Unaccustomed as I Am

Leafing through the newspaper the other day, my eye was caught by an article about Kit & McConnel’s caberet act. The name ‘Kit’ and the mention of ‘cabaret’ stirred a memory. Could this be the same Kit who, then in a partnership called Kit and the Widow, locked me out of the dining hall at Queens’ College Cambridge where I was compèring an event at a May Ball all those years ago, forcing me to climb through a lavatory window and leading to a state of confusion that made me insult Noël Coward’s pianist? A few minutes’ research on the internet showed that it was.

This event happened in June 1980 at the end of my last term at Queens’ during May Week (in fact ten days or so in June) at which time May Balls were, and probably still are, held by most of the colleges. The organising committees were composed of students, smart cookies when dealing with the works of Plato or the melting point of potassium but ill-prepared when it came to the rapacious demands of marquee hire firms, champagne merchants and musical agents. The result was that ticket prices increased to stratospheric levels. No one seemed to mind: there were enough people who were prepared to pay what was charged and plenty of others for whom the high prices gave an added incentive to break into the events, which was quite easy. Any shortfall was deftly apportioned elsewhere by the college bursar. This combination of improvidence and financial chicanery was in some ways a foretaste of the banking crisis of 2008. Indeed, this catastrophe was probably caused by exactly the same people, now no longer ratty students but sleek plutocrats, more at ease with handling vast sums of money but no less careless about the consequences of their profligacy.

If you worked at the May Ball you obviously didn’t have to pay to get in. Somehow I wangled or was persuaded to undertake – I can’t now remember which – the position of compère at the ‘cabaret’ which took place in the medieval dining hall, a place of elaborate cornices, minstrel galleries and eternal draughts. All I had to do was to ensure that the stage was set for each act and then introduce them. What could possibly go wrong?


• The rest of this story is now available in a paperback book (as are 25 others), also called Unaccustomed as I Am (RRP £9.95).

It is stocked by the Hungerford Bookshop and you can place your order here.

Copies are also available at the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, the Mad Hatter Bookshop in Wantage and through an increasing number of other retailers.

You can order it from any bookshop: they will need to know that the ISBN is 978-1-8382580-0-9 and that it can be ordered from Gardners or Central Books.

Brian Quinn
• For further stories and articles, please click here
• For songs, please click here


2 Responses

  1. Well done Mr Qurian Binn. At least you didn’t introduce Wit and the Kiddow….your account reminded me of the play Teeth and Smiles. X

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