Category Archives: Social life

entry level anxiety

(Paul Fitzpatrick – London)

The first part of your life seems to be a never-ending procession of scary entry levels.

Day one at Primary school you feel abandoned and alone. Intimidated by all these desks and chairs and all these other little people, and some big people too.

Day one on the school bus to secondary school, where do you even sit?

Day one at secondary school – oh shit, I’m going to get ducked!

Day one at your first teenage disco/party – why has my Mum dressed me up to look like one of Lulu’s backing dancers?

Day one at your new job – oh God, now they’re going to realise I don’t have 10 O-levels after all.

Of course, the journey usually ends pretty well, with a roll call of honours along the way – Milk Monitor, Seats at the back of the bus, Lots of pals and to cap it all off a Mortgage.

In other words, most of the things we fret about never happen, the problem is, we just don’t know it at the time.

The local youth club was kind of daunting for a 12-year-old, it was mostly ‘older kids’ made up of cool guys or pretty girls who had no time for plebs.

Of course, these ‘older kids’ who were so intimidating were only 14 or 15, but back then 15 was mature, 18 was grown up and 40 was ancient – to a 12-year-old.

Luckily there was a group of 4 or 5 of us, all friends who were to embark on this scary venture together. One of our gang even had an older brother who was part of the cool guy crowd.

Family ties didn’t count for much in this hierarchy however, in this egalitarian bubble our pal was just another wee pleb like the rest of us  

Walking into my old primary one classroom that doubled as the youth club reception was surreal enough, and like a brood of baby ducklings walking into the middle of a gaggle of geese we immediately felt intimidated and out of place.

Not to worry there were lots of activities though……

There was table tennis – “that looked like fun” but all the older boys were playing with more waiting to play.

There was a mini snooker table – “that looked like fun” but all the older boys were playing with more waiting to play.

There was a table football game – “that looked like fun” but all the older boys were playing with more waiting to play.

There was badminton – “that looked like fun” but all the older boys were playing with more waiting to play, and there were even some girls waiting as well……

The other obstacle in these days of ‘winner stays on!’ was a guy, let’s call him Tabby, who was freakishly proficient at any activity that involved eye to hand coordination, Tennis, Badminton, Table Tennis you name it.

He was so good that he would play left-handed sometimes just to make it interesting. He was never cocky about it though and we all just accepted that he’d been blessed by the Greek god of racket sports.

Tabby was only a year older than us, but his skill sets gave him a unique position in the hierarchy that we could only dream about.

And then there was a record player with lots of 45’s and a few albums scattered around, but that was the girl’s stronghold, you had as much chance of infiltrating that little scene and choosing a record as the sun rising in the west.

This guy would have got lynched by the girls at our youth club!

If we were intimidated by the boys then the girls were even more intimidating, mainly because they all seemed so glamorous, and sophisticated and we were just, well, daft wee boys

We needn’t have worried though, they were a friendly bunch and couldn’t have been nicer – looking back they were a bit like The Pink Ladies in Grease but definitely more Frenchie than Rizzo!
They were also quick to help any of the new girls settle in and maybe that’s just the difference between boys and girls.

Things got easier for us after that awkward introduction, we learned not to be so timid, sometimes paying for it, but earning our spurs and becoming part of the order of things.

We eventually got to play some of the table games and realised that the older guys were just treating us the way they’d been treated. It was clear we wouldn’t be rookies for ever and we’d move up the youth club ranking order soon enough.

We could never get near the record player though and looking back I’m glad we couldn’t.

The girls had impeccable taste and curated the best pop-songs of the day. In most cases the girls brought in their own records otherwise as the heid DJ correctly said “you’d be listening to The Alexander brothers and Lena Martell, all night” .

They say that ‘music’s a part of everyone’s autobiography’ and I couldn’t agree more.

I still hear songs today that remind me of that youth club, songs integral to my memories of being a young teenager.

Songs that I heard for the first time on that wee record player in that tiny classroom, the classroom that had been my first entry level challenge.

I made up a playlist of some of those songs and listening to them took me back there.

I closed my eyes, and I was playing Tabby at table tennis again, it was nip and tuck but then I realised he was blindfolded, playing left-handed and standing on one leg, and I still lost!

scouts had the first dib dib dibs on psychos..

