Break the bubble, not bank

Break the bubble, not bank

You know how people queue for Abercrombie and Fitch, or the iPhone 5? I like to queue for theatre tickets. “Why not just book them online?” demand my parents. Why set the alarm for 7am, or 6am, or even 5.30am?” Several reasons. I’ll try to explain.

Most London shows have a policy of holding back 10 or 20 seats, usually in the stalls and close to the front, and selling them cheaply on the day of performance to the folk waiting outside the box office.

The benefits of queuing – at least, the ones I use to spur myself out of bed – are, firstly, financial. Waiting in the queue means you can expect to pay anything between £5 to £25, with £10 as the norm. You’re almost always guaranteed a good view, with many theatres sometimes offering seats in the front row. Not only does this give you the chance to see a fantastic close-up of the action, but it also means you’re right beside the actors; something which can lead to excellent stories about hobnobbing with famous people. When my best friend and I dragged ourselves to Twelfth Night back in January, I found myself having a chat with Roger Lloyd Pack (known to my parents from Only Fools and Horses) whilst he bowed in front of me.

There are downsides to the queuing experience, of course. There’s the getting up early, and for many shows that’s early – the queue for Matilda starts getting busy at around 6:30. Because of this, queuing’s only really viable if you live in London or have somewhere to stay overnight. If you’re coming down to the capital and you really want to see a show, you may be better off booking online or visiting the TKTS booth (the clock-tower building in the corner of Leicester Square that sells discounted tickets), than racing to the theatre.

Then there’s the actual queuing experience, which can sometimes be another turn-off. On your own, it’s often boring; I tend to use it to get through my reading. But you may find yourself numb, cold, and bored to tears. Taking a friend is preferable; at least one of you can run and buy coffee as need demands.

As a London resident and a student, I think queuing is fantastic. It’s cheap, a chance for some quiet study time, and it means I can see plenty of shows without too much cost. Even the very worst queuing experiences are worth it for the show. A prime example: two years ago I saw the play Jerusalem, heralded as one of the best plays of recent years. It was December. It was hailing. It was sub-zero degrees and my hand warmer packs didn’t work. But it was worth it: I saw Jerusalem for ten quid. Those memories have lingered; but the frost-bite has not.

PHOTO/ Wikipedia Commons

Debate: Are college balls worth the expense?

Debate: Are college balls worth the expense?[yop_poll id="7"]

Proposition – Josh Crossley

How many colleges is each member of this university a member of at any one time? One. How many balls does each college hold, at a maximum, each year? One. How many do most of them hold during an average student’s entire degree? One. Hold those facts in your mind as you (hopefully…!) carry on reading.

My college, Catz, is holding its ball in February next year. Our ball, in common with many other colleges, is a triennial event which means that I, as well as almost all other Catz students, will only ever experience one ball at my own college. It is difficult to imagine your college being completely transformed and given over almost exclusively to one event but when ball week comes round that is exactly what will happen. Why? Because a college ball is probably the social highlight of our university careers.

This week saw the release of the logo for the Catz Ball on the JCR Facebook page. Considering that it is only a small part of the event itself (it is amazing though, check it out!), the amount of chatter and excitement it has generated is amazing. This excitement is a reflection of what a huge event a ball is for a college and its members. It is literally the biggest and most expensive party many of them will ever go to; it is held at the place from which some of the most amazing memories of their life will have come; it is celebrated with the people who have made those memories so special.

It’s true, not all college balls manage to avoid being complete flops – whether it’s a lack of food, poor entertainment or queues for the toilet that are just too long, getting it exactly right on such a large scale and with such high expectations is difficult. After all, those who are running college balls are not professional event organisers; at the beginning of the organising process chances are that they are as inexperienced and ignorant as the average attendee. This doesn’t mean, though, that college balls aren’t worth the expense – the quality of an event, I believe, is not determined by a couple of mishaps on the night.

Instead, the quality of a ball is determined by the whole package a guest receives. The impression they get when they walk through the entrance; the selection of drinks available; the breadth of entertainment; and, yes, whether or not the toilets are particularly luxurious. These are material things, however. In addition to these factors there is the experience as a whole, which I believe is immeasurable. An event should not primarily be judged by the number of things on the table but by the quality of the company and the number of laughs. At a college ball, you are surrounded by some of your closest friends and the people with whom you have shared a unique experience in the form of a university career at an event which is billed as unforgettable and beyond compare. Whatever food is provided and however long the queue for the coatroom, this should shine through and make for a sensational experience.

Balls allow a college community to put their stamp on a huge event designed just for them, to celebrate who they are and what they’re about and to have a rip-roaringly fantastic time in the process. They are prone to mishaps and these are unfortunate but they should not detract from the overall experience which, at the end of the day, is a once in a lifetime one.

