A look into the underworld of the vigilantes who gate-crash Oxford’s steeply-priced summer balls.
It’s Trinity term. For some, that means lethargic afternoons on the lawns, swims in Port Meadows, and croquet. For others, it means the hard graft of finals, doing one’s best to block out the sun both literally (trapping oneself in the Gladstone Link) and figuratively (removing all joy). Yet, for a select few, Trinity term means ball-crashing season.
After a series of college balls over the last few weekends, there have emerged a plethora of reports of those who have cannily managed to sneak their way into these quintessential Oxford events. These vigilantes have managed to avoid the eye-watering prices of ball tickets. Empirical information about the numbers of people who crash balls is difficult to attain, so instead I simply talked to some of them.
Was it difficult?
Ball-Crasher A: “It’s not necessarily difficult if you know what you’re doing. It depends from college to college, but from my experience it wasn’t difficult at all”
Ball-Crasher B: “No, it wasn’t difficult. I just waited in my friend’s room. When I encountered a bouncer, they just said ‘Have a nice evening’.” Ball-crasher B actually managed to get into three balls. In another of his crashes, they “just hid in the printing room…the dungeon right at the bottom of an abandoned staircase…it was calm, man.”
Ball-Crasher C: Clearly the previous two ball-crashers either had an easier time of it, or this one was less well-trained in the specialised field of ball-crashing. “It was quite difficult”, remarked ball-crasher C. They went on to say, “The fence has barbed wire on top of it, so it’s near-impossible to actually climb over”. Having found a less obtrusive wall, “Me and this other guy jumped…but two others tried fifteen minutes later and got caught and sent out”.
How did crashing, rather than simply attending, the ball affect your experience?
All seemed to agree that part of the excitement of crashing a ball is the adrenaline:
Ball-Crasher A: “It wasn’t really stressful, but more so thrilling. You could get caught at any point…the adrenaline rush was a joke,”
Ball-Crasher B: “Part of it was the thrill as well…”
Ball-Crasher C: “There was a big adrenaline rush once in, as you feel like you can get caught at any moment…”
What’s your view on the pricing of ball tickets?
Ball-Crasher A: “I think the pricing is elitist. With balls in general, they’re all over a hundred quid, and even the access tickets are overpriced”. “But,” ball-crasher A went on, “hey ho, it’s Oxford”.
Ball-Crasher B: “Elitist? A hundred percent. If I’d had the money to pay, I’d have paid”.
Ball-Crasher C: “Pricing of the balls is hard to say—as far as I know they don’t make any profit so if they can’t make it cheaper then fair enough”.
The heroes Oxford needs, or the ones we deserve?
Another issue that all three unanimously touched upon was the fact that, in the respective balls they crashed, you don’t necessarily get your money’s worth (that is, if you were to be like most of us vanilla Oxford students and pay for a ticket). Ball-crasher A made an interesting point: “In terms of alcohol, you do get your money back…if you don’t drink, it’s a long day”. Meanwhile, ball-crasher B remarked on the issue of food: “I think it’s important to focus on making sure there’s enough food and drink to go around for the whole night”. At one ball “most of the stalls took around 30 minutes to an hour to get food, and most of the alcohol was gone by about 12”.
These three students most likely crashed their respective balls because they didn’t want to pay for the experience (or couldn’t), and partly for the thrill of the activity. But in doing so, perhaps inadvertently, they do raise questions about the potential elitism of a tradition that, for some balls, demands students to fork out near the £250 mark.