(Post by George Cheyne, of Glasgow – February 2021)

As initiation ceremonies went, the one you suffered at Scout camp wasn’t a patch on your fun-filled first few days at secondary school.

Remember them? When you had your head plunged down the bog, your face decorated with a giant feltie or your tuck shop goodies swiped off you. And if you were really lucky, you got all three.

No, the welcome you got in the Scouts on your first camp was pretty tame by comparison.

The older lads were more likely to mess with your head rather than just mess with you. The wind-ups fell into the time-honoured category and were generally pain free.

I remember when I, along with two fellow newbies, made the trip to County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland for a week-long summer camp in 1971 and went through the ritual humiliation. Tradition demanded that all first-timers had to be the patrol leader’s slave-for-a-day – carrying out all sorts of inane and inappropriate tasks until everyone tired of it all.

I was determined not to show any signs of weakness as I was sent to dig holes, fetch large drums of water, collect firewood, wash pots, dig more holes then fill them in again. Unfortunately, I showed signs of gullibility instead.

Yep, I fell for the oldest trick in the book when I was sent to the store tent to pick up a long stand for the dixie – camping parlance for a large cooking pot.

And Woody, the guy in charge of stores, gave an Oscar-winning performance as he kept me waiting outside for ages as he went through the motions of rummaging around, telling me to wait there as he supposedly searched other tents for that damn long stand.

I guess the sniggering from most of my camp-mates as I stood there like a lemon for about 15 minutes should have been a clue. In my defence, it seemed plausible to my 12-year-old self that those dixies needed some form of support when they were put on a log fire.

Anyway, lesson learned. At least I wasn’t the newbie sent to the nearby shop for a tin of tartan paint to “give our flagpole a Scottish flavour” or the one sent out to find a prostitute for the vegetable soup – “it’s like a beetroot, only different.”

It was our welcome-to-the-gang moment, a character-building episode which would probably be classed as bullying or mental cruelty these days. But we sucked it up and did our best to keep what remained of our dignity.

Truth was, after our initiation ended, we were made to feel part of everything. But there were still some hairy moments.

The Seventies seemed to be an era where psychos could hide in plain sight – and the Scouts were no different. From their perspective, you had uniforms, some pretty brutal games, ready-made victims, sheath knives and axes lying around. What’s not to like?

My antenna may have failed me in the “long-stand-for-the-dixie” incident, but it was whirling round in perfect working order when it came to one particular patrol leader.

He would sit around the camp-fire whittling away at bits of wood with his sheath knife and a manic grin plastered across his face. If you had some banjo music playing in the background, he could have been in a scene from Deliverance.

Now his idea of fun was to try and lure some poor, unsuspecting sod into a game of chicken where you stood opposite each other with your legs wide apart and chucked the knife between them. First one to flinch loses the game. Why it never took off as an Olympic sport, I’ll never know.

Anyway, our resident psycho – having tried unsuccessfully to entice us newbies into playing – “persuaded” one of his own patrol to take part. At first it went as well as you could expect, given the obvious folly of playing such a dangerous game.

Then Psycho Boy picked up the pace and, almost inevitably, his knife hit his opponent’s sandshoe. I know, I know…no-one in their right mind would play that game in steel-capped boots, never mind sandshoes.

To make matters worse, they were white sandshoes and almost immediately there was red blood seeping out the top of them. Game over. Cue taxi ride to hospital, a few stitches and a lot of explaining to do.

Where were our leaders, you may well ask, when all this was going on? Well, they generally turned a blind eye to the initiation stuff and – giving them the benefit of the doubt – probably weren’t aware of the game of chicken.

They tended to organise activities and supervise the fire to make sure no-one burned themselves or the food. After that? Well, a trip to the nearest pub would be a decent shout.

And that, as it turned out, led to a proper hairy moment.

With our patrol leaders – those grizzled, worldly-wise 17-year-olds – left in charge, we bedded down in our sleeping bags only to be disturbed by a lot of shouting and the unmistakable sound of an axe chopping wood.

Before any of us could pop their head out to see what was happening, somebody tried to yank the guy ropes which held our tent up. Then we heard voices – Irish voices – effing and blinding right outside. Safe to say, we were all bricking it.

In the background the dull thud, thud, thud of the axe continued until we heard a splintering crash. A few minutes after that, the noises subsided and we went outside.

