Illumina 2008

Well, I’m on the train. Leaving Bristol and heading home after what can only be described as a purely epic couple of days, constructed in pure win and bonded together with spontaneity.

Quite how I ended up in Bristol during a trip to Oxford still slightly baffles me, but hopefully the following will make it all a bit clearer, to me as much as to you. We’ll see.

Anyway, Oxford. Indeed. Why was I there? Well, I was there to attend the Trinity Ball ‘Illumina’ (, a rather heroic event that John was able to source us tickets for and that gave us a good excuse to dress up in White Tie and generally get messy.

It was to be an all night event, starting at around 19:00 on the Friday night and concluding at 05:00 Saturday morning. Food and drink was included all night, along with a range of entertainment.
I had been excited about it for a long time. Anticipation, as well as expectations, was high and I felt confident it wouldn’t disappoint. It didn’t.
Our band of merry men for this evening, whilst a little down on original numbers through different commitments consisted of myself, John, John’s brother Phil, and friends of John, some of whom I’d met before, some I hadn’t. Atmosphere was jolly.

Anyway, back to the beginning.
Given that the nature of the weekend was always going to be big, it had been decided that we should start it on a large as well, meaning I was going to travel down Thursday evening, and Phil was going to head across during the afternoon, and we were all going to have a mighty fine steak and potato dinner, accompanied by red wine, later on Thursday evening. Given that I was due to arrive at 10, that would have been easily achievable and at the same time would have provided an adequate warm-up for the big event the next day.
However, the plan backfired, dramatically, when my first train leaving Lancaster was half an hour late, meaning I was going to miss my connection in Stafford, meaning that my new (and improved?) route took me into Birmingham New Street, at which point I had to walk to Moor Street, get another train to Leamington Spa, change in Leamington Spa, and finally get into Oxford at the ripe old time of 00:20. Needless to say, I wasn’t too amused with that plan. But, it worked, and it got me there. These things happen.
Phil and John meanwhile, rightly decided to crack on with their steaks at a same time, leaving mine for the following day, and then came down to see me at the station as I arrived, and gave me moral support as I bought my first Doner Kebab whilst sober in a long, long time. Not _quite_ the start to the weekend that I had in mind, but you crack on regardless, don’t you?
The kebab was actually fairly good – not as crispy as the usual late night versions, and piled high with cheese and salad. The packaging left much to be desired, and soon disintegrated under the weight of grease, and the fork snapped at the lightest feeling of resistance from the meat, but it worked. It also got washed down fairly well by the red wine. Win born out of moderate fail. Good start.
The evening continued, banter was had, and people started to sleep. for John and I though, the night was young, and we decided to max it up by popping the GOD Channel on the old telebox and laughing / cringing / mocking the highly ‘informative’ Creationism program that happened to be on. Perfect 3am television.
John soon went to sleep as well, so I defaulted to trusty Dave and watched through a bit of Have I Got News For You – never fails to keep me amused. I fell asleep at some point after that and woke up, slightly dazed, but feeling good, around 10ish. The concept of steak for breakfast was still heavy on my mind. And it didn’t disappoint. I believe John sourced the steaks from the local covered market – hearty recommendation.

The daytime passed at a surprising rate. We headed into town to allow Phil and John to get a haircut, and I took the advantage of free time to go visit The Bear – quite possibly my favourite drinking spot in Oxford. We all met up there and had a pleasant couple of pints, then went back down past John’s to play a bit of football, which I am embarassed to admit I have not really done in a long time. It was a hell of a lot of fun, and very sweat provoking – what better way to prepare for a 10 hour drinking session..?!

Back at base gave us a relatively rushed hour or so to get showered and dressed, with John providing much needed advice as I found myself slightly out of my depth in such formal attire. We found one unfortunate error, which was the absence of a waistcoat for Phil, but carried on regardless and put on a good show all around. We finally left a little bit later than had originally been planned, but the queue moved quickly and before long we found ourselves in the rather plush surroundings of Trinity College. It happens everywhere you look in Oxford, but it really did reinforce why I love visiting the place – so much history and absolutely brilliant buildings.
Everyone seemed cheery as the crowds poured in. Champagne met you on arrival, along with finger snacks. Somewhat predictably, both myself and John opted for the bread stick half wrapped in meat, although John proceeded to throw his at the floor when he got through the meat-covered bit (* note: When I say ‘throw his at the floor’, what I actually mean is he dropped it, accidentally, and it landed on a stranger’s foot. But I prefer the first option as a story-telling tool).
Shortly after that it was decided we would hunt for the Sushi bar we were delighted to discover in the programme. Alas, it wasn’t open yet, so we indulged rather heavily in the Loch Fyne Oysters. Bloody delicious. I hadn’t eaten oysters in a long time, so it was pretty fulfilling to get back into the swing of that. Absolute result.
It should be mentioned that in the square where this was happening was also the location of the fountain. Naturally, we tried to get some photos, some of which worked, some didn’t. ‘Twas all good though.
From here, we meandered on and through towards the real heart and soul of the evening – the Champagne Bar and, in turn, the gateway to the real festivities – food tents, multiple bars, laser quest, dodgems, the music tent, and the hot air balloon. In the immortal words of Team America: Fuck Yeah.
After getting through more Champagne than was probably either polite or sensible, a wave of relief came over me as we discovered that the security-esque people up in the high windows, talking on their radios and with somewhat suspicious, potentially rifle-like implmements at the ready, were not in fact snipers, but were at the ready to blow blue and gold tape out over the pit of eager, hungry, thirsty individuals, and the gates were opened.
Being gentlemen, we decided to not charge through with the crowds, but took the opportunity to return and scoff more oysters and take some more finger food. Solid choices.

