One of the great joys of the Oxford experience is just how easy it is to find an excuse to get suited, booted, and tarted all the way up for a fancy event with your friends. Formalwear = instant beauty; tailcoats and full-length dresses have transformative powers that make even the least glamorous of us instantly instagrammable – someone should have told Snow White’s stepmother to slap on a ball gown before heading down the poisoned fruit route, because it’s a surefire way to outstrip anyone in the aesthetics stakes. I proved my own point in this matter last night at Trinity College’s triennial commemoration ball, a night of glamour, glitz, and immaculately manicured lawns during which the rain mercifully held off and I made my £180 ticket back through consumption of candy floss alone. This year was a big one in Oxford for commem balls: Worcester’s tricentenary bash also took place, and Exeter is throwing a 700th anniversary event tonight that has half of Radcliffe Square closed to the public (to its rage). I chose Trinity over Worcester’s nightmare waiting list and headed over with a very select crew of friends and housemates – but balls being balls and Oxford being Oxford ended up running into about a hundred people I knew at the event, and chatting to many I didn’t.
The evening started for us at 8 with a champagne reception on Trinity’s front lawns. The committee settled on a digital wristband system this year which made queuing up and cloakroom depositing incredibly speedy so we could move right on to fancy champers and chocolate coated strawberries; I had spent half an hour the day before helping committee members unload box after box of champagne so knew there was no shortage there, and we were definitely not disappointed. The rain had cleared up just in time and the college looked golden and glorious in the last of the evening sun, and obviously all the guests in their white tie did too. To add to the magic, dreams were made within an hour of arrival as I got to meet Oxford-based photographer Nasir Hamid whose Flickr feed I have followed avidly for a few years now, and who photographs many of the balls and Oxford life in general. Discovering that he follows me too was a delightful ego massage and a half, and he took snaps of us on both digital and our beloved 35mm film. A perfect start to the evening.
From the front lawns we moved through a second quad complete with painted blue lawn and onto the meat of the ball. Trinity is a college made for such events, and there was ample room for stage, marquees, and quieter wooded areas which were no doubt host to countless scurrilous activities by the end of the evening; there were at least four bars and countless food stands, and to be honest the committee really outdid itself as the whole event was a roaring success by all accounts. The array of food was particularly spectacular, and although the best thing I consumed was definitely a Bailey’s milkshake at the very beginning of the night, by the end I had eaten my weight in whitebait, fajitas, hog roast, poached pears and candy floss – a smorgasbord of feasting spread across three quads. The musical entertainment too was right up my street (and seemingly everyone else’s). Although we tragically missed Out Of The Blue’s unfeasibly early set both Aluna George and Clean Bandit gave syuper performances – the real stand-out was the Beyonce tribute band in the early hours though, followed by a less exhilarating silent disco as by that point dawn was breaking and birds chirping and I felt like I might expire from exhaustion.
In amongst all the standard ball activities was the quite novel installation of a giant Monaco-style makeshift casino by the back gates; I think it could have been fabulous if actual money/glory was at stake, but as it was the wristband scanners broke down so it turned into a less glamorous speakeasy serving the most disgustingly strong gin martinis possible. Abandoned half-sipped specimens littered the room. Disgustingly strong drinks were certainly a theme of the night – whoever was in charge of drinks clearly likes their liquor hard and their mixers sparse – but bizarrely I think that the undrinkableness of everything actually meant no one got too sloshed and everyone paced themselves a bit better. I certainly just cannot force myself into ingesting a G&T with a 50:50 ratio (no matter how awkward the situation), which probably served me better than endless delicious glasses that go down a charm. Luckily entertainments aside from alcohol abounded, and we busied ourselves with shisha, carnival swings, dodgems and walking hedges; there was a Jamaican steel drum band and a stuffed zebra, and to be honest the whole thing was so well-planned and executed that though our stamina failed at 4am I don’t think I would have run out of amusements by the final clear-out at 6.
I had a really lovely evening (that my mum tells me was well worth the extortionate ticket price for this selfie alone), and it was an apt summer “so long” to Oxford, finalist friends and New College Lane. My favourite moment was the truly fab firework display a few hours in that had me clapping like a small child – they never really lose their primal appeal do they? – and my one regret is not going back for that third helping of hog roast. Next time.