Turns out it’s not a great idea to fly the Union flag in the Republic of Ireland at the height of The Troubles – and the local worthies, after a visit to the boozer, decided to chop down the flagpole.

If only we’d had some of that tartan paint on it…that might have defused the situation.

teenage mating rituals in the ’70s.

(Post by Paul Fitzpatrick, of London – February 2021)

I’m not sure how younger people hook-up now but in the days before swiping left or right or Instagram profiles or tic-tac or WhatsApp or whatever the latest platform is, there was no alternative but face-to-face contact. (I’m discounting love letters here because the writing, spelling and grammar of most 70s schoolboys was not particularly good).

To get things in perspective though, this face-to-face caper was normally between your best mate/trusted messenger’s plooky kisser and your intended belle’s angelic coupon – with your pal uttering the immortal words “my mate fancies you” or if they were feeling particularly articulate – “hey, will you go out with my pal”.

This wasn’t one-way traffic of course, but as normal, girls were always a lot smarter & cuter. They’d build up a valuable database of information first and then devise a plan before any approaches were made:

“are you going to the party/disco?”

“is there anyone you fancy at the moment?”

“do you like girls with feather cuts”

“do you think Senga’s nice?”

… lots of insightful, savvy questions building up knowledge and acumen so that they could make smart, informed decisions.

In fact, leading barristers would do well to study this craftmanship.

As boys we were a monosyllabic bunch back then, particularly when taken out of our natural habitat, with grunts regularly replacing diction.

I often think that ‘the art of conversation & small talk’ would have been a better subject for many of us as opposed to Algebra and the like, and as Billy Connolly said, “why should I learn Algebra, I’m never going to go there!”

In hindsight I’ve realised that although I went to a co-ed school and would regularly exchange pleasantries, I never really spoke to girls there.

We’d play football at breaks and the girls would do their thing. We’d sit together as boys on the school bus and so would the girls, and the rest of the time we were in class, just trying to keep up with them.

The bizarre thing is – that at some point we started to go to local discos and parties to basically try and engage with the same people we were in effect ignoring every day.

Even at discos we’d stay in our little groups though. The girls socialising and dancing, the guys being fascinated for the umpteenth time by the ultra-violet lights making everything look whiter (apart from our teeth), trying to look cool whilst shouting to be heard over Silver Machine by Hawkwind.

Every now and then though a strange occurrence took place, and us boys would actually make an effort to dance and interact.

Well, I call it dancing and interacting, it was actually a strange ritual that consisted of tapping a girl on the shoulder, awkwardly wriggling about in front of her for 3 minutes, whilst trying to avoid stamping on her handbag, and then walking away, without a word being uttered.

I’m not even sure how this counts as human interaction, but it sort of did, back then.

There was always a critical point of the evening though, when decisions had to be made. At parties it was normally 15 minutes before you were due to get chucked out and someone would conveniently switch the lights off so lips could meet, and at discos, it was the slow dances at the end of the evening.

The Moonie.

The slow dances or moonies as we called them were a ritual in themselves and the best DJ’s would usually play three of them which gave everyone three opportunities to get a lumber (Glasgow colloquialism for a ‘partner for the evening’).

One moonie just wasn’t enough, there was too much pressure and besides it took some lads one, even two moonies to strike up the courage to ask a girl for a slow dance.

Also, someone might have zipped in ahead of you to get to your intended partner first, but if you knew there were still two moonies to come, you could bide your time to see how that all panned out.

This was a complex and sophisticated procedure crammed into 12 action-packed minutes, but it was usually the most important 12 minutes of the evening.

It was a strange procession indeed…

Guys who had been playing Joe Cool all night were suddenly flustered and flapping around.

Discerning music lovers who would only shake their tail feathers to certain ‘cool’ songs, or selected, favourite artists, were now happily swooning to David Cassidy’s latest schmaltzy ballad.

If you could take a snapshot, you would see all sorts of weird and wonderful images, everything from – snogging couples conjoined by the lips, in the early throes of passion to girls ducking and weaving like Mike Tyson in order to avoid the slobbery advances of the guy with WHT (wandering hand trouble) who up until that point had been ignoring them all night.

Severe case of WHT

Mostly what you’d see however is a lot of young people wanting to fit in and be accepted. The majority wearing the same clothes, sporting the same haircuts, doing the same dance moves, and going along with the crowd, as that was always the safest thing to do.

