Although Aetheria was described as bringing the full May Ball experience in Spring, the decision to move to May Week after just two years was a bold one indeed. While it solved the chief complaint of the cold, it also brought with it many new challenges. However I can state with ease that, aided as it may have been in being surrounded by friends, Wednesday night was the best May Ball experience I have had in my time here — Dave, Angie and Lucy E have excelled themselves and surpassed everyone’s expectations. Although I was certainly biased with regard to Aetheria, I view Danu as very much their Ball (despite my name appearing in the programme) since my involvement was really limited to the website and miscellaneous help in the run-up to the Ball. True to their word, I was asked to do nothing on the night, which allowed me to enjoy it to the fullest.
Downing looked stunning. Die Hard improve year on year in their ability to light college in a beautiful soft glow of coloured lights, while aesthetic touches were evident everywhere, including beautiful standing stones to match the celtic theme. Food was varied, plentiful and staggered well throughout the night which prevented any long queues. Everything had a little flourish to make it that little bit better. The cheeseburgers, for example, were not simply cheeseburgers but bacon cheeseburgers. Last year’s Thai Green Curry made a welcome return, while cakes from Fitzbillies nearly caused a crush in the SCR as a horde of girls dived upon them. I was initially sceptical of the decision not to include the staple doughnuts which are almost synonymous with Cambridge Balls. However their waffle replacement instantly won me over, and not just for variation — I simply cannot stress just how good they tasted. This was accompanied by the usual plethora of drinks including excellent cocktails mixed by River Bar, and various whiskeys that unfortunately ran out a little early.
The entertainment was varied with cover band Stingray proving popular, a fantastic (but too short) magic show, a stroke of insane genius in the crazy golf course, and a hypnotist that left many amused and others a little traumatised by an act that was perhaps a little too sexual in nature (though I did not witness it firsthand so will refrain from commenting). For some reason comedy and Downing Balls has historically been appalling and I am not sure this year was any different. Yet while most Balls tail off from around 3am, becoming a struggle to hold out for the survivors photo for the last few hours, as the sun rose Danu laid out a truly incredible final two hours with the stunning Oxford male a capella group Out of the Blue performing such varied pop hits as Robbie Williams, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Jones and the Postman Pat theme, followed by a Queen tribute band to close the night with a bang. Indeed it is this that makes we wonder about the somewhat lukewarm review that appeared suspiciously early in the following day’s TCS. It describes the Ball as winding down from 2am (and indeed there was a distinct lull from 2-4) but makes no mention at all of the final hours. One cannot help but wonder whether the reviewer, who admits to being tired from her previous night out, decided to slip home early in order to pen her review.
A hearty congratulations to all involved in putting on such a memorable night. Their true success is evident in what has been established as a result. Although the next Downing Ball will be in two years time, it has now become an established fixture of May Week. That alone is testament enough, and I feel privileged to have attended all three Balls which brought this to fruition.
The BBFC refused classification for Manhunt 2 (making it illegal to sell in the UK), a questionable honour it shares with only 1997’s Carmageddon for its ability to kill other drivers and run over pedestrians. I am both a gamer and anti-censorship, yet I find myself strangely defending the BBFC against outraged gaming fans. This was by no means an easy decision and given the 10 year period in which they have rated everything they were faced with, it seems difficult to argue this will be a slippery slope leading to greater censorship. Manhunt, for those unaware of the franchise, is a creation of the ever-controversial Rockstar, best known for creating the Grand Theft Auto series and, well, getting into trouble. Though many are shocked by the result, I actually called this one as soon as the title was announced for the Wii. With its unique controller the player actual enacts the killing and the immediacy this offers was always going to be cause for concern.
I think people need to be aware it is not the gore to which the BBFC object. This is being developed for the Wii and the older PS2 so lacks the visual realism of a PS3 or Xbox 360 title. Rather it is the “casual sadism” and brutality of the style of killing. Now I accept this in films like Saw, a well-written complex thriller which was highly intelligent and very compelling. I accept it far less in bad films which aims to titilate through violence and gore, rather than tell a story or serve some greater purpose. The original game featured a character who had been kidnapped and awakes with a disembodied voice speaking to him through an earpiece telling him he must kill his way to freedom, as those in the vicinity have all been paid to kill him. The voyeuristic villain watches through cameras, offering advice in return for brutal killings. The result undoubtedly violent, but tense and visceral with decent stealth gameplay. This time it sounds as though the player’s character may be more free in how he acts, making it far more dubious.
Of course, should the decision be overturned, the massive publicity received could not be better for Rockstar. I certainly would not have bothered mentioning it otherwise. Now I remain strongly of the view that adults ought to be free to do and see what they please insofar as it causes no harm to others. Yet I do object to those who argue the BBFC has gone completely off the rails here. The result seems to be that the BBFC are saying violence is okay in videogames so long as it is a means to an end and not an end in itself. While I take censorship of anything very seriously, I’m not sure I disagree with that sentiment.
For several years my wife and I jogged past a home in a nearby neighborhood called Walden. The neighborhood is built around a series of small lake or ponds which have cypress trees growing here and there both within the water and on its edges. One home which we have passed frequently has two sphinxes in front of it on each side of the driveway.
