One of the most anticipated events of the year, May Ball, starts way before the night in question. It starts with the queuing for May Ball tickets, an event in itself, which, even then, starts before the morning it advertises. It begins with friends gathered in a flat, or more likely in a Facebook chat, practising the subtle art of chicanery through a bidding war: each advertising their claim to how they are much too busy with 9 and 10 am tutorials or pulling all-nighters to be wasting their precious time in pursuit of tickets.
This year represents will be my third time attending the Ball and I was hoping to avoid the responsibility of queuing for all three occasions, but alas it was not to be, as apparently my bid was the least credible. To add insult to injury, my endeavour for tickets was to be a solo pursuit: it is nice to have friends. So without further ado, here follows my experience of the St Andrews student rite of passage that is queuing for May Ball tickets.
-3:00 am –
I am in my own flat contemplating feckless arguments inside my own head as to why it was my duty to face this burden. After packing a few books and fully charged electronic devices into my bag to keep me somewhat vaguely amused throughout the night, along with a cushion and blanket for the mirage of warmth and comfort, I left for the bandstand alone in the dark, silent street. The town is deathly quiet, with only faint silhouettes at the far ends of passing streets showing any true sign of life as people go about their business getting takeaways and falling out of the Lizard and the Vic. I arrive from the side of Ma Bells and as I pass the Martyr Stone, I see a line of perhaps 50 students all hunched in small groups or packed into tents.
The groups can be categorised into two classifications: they sit tightly, trying to get through the night with hollow conversation, or they take the optimistic approach of getting absolutely plastered and desensitising themselves to the grim situation. I set up camp between two groups of girls minding their own business with the next group down being a group of boys going with the seemingly preferable rout of blatant intoxication.
– 4:00 am –
I lie on my back staring at the sky, catching faint glimpses of stars in between the wispy clouds moving past. The temperature is mild but there is an unpleasant breeze, reminiscent of the winter that this town can never seem to shake. It is apparent that I am not the only one star gazing as the aforementioned group of boys begin a drunken charade.
One claims to the others, “I swear the stars are moving – just look; they don’t usually move that fast”.
“I am not sure, but you could be right”, another replies.
“They are, even he agrees and he is completely sober.”
This continues for about ten minutes before they all agree that the stars are moving at a considerable speed. I lie back, looking up, fully aware that it is the fast moving clouds that are giving the illusion of movement of the over active stars to the inebriated. I look over to see their antics just in time to miss an actual shooting star that excites them greatly as I turn quickly back to the sky for some reason, perhaps wanting to see a re-play of the event. “Everybody make a wish”, one shouts to the others and there is brief silence.
“Was that rain I just felt?” One asks and I can clarify, yes – yes it was.
– 5:00 am –
The rain and wind gradually pick up and increase on level terms with my misery over the next hour. I have not packed an umbrella, rather stupidly, as it has been unseasonally, for St Andrews, nice weather over the past few days, and God is, hopefully, not that cruel. I seek shelter in my blanket, pulling it over my head and curling into a ball. I close my eyes and listen to each steadily quieter and quieter group around me as they begin to settle down and conserve energy, or begin to sleep. My stomach is trying to chat to me, asking questions of food. My head answers that there are some snacks in my bag, but my body rejects this proposal as it is trying to save the dry patch of grass from the rain that moving to get food would most definitely sabotage. The feeling for food passes and I continue my slow and painful wait.
– 6:00 am –
I am still under my blanket and the rain has relented to a drizzle despite the wind continuing to carry its unwelcome chill. The birds are chattering loquaciously above our heads, probing for any scraps of food they can find among the students. Further overhead, the sky is gradually changing into its daytime attire as faint strands of dark blue can be seen on occasion through breaks in the clouds. I peak my head outside my make-shift shelter and my eyes are assaulted by the change in brightness between the outside and my sanctuary. Everyone else is partaking in light chatter or slumber as the half-way point of the waiting game passes.
– 7:00 am –
The birds are beginning to get more adventurous and talkative as dawn brightens into daylight, and I can only imagine the judgement they pass on us. They study the empty chip boxes scattered on the grass claimed only by the wind and devour any resources they find and scavenge. Crows and seagulls seem to be fighting a futile war amongst themselves, staking claim on anything remotely valuable to them whilst showing no allegiance to their respective kin and I can’t help but think we may face the same fate. Whispers vibrate through the queue at the prospect of coffee shops being open. Small packs of explorers fade into the distance with the faint, but sure hopes of attaining the student staple solution. I once again retreat under my soaked blanket.
– 8:00 am –
It was bound to happen sooner or later with the vast flock of birds patrolling the skies, as one kind creature delivers a present to my cocoon of decreasing warmth. Just like one of those rogue droplets of water that wait for you as you pass under a lamppost after a long rain, it fell and soiled the wet side of my blanket. Feeling gauche and rubbing my tired eyes, I see success from the coffee exploits as many are holding their pick-me-up elixir. I tell myself there are only two hours left to wait and allow myself some phone time to browse meaningless social media and play mind-numbing games.
– 9:00 am –
The queue is getting larger and it is making me nervous. It is not getting longer, but broader as people join where their friends have been keeping space all night. I do some quick maths in my head to evaluate my chances of success and my sleep-starved brain assures me it should be fine; close but fine. Out of nowhere a group, seemingly Scandinavian from their accents, appear on the path to act out what I assume is the Boy Who Cried Wolf. The leader asks occasionally that the sleepy spectators applaud something or nothing in particular as his friend wanders about the queue uninterestingly acting as the protagonist of the makeshift play. He lazily checks for wolves and the crowd lazily look at him with idiot indifference. Luckily the play is short and the Kate Kennedy Club is beginning to assemble, life awakes from the bored crowd.
– 10:00 am –
The tickets go on sale and the queue yields an uninterested applause to the person who gets the first and free ticket. Moving slowly towards the bandstand one cannot help but attempt to catch glimpses of the tickets freshly received from those who were further forward. Success is so close I almost abjure the idea of failure as the people in front become so scarce they are countable. I arrive at the Kate Kennedy member’s station and we exchange our treasures, he receives many banknotes and I score the pieces of paper promised for my ordeal. I walk away not wanting to look back at the still lengthy queue heading towards a well-earned breakfast and bitterly, a long day of class.