Getting a lumber at the end of the evening wasn’t that important in the grand scheme of things, but it sure felt like it at the time. A badge of honour or a box ticked.

After the event you’d invariably walk home with your buddies recounting the highlights of the evening, making your wee night in a church hall sound like a New Year’s Eve extravaganza at Studio 54.


Looking back, it was all one big ritual; preparing and looking forward to the event, deciding what you were going to wear, the pre-disco formalities (travel, refreshments), the event itself and of course the aftermath, where the evening’s events would be the topic of conversation for the next few days.

They were good days though, lots of fun, and all part of navigating your way through those awkward teenage years.

As always, I connect memories to music so here’s a link to my 70s Moonie playlist.

You can use this to slow-dance in the kitchen with the guy/gal you lumbered 40 odd years ago at the local disco, and haven’t been able to shake off yet 😁

p.s. and yes, even I know a tic-tac is a refreshing mint!

teenybopper.

(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – February 2021)

 The Summer of Love in 1967 may have swept America coast to coast, but not in our house. Flower Power didn’t wash with Dad, who got uptight just thinking about the louche morals of “those goddamn hippies”. He held Mick Jagger personally responsible for the breakdown in American society, along with Elvis Presley and his snake hips.

As men landed on the moon, Vietnam raged and the assassination of Martin Luther King rocked the nation, Mum and Dad decided to up-sticks from our all-American life and seek a better one in Jolly Olde England. Without so much as a by-your-leave they boarded a plane with me, aged ten, and my two teenage brothers.  We touched down in Birmingham, West Midlands in the autumn of 1970, for our new life as Brummies.

1970s Birmingham was an exciting place to be a teenager, especially having lived in rural Virginia, where the most exciting thing that happened was the time a bull escaped from a farmer’s field and charged up State Street.

       I discovered Glam Rock and boys at the local church Youth Club disco in 1974, wearing a tank top with flares and strawberry flavoured lip gloss.  The lads sported Oxford Bags and feather cuts as they hovered in nervous groups around the edge of the hall, before summoning the courage to sidle up to me and my group of friends: Becky, Shaz and Julie.

 Teetering on our rubber wedged platforms, we giggled wildly and closed rank in a tightly formed pack around our suede tasselled handbags; dancing in unison to ‘Tiger Feet’ and ‘Jean Jeanie’ as we feigned indifference to these “spotty oiks” and the invitation to have a shag – whatever that was.   Arm-in-arm, we stomped across the dancefloor together to the serving hatch, where the vicar was on hand to serve us with four packets of cheese and onion and bottles of Vimto. We went en mass to the toilets to apply more lippy and talk about the boys, “He never!” “He DID!” The music stopped abruptly at 9pm when the cleaning lights beamed down like search lights (as indeed they were); but not before the lads tried their luck once more with a last dance (I say this loosely) which involved various lewd moves to the chorus of ‘Hi-ho, Silver Lining’. Good job the vicar didn’t notice.

      David Cassidy stole my teenybopper heart when he was in the Partridge Family – but he wasn’t quite disco, was he? When Marc Bolan burst onto Top of the Pops in 1971 – all tight satin trousers, glitter and black eyeliner singing ‘Bang A Gong’ – Becky and I became ‘children of the revolution’ overnight and ditched David Cassidy like a brick outhouse. So fickle is Youth.

The dark church hall helped hide our blushes and the boy’s thin facial hair. Sweat dripped from the walls and trickled down the back of our Lurex jumpers, especially after getting ‘Down, Down’ to the Quo.  One of the lads finally asked Shaz for a dance:

“No ta – yam aroight Bab; yow betta dance with me mayte. I’m a bit sweatay.” He never recovered his poise – or his ‘Coo-ca-choo’

********

My crush on Darryl Smith, with his David Essex bedroom eyes and dimple, went unrequited.  I watched him from afar at the disco, with girls hanging on his every word and lipstick on his big lapels.

Disclaimer! NOT Andrea.

 While space-hopping nonchalantly one afternoon along the central reservation of the dual carriage-way near my house, I spotted Darryl across the road, hanging upside down from the metal railings outside his parent’s newsagent shop.  This was my big chance! I bounced across the road, fell off the space hopper and took a spectacular nose dive. Darryl fell off his railing, helpless with laughter,
“Barmy slag!”

