“During my week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings, feasting of slaves, clapping of frenzied hands … Such are the functions over which I preside.” — Saturn in Lucian’s Saturnalia

This double guest post comes from Bursar Andrew Powell, and Sophie Clarke, student President of the Ball Committee.


Programme cover

Programme cover

Andrew Powell: Thursday 4 December was the night of the biennial Fitzwilliam Winter Ball – our answer to the May Ball season. My wife and I attended on ‘Cinderella’ tickets which expire at midnight – too old to last the pace now, but good to feel a part of it. We enjoyed the Footlights, Neptune’s Maze, the Casino in The Grove and the music. Unlike others we didn’t have the nerve to be spun at high speed in the Round Up ride and sadly we couldn’t get in to hear headline act the Hoosiers. The pork burgers, crêpes and chocolate fountains were good consolation.

crop 2014-12-04 Winter Ball 096 (Medium)The event takes a year to plan and organise and is a fantastic team effort, led by the student-run Ball Committee but with close support from the College staff and Fellows. In the days before the great event the College is a bustle of activity with groups of staff and students working together, staking out the positions of the shows, moving artwork, building sets and props, lighting, planning menus and table plans, cooking and laying up.. Of course the College cannot be closed during that period so many of the stalls and attractions have to come in on the afternoon of the ball. Timing is everything, as the vans and lorries take it in turns to occupy Lime Tree Avenue.

crop 2014-12-04 Winter Ball 2 002 (Medium)On the night itself the Ball Committee and helpers are on the go all the time, communicating by walkie-talkie to ensure that every activity and corner of the Ball is working properly, that problems are sorted. The Domestic Bursar and many staff are present all night, including almost all the porters and many housekeeping staff sweeping up all the little accidents that happen when the best part of 1000 students are on site to enjoy themselves.

When I came in the morning after (a little late I confess at 9am), much of the clearing up had already been done. The Ball Committee had stayed on after the finish to tidy up, and the staff had come in early. The Ball President was still supervising the clear up at lunchtime, having not had any sleep at all. The only damage visible was some subsidence in the Grove lawn where the Round Up ride had stood. The Head Gardener assures me that it will be restored by the spring.

Decorations under construction

Decorations under construction

The Ball was a huge success all round. I hope that when they have a chance to come down to earth, the 21 members of the Ball Committee will reflect on the scale of their achievement. What they have done over the last 12 months is equivalent to running a medium sized business, with little or no prior experience. They have established a vision, sourced the acts and stalls, entered into contracts, dealt with suppliers, sold tickets to a budget, understood health and safety and insurance.

Above all they have learned how to work as a team bringing together all of the parts of a complex project to an immovable deadline with nearly 1000 expectant customers. Forget The Apprentice; I would employ a young person with this experience on their CV without hesitation.

Congratulations to all involved and thank you for a great evening!


Survivors' photo

Survivors’ photo. (Photo: Dennis Harrison)

The Hoosiers perform in the Underworld

The Hoosiers perform in the Underworld. (Photo: Dennis Harrison)

And the view from the President of the Ball Committee, Sophie Clarke:

'Tea and cake'

‘Tea and cake’ – a Saturnalian starter. Corn bread with goat’s cheese and beetroot gel, with beetroot gel served in a cup.

The 2014 Fitzwilliam Winter Ball Committee was incredibly ambitious in its aims. We wanted to create an event which, first and foremost, delivered everything expected from a Cambridge May Ball — famous bands, great food, fairground rides and drinks flowing all night long. But almost every Cambridge student would have already experienced such a ball, so we strove to do things a little bit differently… We built activity rooms for guests — Neptune’s Maze and the Sacrifice Citadel; we served a “Meal of Reversal” where the starter looked like dessert and vice-versa; attendees received a champagne cocktail on arrival over the usual sparkling wine; even the programme was flipped horizontal as a small gesture to the Saturnalian theme. In a town famous for its myriad balls, and filled with a population of ball-goers, we wanted to leave guests thinking, “I haven’t seen it done like that before!”

As might be expected for an event on this scale, there were several nightmarish moments in the hours running up to gates opening. The fairground ride getting stuck on Grove Lawn due to the wet ground, the Saturn-shaped balloon in the Dining Hall deflating just out of reach of college’s tallest ladder, The Hoosiers arriving only to find several amps missing from their stage equipment. Thanks to the ingenuity of the Committee and college staff, all of these mini dilemmas were (in one way or another) solved before the first guest walked over the threshold. I am truly grateful to everyone who helped us out of these and many other quagmires during set up.

Enjoying the Round-Up ride.

Enjoying the Round-Up ride. (Photo: Dennis Harrison)

It was utterly surreal watching guests explore areas of the Ball which for the past twelve months had just been concepts in our heads. The evolution from brainstorming to researching to financing to ordering to constructing was finally being realised and watching the conclusion of this process was unbelievably gratifying. For everyone on the Committee, witnessing our friends, family, supervisors (!) and guests having a brilliant night undoubtedly made all the stress and sleep deprivation worthwhile.

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

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