After the end of the Easter (summer) term there is a week of partying called May Week. This always takes place in June (it once took place in May, hence the name). Undergraduates at Cambridge face a hugely stressful exam period because most or all of their final degree grade depends on five or six exams taken in a week or ten days in late May and early June. When those exams are over, the release of tension is almost palpable and is an occasion for garden parties, dinners and above all the May Balls (at Oxford they call them Commem Balls). All students (and faculty) are able to go to the Balls, even if they haven’t earned the right to do so by taking exams (though marking exams is fantastically boring so it brings a different type of stress).
This year I went to Downing College May Ball. The theme, appropriately for this year of Greek drama, was Olympus. And indeed it was authentically Greek. There were long queues to get in, the cooks had run off with the food to sell it on the black market, the bands wouldn’t play because they hadn’t been paid, there was a riot after which the buildings were burned down and then a general strike during which everyone got drunk.
Actually, that’s completely untrue and very unkind to Downing and the Greeks. The evening was wonderful and full of magic. It was far closer to the luxury of the Greek gods than the increasing austerity of that bankrupt region of south eastern Europe that we may look back on as the place that destroyed the European Union.