With tears welling, I gathered the shreds of my dignity along with my space hopper and trudged home, vowing to hate boys for ever. Becky came round and we played our precious handful of 45’s on the stereogram, chomping aniseed balls and plotting our revenge: “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” 


   ********

Make-up in the ‘70s was gloriously garish.  I smeared on half-moons of iridescent green cream eye shadow and a slick of Mum’s ‘Burnt Sienna’ lipstick before offering to nip to the shops on the off-chance of running into Darryl Smith. Becky sat on the bath and watched with disdain:

“Moi mum says that if we were meant to wear moike-up, we’d be born with it on!”

“That’s rubbish,” I retorted; squeezing a blackhead in the mirror, “My mum doesn’t make a move until she’d plucked and tweezed and slapped half-a-ton of pan-cake foundation on her face – and two coats of lippy.”

My mother once remarked to me after recoiling at Becky’s bushy eyebrows;

“All that girl needs is a good pluck!”

********

As my fifteenth birthday approached, I cajoled Mum and Dad into letting me have a teenage party. At the church disco, Becky and I got up the nerve to invite some of the lads. They turned up with a handful of warm beers shoved in their socks. Dad was on patrol – even sprucing up for the occasion with a clean undershirt and a dab of Brylcreem. My Southern Belle mother retired upstairs in her blue quilted dressing gown, taking the small black and white rented TV and the dog with her. Setting up a couple of Watney’s party barrels in the kitchen to make lemonade shandies, Dad took charge of the bar for the night; shrewdly frisking the boys at the door in his usual, friendly American manner.

“Hey boys – what-cha got there? I’ll just take those and put ’em on the bar. Better take it easy.”

Andrea in 15th Birthday party gear.


Becky and I compiled a playlist of singles with a mix of fast records for dancing and slow ones for snogging: ‘Kung-Foo Fighting’ by Carol Douglas; ‘The Bump’ by Kenny and Minnie Ripperton’s ‘Lovin’ You’.  One record really pissed Dad off: 10cc’s ‘Wall Street Shuffle’. I played it one morning at breakfast, sparking an almighty row as I sang along glibly through my cornflakes … to the part where they mention screwing.

“Andrea – turn that Dadgum trash off!”

“Oh Dad – you’re so square!”

As the party got underway one of the boys turned the overhead light off in the back room, where several teenaged kids groped and snogged on Mum’s precious velvet sofa, behind the door and in the dark recess of the alcove behind the cheese plant.  Dad – sensing ‘trouble’ – stepped lively and flipped the light switch on in a haze of Old Spice.

“Hey kids – kind-a dark in here – can’t see what we’re doin’… puttin’ the lite bub on.”

There were tuts and groans as the lads filed back into the kitchen for one last flat pint before leaving; nobody would ‘pull’ tonight. I was mortified, yet quietly relieved to have reached my fifteenth in-tacto.

Mum came down after it was all over; gliding into the living room in her blue quilted robe. There was no evidence that the ‘lite bub’ had been switched off or that her velvet sofa had been debauched.

(Copyright: Andrea Burn , February 2021)

********

Andrea Grace Burn is an Anglo / American writer, comic, storyteller & broadcaster.

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game of phones.

(Post by George Cheyne, of Glasgow – February 2021)

Another glance at my watch, an anxious look around to see if the coast was clear, wipe my clammy hands on my school trousers, take a deep breath…it’s time to make that call.

Phoning a girl for the first time from your house was a nerve-wracking experience in the Seventies. You had to get an alignment-of-the-planets moment for things to go smoothly.

Sure, you may have arranged to call her at 7pm, but that didn’t mean everything would go as planned. There were too many imponderables for that.

First, from your end, you had to secure the rights to the phone. This usually meant pacing around the area where it was situated in the minutes before the agreed time. In my case our phone was in the hall, presumably put there for maximum embarrassment as the rest of the family walked past when you were trying to hold one of those deep, meaningful conversations that teenage boys have.

Also, you had to rely on not being gazumped by your mum or dad choosing that particular moment to make a call. Even worse, because you had no control over it, you had to hope no-one picked that exact time to call your house because that would make you well late for your big phone date.

Then, of course, there was the other end. You were making that all-important first call with no real intel to go on.