It didn’t take us long though and we were in there battling like Champions at the main tents. The array and quality really was quite staggering. Steak sandwiches, Fajitas, Doughnuts, Chocolate Fountains, Wine Bars, Spirit Bars, General Purpose Bars, Cabaret Tent, Main Band Tent, Lounge Tent, all combined to make it a truly smooth event.
Going into excessive detail of every single step over the next few hours would probably be excessive (and difficult), so I won’t bother, all I’ll do is select a few key moments during the night:

– Reaching personal milestones (from a survival stand point). This was a pretty useful way to pace myself throughout the evening although it came with its own flaw – I conned myself into believing I was doing much too well by around the 2 o’clock mark and so got a little bit silly. I paid dearly for this mistake later on.
– Waking up strangers. Pretty much as it says on the tin. We saw a few people trying to catch a sly sleep in the hall where tea, coffee, and chocolates abounded. Needless to say we felt that they were only fooling themselves, so we rapped on the table to wake them. Most of them took it in good spirits, the odd few looked like they wanted to kill us. Slowly. Whilst causing maximum discomfort. Hilarious.
– Sugarbabes. I still can’t work out why, but I waited, and sweated, a good long while to see them come on stage (late). After the first couple of songs I realized I really wasn’t all that bothered about it, so I left to find John and Sushi. Full marks go to Phil and Mike for staying the distance in there. It was warm. Still, interesting headliner, and it seemed a lot of people enjoyed it. The OU Big Band was worth seeking out though.
– Sushi.
– Casino. And more specifically coming away heroically after throwing it all down on Lucky 35. Considering no real money was involved, it was uber exciting.
– Talking / Being Spoken to by Strangers. Brilliant. Simply brilliant. I just wish I wasn’t quite so socially inept so that I could do what they did. Because it was fantastic. And friendly, and highly humourous. And, in many ways, made the night what it was – pure atmosphere.
– Spilling wine all over the table and proceeding to ensure everyone that I could actually ‘hoover’ it all up without it spilling. Not my proudest moment. John did the right thing by mopping it up for me when I went for a quick break.
– Sushi. And the girl from Preston who was covering the stand when we got there. Good, solid bit of banter. Also, full marks to the girl who seemed angry at many things, but still having a good time. Strong conversation.
– Dreaming up weird and wonderful plans to escape in the hot air balloon. Lesson learned: research is required.
– Missing out on the Survivor’s Photo because we were getting more wine. In many ways this was a failure, but at the same time has its own merits.
– Missing out on the Bacon Sandwiches because there was a queue. Absolute fail, and probably harmed me in the long run.
– {This list will get extended, almost certainly}

And that sums up the rest of the evening until leaving time, more or less. At this point my memory draws an absolute blank. I know we left, and I know we got back to John’s house, but the bit in the middle (probably around half an hour to an hour) is an absolute blank. Others seem to have a similar opinion. Which is worrying.

Once we got back to John’s, I really wasn’t feeling all that great, but knew that I had to keep going. Phil suggested (somewhat valiantly) that we head into town to get a McFlurry to settle our / my stomach. I agreed, and McFlurry became my new goal. I also decided to leave my shoes and socks at John’s. Not my proudest moment, but off we went.
The journey back into town was painful, but full of banter. We got some fun pictures of Phil with strangers, and generally had some fun discussions. Disaster was just around the corner though.
As we arrived at McDonalds we were informed McFlurry’s weren’t available at 6.30 in the morning – I know, shocking.
It sounds incredibly pathetic, but that one act of denial seemed to hit me particularly bad, and I went downhill at an astounding rate. Phil tried to get me to eat a McDonalds bagel and sup a coffee, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I was dejected, lost, and without shoes. I also whole-heartedly believe the McFlurry could have saved me, as the one we got at 11.30 picked me up no end. We certainly got milage out of our hired gear as well.
But, with Bagel and coffee in hand, we returned to John’s and I spiralled into slumber whilst Phil kept himself fired up by hammering away at Pro Evo, largely because I’d robbed his sleeping spot.
However, a couple of hours sleep and I felt refreshed, and this time it was McFlurry time.
back into the white tie attire we got, and out we went. McFlurry first, then beer. Because it was the only thing that made sense at the time.