College balls are phenomenal. I only get one, and I can’t wait.


Opposition – Michael Scott

I’m a fresher, and I’ve never been to a student ball. And yet I dare to write this piece. Outrageous. I know. But I’ve never been to a ball because I wouldn’t dream on spending £100+ for an evening’s entertainment, except, that is, if Flight of the Concord’s were giving a concert. As far as I know, Jesus & Somerville didn’t offer the Flight of the Concord’s as an attraction. They were going to offer a shark, but then they didn’t. My friend, who went to the ball, said it was “Ok”. “Ok”? “Ok”!
Surely, if we’re paying £100 for an evening’s entertainment, it needs to be better thank “Ok”? Let’s be clear; it wasn’t just my friend who was distinctly underwhelmed by the whole experience. The ball is widely considered a failure, frankly, and most people I’ve spoken to who went have said slightly less kinder than a simple “Ok”. In fact, some people have been really quite rude about the whole thing.
‘Oh, an unfortunate case,’ you might say; ‘not every ball is like that.’ Well maybe that’s true. I imagine some Ball committee’s actually do their job. On the same night as the Somerville ball there was a St. Hilda’s ball, and Brasenose were having a bash too. Another friend raved about the free food on offer at Hilda’s, but he was hard pushed to find anything else to say about it.
Call me a party-pooper if you like, but I just don’t see how the money that we spend on these events is approaching something like ‘good value’. Surely something’s good value if it offers something you can’t get for a cheaper price. And what, exactly, does a ball offer that nothing else offers? A burrito? Pizza? A mock-up Jules Verne balloon? Really? Honestly? Novelty attractions are a waste of time. The food’s a nice touch but it’s not coming close to £100. A glass of champagne, maybe even two, is fine, but if it’s what really floats your boat, get together with a couple of friends, put in a tenner each for a decent bottle, and go to formal. You’re still £80 up on the deal.
My point is this; students are not getting anything at a ball that they don’t get elsewhere, and they’re getting asked to pay through the nose for the privilege. Let’s face it, we’re not the wealthiest demographic group, so why do we accept this debauchery when we could be having just a good a time doing something for considerably less money? I suppose I’m missing something. The ball’s not about the stuff you get, but it’s the whole ethos of the thing: Tradition, glamour and joviality. The college ball really adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Well, maybe. But as with all these grand traditions, there’s a hell of a lot of improvidence involved. Too much for most people. For ‘tradition’ read ‘reputation’. For ‘glamour’ read ‘extravagance’. For ‘joviality’ read ‘self-indulgence’.
It’s worth baring in mind what else you’re paying for before you hand over that £100 for someone’s now unwanted ticket. You’re subscribing to the ethos of a by-gone era. This might come as a shock to some of the most deluded, but most people in the outside world, looking into the bubble, won’t think much of the college ball. In fact, they’ll think it’s a sickening waste of money. When you buy that ticket you’re making a statement; that spending hundreds of pounds on a dozen hour’s entertainment is the way you want to live your life.
There are a couple of exceptions to the rule. The Union’s balls, ironically enough, are at around half the price of a ticket for a summer event. The RAG ball, while up there with the when it comes to expense, at least comes with a free supplement in the form of the that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you enjoy righteous revelry. Even so, it’s a lot of money, and there are other ways of donating to charity.
Which gets me onto my main point; going to a college ball just doesn’t seem justifiable. There are other ways of letting your hair down – I’m not attacking that at all. Everyone deserves the chance to go crazy and let loose every now and then. However, you’re a lunatic if you think that a college ball is the the best way to do that. Save your money, and when your college friends mutter a pathetic “It was ok” at you the next day, you’ll be glad you did.




Pricing out the poor vs. Not about the money

Pricing out the poor vs. Not about the money

Pricing out the poor Richard Foord

The price of top level sport in England is too high. This is not a novel statement. Yet it is one that has been given new vigour in light of recent events.

Manchester City fans returned almost a third of their match allocation for an away day at Arsenal in protest against the £62 price. Assistant referee John Brooks seemed to agree with the protest; pointing the Manchester City players in the direction of the travelling fans with the remark: “They paid 62 quid over there, go and see them.”

Much has also been made of the high cost of being a home fan at Arsenal. The most expensive season ticket for a normal fan is around £1800 and about double that for the prawn sandwich brigade at club level.

In response David Bernstein, the Chairman of the FA, said that he had ‘a degree of sympathy for Man City fans.’ and that ‘the working class man’ was being squeezed out of the premier league football ground.

Such generalisation may sound reductive but it does represent a trend of rising prices across top-level sport. It also represents the trend of a rising corporate monopoly on ticket allocation.