Where was the phone in her house? Would there be an older brother hovering over her? What was her dad like? How big was he? All important questions which, sadly, you wouldn’t find answers to before you made the call.

So you took that deep breath, dialled that number and tried to ignore the stomach churns. It was a lottery, of course, because you didn’t know who would answer. It could be the angry 6ft 5in dad, the sneering older brother, the sympathetic mum or the girl you were calling.

Even the most confident, cocky kids could crumble when faced with such a pure beamer. But you had to grapple with your innermost fears otherwise you didn’t get the girl. Simple as.

You had to front up whether you were getting the girl or splitting up with her. Teenagers in the Seventies didn’t have the luxury of being able to swipe right or ghost someone from the safety of a bedroom bunker.

It had to be done face to face and could be pretty brutal. I remember walking in the playground with a pal one day when his long-term girlfriend – well, they had been going out for at least a month – approached with a grim expression on her face.

She ignored my presence, looked my pal straight in the eye and blurted: “I don’t want to go out any more.”

“What do you mean,” he mumbled, looking as if he’d rather be anywhere else than in such a public place.

“You’re chucked!” she replied with barely a glimmer of emotion.

Ouch. That’s gotta hurt. I felt his pain…and still do if I can remember it so clearly after all these years. 

That humiliation wouldn’t have happened to my pal if he was a Generation Z teenager instead of a Baby Boomer. A simple unfriending on Facebook and he would be history. No real harm done.

Today’s teens may think they have first dibs on all the gadgetry that helps shape relationships these days – but they’d be wrong. The Seventies kids were pioneers when it came to things like:

MOBILE PHONES 

Not exactly mobile, of course, but everyone back then knew where the nearest working phone box was in their neighbourhood. Could be used to make and receive calls and so avoid the pure beamer scenario as described above. Texting was still in its infancy, however, and was restricted to cards, graffiti and messages left in the phone box

GOOGLE

This was covered off by two platforms – encyclopedias and the Yellow Pages. If you wanted to help your girlfriend/boyfriend with their homework you would bone up on any subject by scouring the myriad of sections in Encyclopedia Brittanica. If you wanted to check out the latest music, shops, bars or restaurants, all you had to was let your fingers do the walking – and look them up in Yellow Pages, a streamlined version of the old phone book.

GOOGLE MAPS

No need to punch in postcodes in the Seventies. If you didn’t know where you were going on that first date all you had to do was dig out the A to Z, memorise the route and drive.

TIK TOK

The Super 8mm cine cameras of the day were perfect to capture all those carefully-rehearsed zany dances and songs. Just point the camera at family and friends and watch them perform. Ideal for those with short attention span because the film only lasted about two minutes.

SNAPCHAT

This was when scribbled notes were passed about the classroom covering such in-depth subjects like who fancies who, playtime football games, help with homework or what was for school dinners. If the teacher turned round, those bits of paper soon disappeared.

SPOTIFY

Seventies kids could amass loads of music to listen to – without having to pay any fees. All you did was get together with other music lovers catering for all tastes and swap over albums for listening and recording purposes. This was probably the first What’s App group of its time.

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST

Mix tapes were put together with loving care and attention to detail. Specific song choices – usually singles or individual album tracks – were recorded on cassettes and handed over to girlfriends/boyfriends.

INSTAGRAM

The Seventies version of this was a Polaroid Instamatic camera. You lined up your picture, clicked the button and out popped an instant photo. Ideal for teenage parties and, just like its modern-day equivalent, the compromising evidence soon vanished. Nothing to do with any algorithm, the prints just faded in time.

All of which goes to show that us Seventies kids were pretty tech savvy and way ahead of our time…we just didn’t know it!

strictly not p.e.

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – February 2021)

‘Physical Education,’ it was called, back in the day. Football; hockey; netball; cross-country running, gym work; and to a lesser extent in my time, rugby. It was an eagerly awaited break from the mind-crushing monotony of Mr Methven’s Physics class. (I’m still bitter he chucked myself and Tony Everett out of his Higher class – can you tell? Presumably that was to ensure his teaching reflected a better pass rate.)

‘Physical Education,’ in the month of December, however, was none of the above. Not because the ground was dangerously frozen – old Mr Graham, a.k.a. ‘Boot,” would have us out playing in the winter snow, while I might add, he slurped his coffee in the store room. No. Some sadist considered it would be more character building, and stand us all in good future stead, to teach us the dark art of country dancing.