The first beer in the King’s Arms was incredibly painful and took a while to go down but it got there, and with it came flooding back feelings of drunkeness. Not quite the pickup I was looking for when I suggested a pint, but it did seem to work. From there we trekked across to the White Horse, talking to a few more strangers on the way, before proceeding to the Bear and meeting up with John, and then wasting a long, long time deciding where we wanted to go to get some real food. By the time we decided the pub had stopped serving and Pizza Hut weren’t doing a buffet, so we headed for the safety of the covered market and went for that oh-so-healthy, King of Hangover-Cures – the Full English. Plenty of banter was to be had with the owner of the place (A Portugese fellow we lovingly referred to as Big Phil, for some reason) and shared idle gossip with another couple of near-survivors and an elderly lady who was sat on the next table.
Then back to John’s.
And this is where, dear reader, our story takes a dramatic twist.
I had already missed my return train from Oxford – that option had gone out of the window whilst the beer flowed – but Phil was toying with returning to Bristol for his friend’s 21st Birthday.
I’d never been to Bristol, but I quite fancied seeing what it was like. Pressure was applied when Phil asked me to decide, basically inferring that if I was up for it, he’d go then and we’d have a Bristol night out or, if not, he’d stay and leave on Sunday. Decisions were made, bags were packed and, still in white tie, we headed for the train station and were on our way to Bristol.
I still don’t _really_ know why, although I do know that I was feeling the proverbial burn as we sat on the train. The eyes drooped, the mouth got drier and I was firmly on the edge of that little town called Hangover.
By 20.30 though, we were in Bristol. If anybody’s not been before, it’s actually quite a nice looking place – much nicer than I was expecting it to be in fact.
We did the wise thing, and took a taxi from the station to Phil’s house, and had a whirlwind introduction to some of his mates. Emergency orange juice was sourced, and a warm can of Strongbow was packed for the journey and we set off out towards the Bristol night life, still dressed in tails, albeit both of us were not bothering with the full effort of tie and waistcoat. A few bars were taken in, cocktails were drunk and, following us witnessing Russia’s shock victory over the Dutch, 3 shots of vodka were consumed. I’m pretty sure I made no sense, and had a generally subdued expression throughout the night, so full marks to Phil’s friends for putting up with me and making me feel welcome – I genuinely wasn’t being rude, nor having a bad time, I was just massively fatigued!
Phil played the game well back in Bristol and fared much better than I, lasting longer and drinking harder. It really did deserve a medal.
Once back at Phil’s I believe I fell asleep in the armchair, after a little more Vodka, and woke up and shifted myself to a bed around 05:00. I slept solidly but the time seemed to pass slowly. It definitely rejuvenated me enough though, making it at least manageable to get down to the station and arrange for a ticket back to Lancaster.
Whilst awaiting the train, I must admit the shakes returned with a vengeance, and the Cheese and Onion Pasty I acquired to help smooth me out didn’t quite have its desired effect. Still, it gave me the time to start writing this.

As for reflections on the event? I think it’s all pretty much been said, or hopefully been clear.
It’s been a great weekend – purely epic. It’s been overkill on the drink front, and has probably taken years off my life expectancy, but I’d do it again in an instant.
I can’t thank John and Phil enough, and their friends I was lucky enough to meet in both places for their hospitality and banter they all provided. It really was a classic event.
For anyone else who has the opportunity to get tickets to such an event in the future, I would heartily recommend you do it at all costs. You get way more than what you pay for in terms of surface value, and you get so much more from the atmosphere and jovial nature of the event and the people.

When I decided I was going to write something about the weekend, I also decided I needed a healthy quote to get across the meaning of what went on. Phil provided it perfectly as we were headed to the train station in Bristol today, so here it is:

There’s only so many things you can do in white tie. I think we’ve done most of them.” – Mr P Walmsley, 22nd June 2008

Thanks again to everyone I met, disturbed, frustrated, embarrassed, and laughed with. I’ll try and add pictures to this at some point, and will probably steal in a couple of other sly edits / typo-fixes as I find them.