Facebook update: May Week! Cava!

Jess Touschek - Gonville and Caius 25 June 2009

The TCS Comment editor from Lent 2009 on the “hard-earned extravagance of May Week”

It’s always the same. After the cheap cava (£5 Sainsbury’s special), the ceremonial torching of revision notes (in line with Health & Safety guidelines, naturally), the regulation Facebook status update (Q: What’s on YOUR mind?; Me: NOTHING! FOR FOUR MONTHS! MWAH-HA!!!) and the subsequent collapse into nervous exhaustion (zzzzzzzzzz), the mind inevitably turns to May Week.
Having said that, though, this year seems a bit different. Such is the strength of the current national gloom that it has penetrated not only the famously robust Cambridge bubble, but also my social conscience which, in 2009, has become rather more annoyingly persistent than its ’08 incarnation.

Set as I am on dreaming of champagne flutes and chocolate fountains, the little Shami Chakrabarti in my head keeps piping up with guilt-stricken reservations about the whole enterprise. Can we really justify the decadence and the enormous budgets at a time when people the world over are losing jobs, houses and the basic will to live? Couldn’t we be satisfied with a packet of crisps, cheap beer and relief that we are young, healthy and, as yet, largely unburdened with the mundane pressures of adult existence?
Well, no (and at this point Shami gets royally squished by my sturdy inner adolescent). I don’t think I should apologise to the unfortunate out there for my delight in May Week, if for no other reason than most of the said unfortunate haven’t had to endure a 210 minute paper on theories of versification – a fact which, frankly, suggests that my need for psychological restoratives is significantly more urgent than theirs.

More seriously, we pay hefty sums for our tickets out of accounts that can ill afford the strain, and it takes a hell of a lot of effort on the part of the various student committees to pull off these events with the flair we’ve all come to expect. Nothing is handed to us: we worked hard to get here, we’ve worked hard to stay here and no-one should begrudge us the opportunity to celebrate the fact that we’ve survived another year.

As is generally the case with me, however, the sentimental outweighs the practical. I just think that everyone who can should experience the wonder of a Cambridge May Ball – the litany of jaw-dropping, “ohmigod”, “pinchme” moments that break over you like waves at the sight of the bands, the clothes, the cocktails, the fairground rides, the food, and that final image of dishevelled students shuffling woozily home across Orgasm Bridge at 7am, heels-in-hand and tuxedos slung over the shoulder. It’s one of the few nights during which you can stay stone cold sober and still find yourself questioning whether it ever really happened a few days later.

At a time in which (as we are continuously reminded) fairytale is becoming all too precious a commodity, that’s surely something to be savoured rather than condemned.

If nothing else, it might distract us from the fact that we live in a country where it rains in June, where a party of shameless bigots can win two seats in the European parliament, and where the break-down of a 10 year old on national television is classed as entertainment. This is shaping up to be a superlatively joyless chapter in UK history. If the frivolity and hard-earned extravagance of May Week can offer us a sweet, albeit brief, alternative to reality, then I, for one, intend to take full advantage of it.

Jess Touschek – Gonville and Caius