In the weeks leading up to ‘The Dance,’ boys and girls of each class in their Year, would be told to line up opposite each other in one of the gyms, backs to the wall-bars, and await the dreaded instruction:
“Gentlemen – take your partners for the Saint Bernard’s Waltz.”

The what?!

This is 1971 for goodness sake. The year of T.Rex, Rod Stewart and Atomic Rooster. And we have to dance to a  … what’s it called?

(See these old folk? See what they’re doing? THIS is what we were expected to learn as thirteen / fourteen year olds!)

Usually, two classes were amalgamated and twenty, sweaty-palmed lads would look up and down the line, watching to see who’d make the first move. Of course, there was always that one kid who was officially ‘going out’ with one of the girls stood across the games hall. His move towards the other side would instantly be mirrored by his ‘burd,’ (it’s ok – you could say these things back in the day) and the two would meet in the centre circle of the basketball court.

The pressure is now on.

Decision time. Move quickly before somebody else asks the girl you fancy. Or – actually, do you even ask her at all? What if she says “no thanks.” Or words to that effect. But she might be happy to ‘St Bernard’s Waltz’ with you. Wouldn’t that be brilliant? That would surely mean she likes you, wouldn’t it? Look – she’s whispering and giggling with her friends. Go on. Don’t be such a chicken.

But the fear of rejection is debilitating.

Aaaaargh! Too damn slow! She accepted that offer far too quickly. And she’s smiling. She must fancy ….

Very quickly, your options dwindle and everyone else starts pairing up – reluctantly or otherwise. So you make your move. The approach does not impress, however, as your path deviates when a pal overtakes you for the hand of your intended. Sheepishly, you are forced to ask your now third choice. Fully expecting a sharp rebuke, you ask the question.

Boot and Mrs McLeod (Horsey) who obviously frequented the world of Jane Austen, had dictated the correct manner of asking a young lady to dance is to politely say:
“May I have the pleasure of this dance?” But, partly because you’re a rebel and nobody tells you what to do, though mainly because your nervous brain has gone to mush, you grudgingly mumble the words:
“You wanna dance?”

Realising by now that it’s a straight choice between the short-arse stood in front of her; the weird introvert, or the kid with a plague of plooks and halitosis – the short arse wins. You – ok, I – have a partner.

Boot would then crank up the dansette and drop the needle on track one, side one of Jimmy Shand and His Band, Greatest Hits (Volume 1) and quickly retreat to the arms of Horsey. A short demonstration was followed by carnage and mayhem, the like of which had never been seen on the hockey or football pitches.

Of course, the rumours would fly for the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas Dance as to who fancied who – all based upon the rather random selection process of the practice sessions.

Then came the big night. The night when all the skills learned from Boot and Horsey would be displayed. Or not.

See, back then, there was no plush limousine; no pre-dance celebration meal; no hired photographers. Nope. Instead, groups of lads would rush out their homes an hour or so before the scheduled start time, meet up at the pre-determined ‘secret’ rendezvous point (for us, it was ‘The Woods,’ for others, ‘Hungry Hill’) and unearth the illicit booze that had somehow been procured earlier.

 The tipple of choice for my group was El Dorado and Lanliq fortified wine and a couple cans of Carlsberg Special Brew or Newcastle Brown Ale.

Timing now became critical, and being so young and inexperienced, it was pretty much down to trial and error … error frequently winning out.

The challenge was to get to the festively adorned Assembly Hall and, standing up straight whilst holding your breath, hand over your ticket to the poor teacher who would much rather have been spending the evening with a good book. Those pupils who still had to perfect the art of timing and sported puke stains down the front of their paisley-patterned kipper ties, were instantly rejected, being sent to the ‘sick room’ to await collection by their affronted parents.

Once in, you could relax. But not too much. It was best to keep moving. Dancing. Any period of inactivity would invariably induce a deep sleep on the spartan chairs that lined the Hall. Game over. Sick room and a phone call to your parents coupled by an instant grounding over Christmas would be the resultant consequence.

So, dance you did. And it wasn’t too bad, as it happened. And even if it was Dutch courage, you did ask the girl you fancied to dance. And maybe she was happy that you did.

Everyone was happy. Even the kid with the plague of plooks and halitosis.

It was Christmas, after all.