Union Freshers’ Ball

NIKOLAS MAVREAS and PATRICK BROOKS are left quietly disappointed by the lukewarm Union Freshers’ Ball.

ball champagne debate chamber freshers ball hog roast popcorn Union


It has been described both as a “sophisticated occasion” and “a trumped-up house party”. It contained things as varied as a candy floss machine and a roulette table. I am talking, of course, about the Union Freshers’ Ball.

Upon arrival at the Union, black tie and all, I wandered between the various rooms feeling that the whole extravaganza was like a cross between Bilbo Baggins’ garden party and a James Bond drinks reception.

And in the best Baggins tradition, we were provided with copious amounts of food and drink. On the food front, we had sandwiches, candy floss and pop corn. As for drinks, there was a table where various martinis were offered, including a classic vodka martini (stirred, not shaken). Though £5 each, these were generally rather good.

We danced in the debating chamber and some of us danced in the club room. It’s a different experience, dancing in a dinner jacket.

There were many and varied acts, and the music changed with them. The bar was quite full and people definitely enjoyed themselves. The casino tables (with roulette and blackjack on offer) had the feel of a high-end London club. Certainly, people were dressed like they were in one. The party started to die down after midnight, and by half one was practically all over.

The Union Freshers’ Ball had many laudable elements, but which seemed somewhat haphazardly thrown together. Now that the hype has died down, I can say that it didn’t really live up to it. It was good for what it was, but perhaps not for what it said it was. You could dance, you could hang out with your friends, but that’s nothing special. Cambridge is full of such opportunities. Nevertheless, a pleasing way to spend a Saturday night. Plus, a great excuse to flash your black tie.

False advertising?


I tried to have low expectations, I really did. But when you’re attending your first ever bona fide Cambridge Ball Experience, you can’t help but feel underwhelmed when the central extravagance is one small glass of champagne.

Admittedly, the hog roast was succulent, and the popcorn and candy floss welcome additions. But both the limited champagne and hog roast stands vanished within a couple of hours, leaving the heaving and decidedly not free bars as the only recourse for social lubrication.

The expensive  drinks left everyone pretty sober, and meant that any vestiges of excitement or atmosphere drained as the night wore on. Fewer people seemed to be having honest-to-God fun than at a Churchillian PAV. Mainly because there was nigh on nothing to do. The moneyless casino was shit, the only entertainment upstairs was a pool table without any balls, and I just felt sorry for the pathetic but resolute jugglers hanging around the entrances tossing glowing orbs and trying not to cry.

‘Who enjoyed partying in the Chamber at last night’s Freshers’ Ball?’ asked the CUS Facebook. 4 people, apparently.

The DJs were bland and the acoustic music sincere but unremarkable. For the first few hours, nobody even so much as ventured into the cavernous debating hall where the live acts were, or the hall with the DJs; instead, everyone packed into the bar area like male penguins during a particularly harsh Antarctic winter. By midnight the event was starting to thin out, as people abandoned an already sunken ship.

It was worse than a college bop, as the percentage of people I actually knew (i.e. those at my college) was massively diluted by the vast numbers of strangers only approachable via small talk or extravagant lies/offensive statements. When small talk grew really tiresome, I even resorted to attempting a bit of journalism. Unfortunately, the stewards reacted aggressively when quizzed about the rumours of child-labour in the construction of the marquee or the horse to hog ratio of meat content in the roast. The president of the Union declined to be interviewed with endearing abashment.

The abiding consensus seemed to be that if viewed as a free event (and not as having a £170 price tag) it wasn’t a bad night out. One guest who wished to remain anonymous said he would have paid at most three pounds for entry but no more.

The toilets were nice; clean and well lit.