Clare May Ball

ELLIE PITHERS had a whale of a time, but her booze cruise came to an end earlier than planned.

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Curiouser and Curiouser

20th June 2011, £125

Glandular Fever meant that I was carried out of Clare May Ball and deposited unceremoniously into a taxi at Cinderella o’clock last year; hardly the ‘Arabian Nights’ fairytale fantasy I’d been looking forward to. This year, I was determined to milk round two, ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’, for all it was worth. I sampled every ounce of food on offer. I drank anything I could get my hands on. I ticked off all the activities (excluding the tea cups in Old Court, which did not cater for the mountains of paella I had motored my way through). I ran round the Ball like a woman possessed, and I was not disappointed.

Clare prides itself on being one of the more beautiful colleges, and last night it was dressed up to the nines. Old Court was bedecked in twinkling lights and munificent billowing banners from upper story windows, welcoming us to a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. A bout of torrential rain early in the evening unfortunately left the Ikea-esque lanterns of the Scholars’ Garden looking a little limp, and ruined the piles of cushions which provided much-needed seating areas, but the lighting was, as usual, spectacular. The Fellows’ Garden doubled as a classy shisha area, complete with obese hookah-smoking caterpillar statue and some funky toadstool seats, and the bridge looked dreamy with acres of fairy lights draped across it.

Photographs by David Ponting and Joseph Snelling

The food was one of the highlights of the night, and in sharp contrast to last year, queues were virtually non-existent. I stuffed myself on the old chestnuts – hog roast, Thai green curry, doughnuts, cupcakes, paella – but the icing on the cake was the deli. Scrumptious morsels of cheese nestled next to generous folds of cured hams, and provided a sophisticated spin on the 70’s classic cheese and wine party combo. The only let down was the port and cheese room in the Cellars which I reached, alas, too late, and was met with crumbs and dirty glasses.

Drinks were, however, less impressive. Determined to live the dream of death by champagne, I was glad that last year’s triumph of a Heidsieck bar appeared to have returned in Old Court, with legions of flutes filled to the brim; but sadly it ran out almost immediately. It was replaced with a Hidden Rooms cocktail bar, which was suave but time-consuming; I queued at one point for forty minutes and eventually gave up. The cocktail bar last year was situated by the Main Stage, but it was replaced this year by a sub-standard vodka shots bar. The only mixers on offer were coke or lemonade, and they ran out by about 3am. A rampage at 3.15 in search of alcohol yielded nothing except a rather limp gin and tonic. By 4am there appeared to be only lemonade left – running out of alcohol was a pretty basic slip-up for an operation that was otherwise slick and smart.

The Fellows’ Garden, complete with hookah and hook-ups.

The budget was clearly blown on the Ents, and they did not disappoint. Ms. Dynamite was sensational – and that’s not just because I know all the words off by heart. Unlike many a May Ball Act out to make a quick buck, she looked genuinely excited to be in Cambridge, and was rewarded with uproarious applause during her energetic set. Tinchy Stryder had a tough act to follow, mainly because he is 5’1” and thus only the front two rows of revellers could actually see him, but he maintained the atmosphere with a slew of Sunday Night hits which provided drunk boys with an excuse to hoist girls on their shoulders.

Clare packed a punch and hit a lot of high notes, but failed to fulfil the golden rule of any May Ball: the drinks must keep flowing until the end of the night. Last year this was not an issue, what with my glands being so swollen that any form of alcohol was off the cards, but I expected bigger things this time around, and the bars were woefully inadequate.

Food and Drink:

Wow Factor:

Value for money:

Star attraction: Ms. Dynamite

Biggest turn-off: Booze running dry