilidh music fading into the distance. I, like many others, tiptoe barefoot across the gravel, too tired to attempt to wear my shoes again. We make our way back to the place where we sat, eight hours ago. No fireworks this time, but a tired performance from a famous close harmony group. The champagne keeps coming, though. For a few minutes I feel I could stay for ever. Then the day starts warming up again, I remember my feet, and George remembers that he hasn’t slept since Friday.
“I will never not be wearing white tie from now on.”
The first reason for going to the Trinity May Ball, when we received the offer from Susie a month beforehand, had been the date. This year it would conveniently fall on my birthday. We couldn’t help thinking that it would be a waste not to take up the opportunity of celebrating twenty-one years at the biggest party we would ever attend. The second reason was the dress code. An evening where white tie was not only allowed but actively encouraged was too much for George, who, on trying on my father’s suit, refused to take it off for an hour. He resembled a misplaced butler as he swanned around his small Clapham flat, pouring gins for Katy and me as we looked on in amusement. And so it was decided. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity of dressing up and that was all there was to it. The only problem was the rehearsal on the same day…
“Everything will be fine… as long as he gets here by nine.”
It was not a day for rushing through railway stations, the heatwave stubbornly refusing to pass, but George managed to catch his train. We arrived later than most, but caught the queue in the late afternoon sunshine, just as it started moving. The snaking line of guests around the fountain on Great Court was a sublime cacophony of colour and excitement, of bright ball gowns and elegant white tie, of laughing students shaking off the months of work. We all stood and judged the dresses. After all, we were queuing for an hour and bored. Many were beautiful, but there was one disaster – evidently an online purchase that had gone wrong. The sexy mesh panels in the dress sat in the wrong place on the slightly unsuitable curves and lack of underwear was particularly distressing. We attempted to ignore it and chose instead to admire the silhouettes of Cambridge as they fell through the midsummer light, while George perused the programme handed to him on entry.
“Surely it can’t all be unlimited?”
What greeted us when we finally made it through was a dream land. The Wren Library was supreme, the arches and walkway within filled with elegant brightly lit trees. The whole building glowed, bright blue lights streaming out from behind, and the golden walls warm and inviting. What was more inviting, however, was the punt filled with Champagne, and the friendly Carine, who greeted us with a handful of oysters. We stood and slurped and listened to the jazz oozing from the nearby tent, and couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Another glass of Champagne and a walk out onto the backs. Punts were gathering on the river, armed with jugs of Pimm’s and picnics, awaiting the famed fireworks. Meanwhile, guests were beginning to congregate on the bridge for the same purpose.
10.00. We had half an hour before they began. A short amble across the bridge into the far field took us from elegant sophistication to midnight fairground. Hotdogs, candyfloss, mac and cheese, bumper cars, red bull van, comedy tent and margarita stall were the immediate attractions to notice, although there was also a frightening-looking Ferris wheel, an entire tent given over to bean bags and paella somewhere to be found. I retrieved two hotdogs while George found some cocktails and we made our way back to find a spot to await the display.
“This is the best cheese I’ve ever tasted in my life.”
The fireworks were breathtaking. Accompanied by music and an impressive light display, they lasted half an hour and brought tears to our eyes. At one point I remembered my days at school, when I would look secretly out of the window on the night of my birthday and watch from a distance. I had always accepted May Ball fireworks as unofficial birthday gifts from the city, and today, finding myself on the right side of them, it seemed a fitting twenty-first treat. When they were over, we ambled up towards the champagne again, this time trying the Rosé variety, before bumping into Carine. She whisked us off to watch Cadenza, who were performing in a room made for George. The wooden Hall was cosy and packed with cheese. Five tables of it, each piled high with hundreds of varieties. Each was joined by a smaller adjacent table of Port, and George was so excited that he was incapable of making any sort of intelligent foodie remark.
The night passed on, and we went from here to there, rode on the Ferris wheel (which, quite unexpectedly, flipped us upside down), ate much needed mac and cheese at 3AM, and sampled all the drinks we could find, including a surprise glass of mead. The ceilidh woke us up. It was mainly my anger with the two women who broke our four, that reinvigorated me. As we left the dancing, we wandered over towards the survivors’ photo, unfortunately missing it on account of the toilet queue. As we left, we passed the champagne bar, still handing out copious glasses and opening bottles. The champagne river had flowed for nine hours and now we were ready for bed, but at least George’s disbelief had been proven wrong.
“Ah. So it was unlimited.”