Dance Hall – A coming of age story.
The mirror sphere rotated. It was all my dreams, scattered across walls and ceilings, even the floor, where pretty maids trod on them. Only now, do I realise, their agonies equalled mine.
My mate, Bill Prentice said, ‘If you can’t pull off the walls of the Croydon Lucano, you’ll spend your life in chastity.’
I think he meant celibacy, but I didn’t argue. I sensed the failure in his voice and shared his gloom. We wouldn’t pull off the walls of the Croydon Lucano. Of that, I was sure, even though we knew many of the girls on the other side, who went to the neighbouring girls’ school. I kept wanting to say Meccano instead of Lucano, and so decided a vow of silence was safest. A vow of silence, only to be broken if….. If what?
Times were desperate, but Bill had status and provided he didn’t walk someone home, life would go its untroubled teenage boy without a girlfriend, way.
What if Bill did…. And I didn’t? A scenario so scary, I considered hiding in the car park with the smokers.
I was recovering from my dad’s first lesson on the facts of life. I walked down the hallway that evening, dressed like a Christmas Tree – ties were obligatory – when it occurred to him that he had never said anything relevant about sex.
‘Remember son. You can get what you need at the barbers,’ he had murmured.
What? I was fifteen, on my way out at 7 o’clock in the evening, to my first dance, and my father suggests I need a condom and could reasonably knock on the barber’s door and ask for a packet of three. Why didn’t he plunder his store if he thought I was going to get laid?
Wire brushes on side drum, announced the music would begin. It was followed by a chord full of expectation and hope, which disintegrated into a foxtrot.
My mate, Bill Prentice said, ‘I think that’s a foxtrot. No one here can dance a foxtrot. What are they doing?’
I sensed heightened desperation in his voice.
Opposite, sat the opposite sex, beautifully white in dresses made of materials I’d never heard of. I imagined my gran using words like, ‘crinoline, damask – or is that a scent, poplin, or perhaps popelin. The first time I heard that pronunciation, I thought she said ‘pipeline.’ My granddad had a line of pipes in an oak rack, each stinking according to its history. If I did get a dance, and did manage to open a conversation, please Lord, let me not mention my granddad’s smoking habits or say Meccano.
My eyes wandered from the crinoline to the faces and hair, back-combed to within an inch of its life, lipstick, identical in every face. I thought of the saying, ‘all cats are grey at night.’ Perhaps it was the light.
I asked my mate, Bill Prentice.
‘Are the lipsticks all the same colour?’
He was unprepared for this intervention on the science of colour and lipstick. Perhaps, he was busy working out his opening line for the next dance. He cussed a lot and when his power of dialogue returned, called me every swearword he knew.
That’s OK. That’s what mates are for. I felt reassured.
There was one girl who I really fancied, but knew the outlook was hopeless. She was more worldly-wise than the rest of us and was busy marshalling her troops. She wore a plain black dress, straps, with a yoke round the neck and the back had a large round opening, revealing…… flesh.
Her hair was confident, worn loose, the make-up measured.
I asked Bill Prentice, my mate. ‘Who is the girl with the dress open at the back?’
‘That’s Belinda Titts older sister. Belinda brought her for moral support.’
I mentioned once, over dinner, that there was a girl in a parallel class, in the parallel girls’ school, called Belinda Titt. My dad said, ‘That must be John Titt’s daughter. I went to school with John.’
My God! This, has been going on for generations and no one has done anything about it. You can’t go through life being called Belinda Titt and what woman, with a sensible maiden name such as Smith or Baker, would court a guy called John Titt
If I were called Mathilda Ramsbottom, I might consider it.
Mathilda Ramsbottom might even consider Clive La Pensée. What were my parents thinking of?
‘Belinda’s sister is very confident, Bill,’ I said, hoping I wasn’t interrupting some major strategic, dance-opening manoeuvre, fermenting in Bill’s cortex.
This time he answered without wrath.