For the 2012 FA Cup final Liverpool and Chelsea received only 25,000 tickets each. The rest of the tickets went to a mixture of corporate sponsors and members of Club Wembley. This figure feels instinctively low; however it’s a difficult balance to strike with corporate involvement responsible for a large portion of domestic football’s wealth, which in turn attracts the best players and bigger interest.

Of course, the fact alone that Arsenal fans are feeling the pinch doesn’t suggest that UK sport is too expensive. High prices at last year’s Olympics gave a much broader perspective.

In Beijing ticket prices for Athletics finals started at the equivalent of £5.80. In London last year, entrance for the 100m final started at £50 and ended at an astonishing £725: just over £75 per second of Usain Bolt’s winning time. The marketing of the 100m event as a ‘super-final’ felt like a highly contrived and patronising attempt to justify racking up the cost.

Ultimately, the chance to see great sporting history made is something that should transcend economic boundaries. It is of course a good thing to go and support your smaller local football or rugby club, or perhaps watch more obscure event or sport.

However, it is the great FA cup finals; Wimbledon encounters; and 100 meter races which define sporting history and are shown again and again in talking heads montages.

As the prices of tickets continue to rise, the amount of people on low income that are able to say ‘I was there’ diminishes.

Not about the money Ben Crome

Around a year and a half ago, I found myself in Barcelona at the start of a new La Liga season. With the Camp Nou one of the city’s most famous attractions as well as undoubtedly one of football’s greatest stadia, as well as Barça, who were about to start an ultimately unsuccessful quest for a fourth straight league title, being quite simply the best team I’ve ever seen play, sourcing out tickets for a match became an instant priority.

Their first game was a Monday night fixture against Villarreal (remember them?), but the cheapest tickets available were €55. Initially, I baulked at the price. €55? No concessions? #Leaveit, as one Arsenal-supporting rapper would have it. The more I considered it, though, I reflected that €55 isn’t that much to see such a special side in action. Watching sport live is quite different from watching it on television; the more cameras slow the action down, the harder it is to appreciate the genius of the professional athlete: sprinters tearing through the sweaty Olympic air, fast bowlers propelling leather at 90 miles per hour, and Barça’s 21st-century Pythagorases artistically moulding the perfect passing triangle. Moments of magic aren’t only the preserve of the great players or teams. Southampton fans in the 1990s turned up to games because the next Matt Le Tissier wonder-goal was only one match away. Or two. Or three. But the mesmerising run or thirty-yard volley was surely going to come soon.

Like going to a concert, you’re paying to witness artistry, and also to see your heroes in action. You go to see Coldplay/Take That/Boy Better Know (delete as appropriate) because you admire their talents, and because they’re damn good at what they do. At any rate, they’re much better than you are, or your mates are, even if they’ve got Vanilla Ice’s vocal chords or Emile Heskey’s technique. And at the risk of sounding like a MasterCard advert on loop, sporting atmospheres are genuinely priceless. The shrieks, the sounds, the perspiration and the raw enthusiasm are the human factors which make your €55 worthwhile. Or your £62, for any pissed-off tax-paying Citizens.

There is also a range of rational economic reasons why tickets for sporting events, especially in the UK, are as costly as they are. In another bow to Teutonic superiority, comparisons are often made with the Bundesliga, where it’s possible to watch thrilling, competitive football for a tenner. But in German stadia standing is allowed, stewards aren’t the ubiquitous orange mass they are in the Premier League, and, as for food, the White Hart Lane smoked salmon bagel is substituted for the standard wurst n’ beer double act. In short, the sanitised atmosphere the FA desires cannot be provided on the cheap, and while a growing minority of English fans are backing safe standing areas, clubs have to operate under the status quo for the time being. Over 90% percent of seats at Premier League matches are occupied; why should clubs lower ticket prices when so many fans are broadly happy with the rates on offer?

And as for the Barça game, I didn’t end up going. Barça won 5-0, including a brace for Lionel Messi and a wonderful solo effort from Thiago Alcântara. Quite wrongly, I was too tight on the night.

Win a pair of tickets to the premiere of The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat

Spirit Level Film are delighted to announce the UK London premiere of The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat – the first film in the landmark documentary series on leadership, narrated by Helena Bonham Carter. The screening is followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and some very special guests to be announced. In celebration they’ve offered a set of tickets for one lucky winner to see the film at their central London screening on 13th March at Cineworld, Haymarket, London.

The series is narrated by Helena Bonham Carter and includes exclusive interviews with Presidents, their closest family, friends, colleagues and enemies to provide an insight into the inner workings of leadership around the world.

To win just answer the following question:

What year did Yasser Arafat become Chairman of the PLO?

a) 1973

b) 1967

c) 1969

E-mail your answer to by the 29th of February for a chance to win.

For more information about the series and to see trailers, you can visit the website