In about 1959, I and four friends from the plumbing course at our senior school met regularly outside of school hours. David Day, Terry Stockbridge, Malcolm Murray and Mickey (Jumbo) James, were more like brothers than my own real family. One lunch time in the playground Terry suggested, “Why don’t we all go to the Tottenham Royal Dance Hall on Saturday?”
I wasn’t at all keen and said so.
Terry came back, “We could have a right laugh, and may be pick up some girls”. That almost clinched it for me. I argued, “I can’t dance – and anyway girls are weird – and they’re boring, only wanting to talk about silly things. So leave me out.”Sure enough that Saturday the others did go dancing. The following week they said that they’d had a good time. Dave had actually taken a girl home that night.
I was more than curious, getting every last detail of the events. I’d spoken to girls at Junior school, but Sir Philip Magnus was all-boys school and my only two siblings were boys, girls frightened me. Dave explained, “It’s easy, last week they had an unknown band called The Dave Clark Five. All you’ve got to do is wait for a slow number ask any pretty girl standing against the wall. Then you don’t dance you just shuffle your feet in time with the music.”
I played the scenario through in my head a million times. Of course I had no understanding that hormones were messing about in both my head. And lower down. “OK, next time you go I’m coming with you,” I said. A couple of Saturdays later Micky, Malcolm and I were on the top deck of the bus in Tottenham.
“Come on you lot,” Malcolm said, “we‘re here” I descended the bus stairs with trepidation. We paid our entrance fee and entered a pavilion of wonders. The music was already loud and the dance floor was gyrating with young people. It was also excessively hot. I was outside my comfort zone. But having got this far, I’d stayed to see what happened.
I was a fish out of water. My friends had made their way to the back of the hall where I saw a brightly lit bar! That will do, I thought. Giggles, laughter, voices all mixed up alongside the music – it was hypnotic. Two pints of Guinness later and The Everly Brothers started a song, Crying in the rain. I pushed through the crowd on the floor to the side wall, where several girls were standing just chatting, I thought – go on ask anyone to dance. I waited thinking what do I say? I inwardly cringed at the, “Do you come here often, or excuse me but would you like to dance?” Nothing seemed appropriate. I stood there like a lemon. The song finished. Defeated I went back to the bar where Malcolm was nursing a light and bitter. About twenty minutes later Mickey joined us. One more pint each; we decided to go home.
My Mum was surprised that I was back before half past ten, and asked “how did you like going to the dance?”
“OK,” I lied but I knew I needed advice. I told her about my embarrassment in not knowing how to talk to a girl, without looking stupid.
She turned the TV off and I sat down, “Look,” she said, “you’ve just described the dilemma that all young men and women have gone through since time began. Why not try being honest, say to a girl hi, I would really like to ask you to dance with me. But I have to tell you this is only the second time I’ve been to the dancehall and I’m scared that you might refuse me.” In any case,” she went on, “there’ll be other young women who’ll dance with you. Just don’t take their acceptance to dance with you as anything more than their agreement to dance. After the particular dance has finished, you might ask her if you could maybe talk with you over a soft drink at the bar”?
I did try Mum’s advice and only one girl told me – “fuck off – four eyes”. That threw me but another girl on the other side of the dance floor, told me “OK but I don’t know a lot about dancing”. I felt like the cat who had got the cream that night and she later let me escort her home.
My first real girlfriend only lasted a couple of months after that night but I learned that girls were not aliens. Treated with respect they were quite nice and were as nervous as me in not saying anything that possibly could be taken the wrong way.