‘Enviable, isn’t it? I reckon it’s the – Boy named Sue – syndrome. You know, the song by Johnny Cash?’
‘How do you know this stuff?’ I asked.
He ignored me. It took me years to work out what he meant.
The foxtrot was threatening to finish, and no one had danced.
Belinda Titt’s older sister broke rank and walked across the dance floor towards the male line. She seemed to be heading in our direction. This was interesting. She was looking at me. She was coming straight at me. I felt my hand taken and pulled gently onto the dance floor.
‘I can’t foxtrot,’ I stammered and thus, exhausted my knowledge of ballroom dancing. I had never stammered in my life until that point.
‘No one can foxtrot,’ she reassured me. ‘Just shuffle.’
She was confident, took me round the shoulder and shoved me round the floor.
I took her in a similar clinch and felt my hand slide into the hole at the back of the dress. I shouldn’t call it a hole, but have no idea what the correct name for deliberate vandalism whilst dressmaking, is. I wasn’t thinking dressmaking. This was my first genuine touch of female flesh. She smelt and felt divine.
‘Take your hand out my dress,’ I heard her command.
‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to.’
‘Don’t apologise. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but tonight I am here on a different mission. You are Clive, aren’t you?’
‘Yes,’ I answered with concision, despite total confusion. Had Brenda Titt just said I could put my hand in her dress, normally? She commanded my attention before I had chance to work that scenario through.
‘Good. I’m Brenda – Belinda’s sister. Do you know Belinda?’
‘Not really,’ I admitted. ‘I know who she is, of course.’
I was cross with myself. As a person, I hate causing pain in others. I might as well have said, ‘Who wouldn’t know who Belinda Titt was?’ That said, it wasn’t my fault her name was Titt.
Brenda was unabashed and not cross with me. She was fabulous. Under her influence, I was beginning to dance in a halfway reasonable manner. That woman controlled the world. No! That was my gran, who had she been born a man, would have led armies across Europe. Brenda was less scary than my gran.
Brenda put her face close to mine. I felt her soft cheek skin, then lips, against my ear. It was heaven. She whispered something in my ear. I had to strain to hear above the music.
‘I want you to dance with Belinda.’
‘Sure thing,’ I said. I would have lay down on railway tracks for Brenda.
‘She likes you and you have to dance with her,’ Brenda continued.
‘I said I would.’
‘And spend the evening with her – well most of it, and be attentive when she is on her own.’
‘OK,’ I promised. ‘Attentive – you mean hang out with her?’
‘Precisely, and walk her home afterwards. It’s not far.’
The music stopped. Brenda had ended us up near Belinda. I felt a gentle but determined shove, and I was in Belinda’s arms.
‘Yes. I’d love to dance,’ she said, before I had chance to ask, and she propelled me back to the dance floor.
You have to remember my confusion. I had just fallen passionately and eternally in love with Brenda. Belinda wasn’t in the same league. She was my age, a little dumpy and wasn’t tall enough to whisper in my ear, the words I longed to hear. She wasn’t going to tell me to dance with her sister. She was hanging on like a limpet. Our knees were in permanent conflict.
My hand was round her back and it slipped naturally down to the dell above her bottom. It was dark, so I put it on her bottom and waited for the protest. We shuffled. She said nothing.
I had always been baffled by the female form. My mother wore items designed to change what nature had given her – turn her into an armadillo. Linda had no armour on and an adequate backside. This was only my second dance in this life, and this life had just changed.
A few other couples were grinding across the floor.
‘Thank you for dancing with me,’ she said.
‘Pleasure is all mine,’ I said and increased the pressure on her left cheek.
‘It won’t be pleasure on Monday morning, when all the lads rib you about dancing with a Titt.’
I let my left hand find her right cheek, and squeezed.
‘I think Monday morning can look after itself.’
I was learning how someone could end up courting a girl called Titt.
The mirror sphere rotated and among its thousand light dots whizzing across the walls, ceiling, floor, Belinda wrapped her arms around the back of my neck, and kissed me.