Old College is bustling with activity as the preparations for the May Ball are now well underway. The growing excitement is tangible, although my own enthusiasm has been somewhat dampened by the sudden and unexpected death of actor and comedian Rik Mayall, a favourite of mine from a young age. His anarchic sitcom The Young Ones completely changed the course of my adolescence and its influence among people of a certain age is still keenly felt today. A great inspiration and indeed an even greater loss.
Since first thing this morning, Head Porter has been like a man possessed. The constant stream of people and vehicles into Old College has had him capering back and forth since the early hours. Even before I have finished my bacon roll, a fun fair (including bumper cars and a Ferris wheel) has rolled in and started setting up home on the immaculate lawns. I can see Head Porter wincing as the great lumbering machines leave their ugly tracks across what at any other time of the year is considered hallowed ground.
The strange custom of allowing none but The Fellowship to walk on the grass has long since lost its quirk, for me. Even I feel a shudder of revulsion, watching through the window at the jolly fair people in their hobnail boots, trampling and churning the delicate green blades that Head Gardener slaves over so diligently. I smile as I see Head Porter hopping and fussing around them, attempting to supervise their efforts but invariably just getting in the way. He is looking harassed and somewhat dishevelled. What that man needs, is a nice cup of tea.
Head Of Catering has done me proud and restocked The Lodge with English Breakfast Tea, two steaming mugs of which I am transporting out across the courtyard. Head Porter has removed his bowler and is wiping sweat from his brow, his face flushed in the already tepid morning air.
“Thank you,” he says, receiving the tea with gratitude. “Honestly, the Ball gets more elaborate every year. Can you believe all this?!” He indicates wildly to the growing army of men and machinery gradually filling every spare inch of College ground.
“It’s amazing,” I reply. “It’s hard to believe that The Fellowship would allow it, actually. It’s certainly disruptive.”
“The Fellowship like the May Balls,” explains Head Porter “They are stunning events. Also, the tickets cost a fortune so they make a bit of cash for the College as well.”
“Senior Bursar must have loved that,” I say wistfully.
“Professor K used to really enjoy the Ball as well,” Head Porter says. “In his younger days, of course. He had quite the eye for the ladies back then.” I raise an eyebrow and a smile but say nothing more. I really miss Professor K.
Head Porter decides that we should take a tour of the grounds and inspect the progress of all the Ball-related business. Armed with just our cups of tea, we venture through the cloisters to see what might be occurring.
I am delighted and stunned that Old College still has the ability to both surprise and amaze me, even when I think it has no further fascinations to declare. The May Ball Committee (comprised of mainly third year undergraduates) have really surpassed my expectations. There is the fairground, of course, and all the appurtenances associated with it – candy floss and ice cream stalls, pop-up fast food emporiums and any number of games of chance and skill. But even more impressive is the elaborate main stage being constructed on the lawns beyond Apple Tree Court, backing onto the river. This is truly a structure of which any self-respecting music festival would be proud. I have been told by various people to really get my hopes up with regards to the musical performances. In years past, Old College has played host to some of the brightest lights in the music industry, as well as a carefully selected batch of the finest up and coming local artists. How exciting! This looks like a very professional set up indeed.
There are numerous smaller stages, dotted around the grounds, where smaller, acoustic acts will perform. They are surrounded by elegant little eateries, still being constructed, that will eventually be serving all kinds of delicacies for hungry Ball-goers to enjoy. There are several bars, of course – no Old College event would be complete without a seemingly endless supply of alcohol.
It’s a lot to take in, on the first tour round, as well as there being so many things still to be done. I am suitably impressed, I must say. When you take into consideration as well, many of The Committee have been studying for and taking some of the most important exams of their lives, yet have managed to pull together all this with what can only be described as aplomb. They may drive me to distraction on occasion, but there’s no denying that the students of Old College are an admirable bunch.
As we make our way back to The Porters’ Lodge to replenish our supply of tea, I mention to Head Porter about The Dean’s concerns. I was disconcerting to see him so unsettled. Head Porter listens carefully, his complexion fading to a pallid grey as he does so.
“This isn’t good news at all, Deputy Head Porter” he murmurs. “What if The Master is involved with The Vicious Circle? We could be heading for an unfortunate accident, like Senior Bursar.”
“Won’t we be safe, with so many people around?” I ask.
“Don’t be so sure,” replies Head Porter “Sometimes the more eyes there are, the less they see. We’d best keep our wits about us.”
This is shaping up to be a very interesting event indeed.