We passed this home for several years noting various things about the sphinxes. One sphinx had a nose which was partially broken off. Several times my wife and I discussed the subject of when we first could recall that the nose was broken, and we speculated as to how and why it happened. Was it an accident or was it done on purpose to give the sphinx a worn look? For one several week stretch, we were in the habit of lightly tapping the head of one of the sphinxes as a ritual. Was it for good luck? No. It was something more immediate than that.
Just recently and much to our surprise, the neighboring home, which is really not that far apart from the original sphinx home, has just installed two sphinxes in the front yard. Once again, the statues on at the street on either side of the drive-way. The only difference being that the new arrivals are bigger. Distinctly so. I think it is distinctive. I can only imagine what the original sphinx owners think.
What now? I thought the original owners might just give in and remove their sphinxes. Instead, they upped the ante. The new sphinxes are made of real stone it seems. Perhaps sandstone. The original sphinxes were made of cement made to look like stone.
I have scene what appears to be two even newer granite (?) sphinxes (even bigger than the newcomers) in what looked to be large crates in the four-car garage of the original sphinx people. They may put an end to the whole situation if I am right about that. Or will it? That would seem to invite retaliation from the new sphinx owners.
I do note one thing. I am certain about this. The new sphinx owners have a child. I saw the mother of this child teaching the child, while both sat on the driveway, how to model with clay. The figure being modeled seemed to be a small sphinx.
May Week got off to a decidedly damp start but, the weather notwithstanding, students here have taken to the outdoor revelry with suitable drunken aplomb. With graduation looming, the third years in particular are, as Stephen Fry would have it, carping the diem in earnest. Things kicked off with Lufa’s lovely birthday do last week as a warm up for the Cranworth annual dinner in the evening with its delicate mix of students and established lawyers. With jobs already secure, our end of the table was able to avoid the traditional sycophantic pursuit and just enjoy ourselves instead, much to everyone’s delight. No less than three wines accompanied the five course meal along with the inevitable port conclusion. Andy W was up from London so we caught up in the pub after dinner, followed by a retreat to Jamie’s room for further drinking and a meandering discussion of television shows into the early hours. His transition from teetotal to serious drinker without missing a beat is heartwarming.
Friday marked the first of the trio of May Balls I shall be attending this year: Robinson, Clare and Downing. At a sprightly £65 Robinson is considered a “warm up” Ball by many, to ease one into the bigger affairs of the coming week. In fact they did a fantastic job offering a range of vittles and activities that genuinely challenge the others. What it lacks are the expensive details and sheer sense of excess that mark the big guns of May Week. The Downing Ball Committee arrived en masse and by chance Kirsten was also able to snag a ticket at the last minute. We all had a great time though most of us left early to reserve our energy for the week ahead. The Midsummer Night’s Dream theme culminated in a reduced theatrical performance of the Shakespearean frolic with a wonderfully modern mischievous Puck. In a pleasant moment of continuity one realised the brightly clad faeries on stage were the same people who had entertained the queuing crowds before the Ball, handing out guide booklets.
Today was the JCR garden party and a handful of pictures have been added to the new May Week album which will be gradually expanded, ideally daily. For those who like their news visual, Sparkie has also done a sterlingly efficient job of sharing photos from both Lucia’s and Suicide Sunday. Although I took a host of photographs at Lucia’s birthday party, the majority were with her camera so I need to recover those from her before I can share them. I also discovered that my phone camera is able to pull of some fantastic shots in low light conditions in which my real camera would struggle. The shots accompanying this post were all taken on my K800i and not a proper camera. At full size details do become hazy, but the results (particularly the band in the tent above) still impressed me.
My prolonged absence has not been solely due to the arrival of finals. Unfortunately I fell ill last week right in the thick of them. I only discovered after Commercial that I had taken the entire exam with a fever of 38.5°C. Not, I am sure you will agree, ideal. To describe the timing as ill would be tellingly bereft of humour, since the following two exams were the big compulsory papers, EU and Equity, which I need for Law School next year. That meant I had to drag myself to each of them else come back and retake them in October. Yet Cambridge, being the academic institution it is, looks somewhat derisively upon excuses for poor performance, so had I missed the exams due to illness it may have been overlooked but by taking them, should I get a passing grade, it is likely to be used in calculating my overall class. As such I’ve forgotten about grades for the moment and am just trying to get through. I finish on Monday, with a fairly relaxed half paper. As those around me all celebrate, the end is most definitely in sight.
I had a few things earmarked to share a week ago; hopefully they are still relevant:
Project Censored has its 2007 list up rather early and despite its obvious US slant, there are some really interesting news items there that bizarrely didn’t hit the mainstream press in the way one would expect.
A BBC Panorama crew were kicked out of a school when even the kids were irritated by the ridiculously bad science being practised, in a clear attempt to scaremonger about the dangers of radiation. Particularly when your “scientist” also sells these.
Recently advertisers seem keen on getting consumers to do their job, but Heinz are finding the results are not as they had expected. This is, one suspects, because consumers are not advertising agencies. The key difference is that we know those who work in advertising are morally deficient, while consumers are only slightly so.
Finally Fleur recently mentioned this article about Whitgift Zoo School. Whilst true, one also ought to take everything it says with a large gulp of salt since the journalist in question was present for a cricket match and clearly knows nothing about the school’s academic side, expressing no desire to find out. Personally I feel left out — in hindsight my school days had a distinct lack of wallaby.