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Downpours, ‘dank beats’ and Dionysus: reviewing the Christ Church Ball

Aidan McGartland gives a witty insight into one of the most lavish Oxford celebrations of the year.

After being delayed by the pandemic, the Christ Church Commemoration Ball was meant to bring “together far reaching epochs of excess and extravagance into one night of Bacchanalian hedonism.” The incomprehensible theme of the ball was based on French philosopher Henri Bergson’s concept of La Durée. Sadly due to the weather, the belle époque extravagance morphed into a muddy wallow in the meadow, with some attendees becoming rather cold and being thoughtfully wrapped in silver foil, à la pomme de terre rôtie, by a slightly tipsy college chaplain.

The iconic Tom Quad was dressed up in Venetian splendour with cardboard cutouts of classical figures and lions, and featured a spectacular display of fireworks. The Garden was a reincarnation of Studio 54 complete with strippers, blasting out ABBA’s Gimme, Gimme, Gimme resounding throughout the Thames valley (which should keep the local NIMBYists raging until the next ball), before evolving into a silent disco at 3am. Meanwhile, the Pococke Garden featured a Moroccan-style tent with herbal teas and a selection of ottomans and hookahs, and the Jabberwocky tree was lit in bright orange as part of the celebrations. 1920s tent was styled upon the famed Weimar era Moka Efti, with a cocktail bar, casino, and series of performances by the Oxford Jazz Orchestra, the Oxford Gargoyles, and Out of the Blue (with their signature rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight complete with ‘choralography’).

Unfortunately the maze was flooded, becoming a swampy network of paths leading to an ice statue of the Sphinx surrounded by salivating junior members awaiting to guzzle vodka. 

For those of us with the dining experience, there was a lavish meal prepared by our resident Michelin-start chef in the famed Christ Church dining hall, with dishes ranging from mock turtle soup (as a reference to Alice in Wonderland) through to “Christ Church’s Interpretation of Scappi’s Braised Beef.”

In the spirit of the dialectical temporal nature of the ball, Yubba Yubba Doughnuts (the all night doughnut stand), included an enlightening quote from Bergson on their menu, in an attempt to connect the “devouring of the future” to the ‘devouring of fried batter’ at the witching hour.

As the sun began to rise shortly after 4am, the silent disco continued with a sea of blue headphones silently bopping along to some ‘dank beats.’ Around 5:30am, breakfast was served, consisting of a very British bacon and egg bap with coffee and fruit juice, followed by the traditional survivors’ photo.

The funfair was indeed fun, with notably a fiendishly difficult game involving rubber ducks and hooked poles (and no water). The most popular rides were the dodgem cars, where the junior members of the House were bumping with zeal, and the antique Merry-Go-Round (especially with its inbuilt vintage fairground organ)

Beyond the standard white tie attire and umbrellas, there were many notable top hats, dragoon-like military outfits, straight out of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, and military medals displayed proudly. 

Sadly, there was no appearance from our disgraced Dean. In his place, the acting Dean and Censor Theologiae made an appearance, flapping along to the flappers in the 1920s tent with ecclesiastical vigour. 

Despite the notable paucity of champagne, it was an all-round enjoyable affair. Fortunately, I was well prepared for 11 hours of Oxonian Dionysianism from my reading of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

Image credit: Promotional poster designed by Gracie Oddie-James, the Creative Director of the ball. 

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