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A Muddy Mash-Up

Welly Ball 2023 in Review

Nancy Sinatra put it best when she sang “These boots are made for walkin’/ and that’s just what they’ll do/ One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you”; so long, of course, as the ‘you’ is taken to refer to the oodles of roast potato and (regurgitated) carrots constellated on the dancefloor.

Last Saturday, 4 November, Welly Ball hosted the 2023 rendition of its hallowed annual shindig — the largest student black-tie ball organised in Scotland, which will become patent to the first-timer wondering why, when queuing for a drink, they’re simultaneously harangued by a Geordie elbow, impinged upon by an Exonian welly, and unimpressed by abysmal Brookesian chat. I hasten to re-publicise, as ever, that the Welly Ball’s primary intention is to raise money for the Charlie Waller Trust, a charity which endeavours to raise awareness of, broaden conversation around, and highlight sources of support regarding mental health. Last year, the event raised £33,000 for the Trust and one should wish them an optimal outcome when it comes to this year’s final donation.

Attendees are split into their camps early doors, as those who wish to dine at Falside Mill — amidst its daylight calmness and its gentle luminous colours come nightfall — submit their dinner ballots well in advance and, in the successful case, go on to pay £85 for their ticket. Those contented by the prospect of the afterparty alone may snap up entry for £43 per head. ‘Snap’ here is no exaggeration, as afterparty tickets resoundingly sold out within a minute of release. One can easily get caught up in the yearly ‘Welly-mania’ that settles over a town as small as ours where, in spite of its quaintness, so many of its part-time residents — independent of friend group and typical event allegiances — rush to secure their chance to welly.

Having first seen the light of day in 2007, Welly Ball’s iteration just past was its 17th. Having attended the last two, I felt myself standing once more unto the breach of genuine time travel. As if a liminal interface between 2022 and 2023 had opened, I could predict with stark accuracy what would be where and where would be what. The coat check: tick. The two decks: tick. Portaloos and boisterous bog of muddy clay (most fitting): tick. Subsequent to my brief delusion that I was cameoing as Doctor Who’s 16th embodiment, I began to question whether such similarity was a strength or weakness to the event. Granted, one common proverb warns against repairing the intact, but another concomitantly espouses that evolution is just as good as continuity.

The conclusion I ultimately came to regarding this question was that the answer — to change or to remain — is irrelevant. No material change would, or perhaps even could, alter the transcendent motivation that powers Welly Ball and its attendees: imbibed immersion into the masses. What about Welly Ball appeals to its appreciators is hardwired and innate: the enormity of the scale; the length of the evening; the rhythmic booziness of guests’ gaits. If that isn’t your cup of tea, then chances are no artificial alterations will make it such. If it is, then fill your cup, revel in the fireworks, and be regaled with people-watching the humorous extravagance of which is elsewhere practically unmatched.

In testament principally to the resolve and character found in the St Andrews Clay Pigeon Shooting society, which defines in large part the culture and brouhaha to be discovered at the Welly Ball rite of passage, committee member Mathilda justified with Wordsworthian guile some of the evening’s more electric goings-on: “if you pay £85, I think it’s fair to say you can lob a potato at someone”. As above, the appeal truly is hardwired.

Photo: Ollie Grimes

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