My Opening Ball experience began with every man’s worst nightmare. Having located, washed, and ironed everything I needed to make myself look somewhat presentable (this is no easy task, I assure you), I began the process of actually getting ready. It normally takes me a few goes to remember how to actually tie my dickie bow, so after I’d successfully navigated that I turned my attention to my trousers. Thinking nothing of it, I stepped into them, yanked them up, fastened them, and promptly bent down to reach for my cummerbund; and that’s when an almighty rip echoed throughout my room. Please, God, don’t let it be true.
A quick inspection confirmed my worst fears. I glanced at the clock, then at my trousers, and then back to the clock. My only pair — ruined! There was nothing for it. I swapped my garish checked boxers for a pair of pitch black, donned the trousers, and kitted myself out with the various other trappings of the middle class, St Andrean ball-going bon vivant. “Christ”, I thought, “I hope no-one notices.”
This anecdote is, I think, the best way to describe this year’s Kate Kennedy Opening Ball. Of course, it had the veneer of respectability and success — there’s no indication of poor ticket sales, the buses were reliable and regular, and everyone appeared to enjoy themselves on the night — but, much like myself that evening, you only had to look a little closer to find the gaping hole in the trousers.
Example the first. The Kate Kennedy Club deployed two bars; one as a “fast” bar (pablos and shots) and kept the other one as a regular bar as you might find it in the Union on any given Saturday. An excellent idea, as far as I’m concerned, but it would have been an even better idea to have actually told the guests that this was the case. I felt truly sorry for the Union bar staff that were forced to spend their evening telling belligerent, drunken students that they couldn’t have the drink that they wanted, and that they would have to start queueing all over again at the other end of the marquee. This was not well-advertised in the slightest, and I only knew about it because my housemate happened to be working that evening. A small problem, and yet even I could see that it was infuriating to both staff and clientele. Had the layout of the bars been well-known, however, the service would have been perfect; someone on the committee should have spotted it. It was a simple fix that would’ve greatly improved the quality of the evening.
Problem the second came with the music. On the night itself, I simply assumed that the music was good and, in fairness, it probably was. I’ve rejected the modern musical zeitgeist, and so my distaste for what was being played was probably more a reflection of my own prejudice rather than an accurate reflection on the evening. My only actual thought on the evening was that the band in one of the smaller tents had been brought on a bit early, and it was just a shame to see them performing to such a small group of people when they were obviously rather talented.
However, further rumination led me to a different conclusion, for surely the mark of a good musical act is to cater for all guests? This view was shared with many of the people I talked to, both on and after the evening. I also discovered that one of the members of BPM — the act booked for the evening — actually has a Kate Kennedy member in it, which surprised me somewhat. There is a wealth of student musical talent in this town; one wonders why, above all others, BPM was chosen. Not that I have any idea, of course.
Aside from this, smaller, more minor issues abounded. The cash only bar could have been advertised more clearly; it is, after all, an event marketed at people who haven’t been to a St Andrews ball before, and whilst I knew to take a few notes, lots of freshers didn’t. The layout of the main tent left also lot of awkward spaces; it wasn’t as fluid as it has been in previous years, and I got the impression that this forced people to stay with who they knew and not mingle as much as they could have done. This isn’t the best welcome to give to the St Andrean fresher.
One common complaint was that the venue had changed from Lower College Lawn down to the Madras rugby fields, and I feel as if I should clarify that this was something completely out of the control of the organising committee. Construction in St Salvator’s College meant that they couldn’t host it there and, all things considered, I think they made the very best of a bad situation. Sure, the evening lacked the mystique of being hosted inside the grounds of an ancient university, but this isn’t something that you can lay at the feet of the organisers. If anything, it improved the evening, because they were no queues for the toilets, as far as I could tell. After all, when you want to bleed the radiator, you don’t really mind whether it’s in a medieval college or in a portable toilet.
I suppose the central question is whether or not I enjoyed the evening, and the honest answer is that yes, I did. I fully recognise that events like these are incredibly hard to organise, and none of the issues that I’ve mentioned here tarnished the evening. However, I think I’d have a different answer had I paid full whack for my ticket. Whichever way you look at it, ball tickets are expensive (I can feed myself for a fortnight on the full price of an Opening Ball ticket) and there were enough snags and hiccups where I think I’d be slightly annoyed had I coughed up the full price. For me, there is a certain St Andrews brand when it comes to balls — not quite Oxbridge May Ball, not quite Year Six Disco — that makes them consistently popular, elegant, enjoyable for everyone. This year’s Opening Ball fell short of that standard, and it made for a slightly disappointing start to the year.