16 - Dancing Days.

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Dancing Days.

On Saturday nights I went to the Palais with my cousin Jean. Jean's mother had asked me to take her out so I invited her to come dancing with Barbara and me. Barbara didn't care for a threesome and dropped out.

Dad would not have allowed me to go to the Palais "dance halls were dens of iniquity" he said. I pretended we were going to the dancing schools. It seems strange in retrospect that he still controlled my life to this extent.

At the Palais the girls all stood at the end of the ballroom waiting to be asked to dance. No one would have dreamt of asking a fella although they did have "excuse me" quicksteps when it was acceptable to tap a girl dancer on the shoulder and she would relinquish her partner. Usually one only did this if the fella had already caught your eye or he was an exceptionally good dancer.

Many of the men didn't dance until the last waltz when they would ask for a dance in the hope of walking you home. As we always left together we rarely stayed for the last dance. I was supposed to catch the last bus which owing to the war was at nine o'clock. If Dad was working I walked home.

I think I must have met the second Fred in my life at the Palais although I can't remember when. He was a nice lad and a good dancer. He worked at Boots and he was in the ATC. I wasn't keen on him wearing his uniform when we were out, it felt a bit like going out with a boy scout.

Fred's hobby was making model aeroplanes and he made some for Johnny who thought he was wonderful. Fred's Mam was a widow and she went out to work so we had the run of the house.

"Would you go all the way?" I asked Barbara one day as she waited for me to finish drawing the seam line on my stained legs.

"Just above the knee, in case your skirt flares up. I say your legs are a funny colour."

Stockings were unobtainable and for a while we were able to buy a leg make up called "liquid stockings" but that too became scarce and I had resorted to potassium permanganate solution which gave a yellowish tint.

"I don't mean legs," I said.

"Why are you contemplating it?"

That was Barbara all over. In all the years I have known her she has never confided in me. Nor have I ever trusted her enough to tell her everything.

The truth was I was curious. From all I read and heard the sex act was an awe-inspiring event. Woman risked home and family as they were carried away by an emotion they couldn't control and I wanted to know what it was all about.

"Omnia Probate. Optima Tenete," I said. That was our school motto-"Try all things. Hold fast the best." But I'd have to be sure he'd marry me if I caught."

It was a cold blooded way of looking at things but I prided myself on using my head. The flashy dumb blonde image I presented to the world bore no resemblance to the real me

We enjoyed double Summer time during the war years and we must have had some good summers for I recall we spent a lot of time at Bulwell lido. I took Johnny and Barbara took her brother David. Summer sun always lightened my mousy hair so that I was often accused of bleaching it.

I was accused, and it was considered practically immoral to bleach one's hair, so why not? I sprinkled peroxide on my hairbrush and the change was so gradual that Dad didn't suspect.

My dancing days were over when the Yanks came. I was strict ballroom and hated Jive. They took over the whole of Nottingham and thought every girl was for sale. I loathed them.

Opposite our house stood the Albany pub. Dad and Mam used to drink there in the "Best Room" a small snug. On Saturday nights the pub hosted a variety show with local talent in the main room. We called it "sod's opera. Most Saturday nights there was a fight at closing time and the Black Maria picked up the troublemakers. They were never charged but let out the next day claiming to have been battered.

The Yanks tried to take the pub over but they got their "come uppance" when they tried to order some of their own black soldiers out. "If you serve them, we leave," they told the manager. Dad heard this. He stuck his neck out. "If you don't serve them we'll all leave," he flung out his arm indicating all the regulars. "And we won't come back after they've gone."

The locals didn't care for the loud mouthed Yanks throwing their weight about besides which Dad saved "under the counter" fags for them so they all nodded agreement. The white Yanks left in a huff and although they didn't boycott the Albany it was never over run.

I met one American who was less boisterous than most, he became engaged to one of my cousins. She was an outstandingly beautiful girl. On the occasions we went dancing together she attracted the lads like bees to honey suckle. I wasn't jealous for I had a steady boyfriend and was no longer playing the field.

She asked me to make up a foursome and I joined her a couple of times but although her fellow was nice enough I couldn't stand his friends. Then one night, to my amazement she told me she was engaged. I thought she was crazy, she was just sixteen. Her reason was even crazier. She said he was the only fella who had asked her to marry him; all the others were after one thing.

Nothing I could say would dissuade her.

Before her beau left England she came with him, her elder brother and a couple more yanks to ask me to go for I drink. I was supposed to be baby sitting but Johnny was fast asleep and I'd never known him to wake up once he dropped off so I allowed myself to be persuaded to go across to the Albany for just one drink.

My downfall was in saying I would have the same as my cousin. It was a pleasant orange drink- with three measures of gin. I enjoyed it and had another. After that, I'm not sure what happened. Later it was said that one of the yanks pulled a gun out of his pocket during an argument. The police came and the black maria. I was asked my age, which annoyed me for I was eighteen, and my cousin, who was not yet seventeen wasn't questioned. They came home with me and I tried to give them coffee. I say tried because for some reason I missed the table and every cup went on the floor. They all scarpered and left me to face my parents alone.

Needless to say, Dad was very angry and not unnaturally didn't believe I had only had two Gin and oranges. It wasn't until much later that I learnt one of the Yanks had put three gins in my glass.

I only went out with them once after that. It was to the Goose Fair on the Forest. Another unhappy episode since as I got out of one of the carriages on the "Mont Blanc" the floor board gave way trapping my leg. I must hand it to the yanks on this occasion as they immediately lifted and held the carriage until I could be extracted. As it was my leg was so badly injured it took six months to recover and even then it was such a peculiar colour that as I stood at the bus stop children called out, "Mam look at that gel's leg."

Soon afterwards I became engaged myself, purely unintentionally.

Fred had been pleading with me for some time but I didn't want to be tied down. Then he bought me a ring and I was in a dilemma. There was no one else on the horizon and all my friends were courting. Without an escort or a girl friend, social life would be non-existent. Girls could not go into pubs alone nor to dance halls and even in the pictures you were likely to be assaulted by some pervert putting his hand up your leg.

He was expecting to get his call up papers any day and I thought if only I could keep him at bay until he went away I would have a breathing space.

Making the excuse that my Dad would never consent I agreed to wear his ring when we were out but to keep it on a string round my neck at home. It was a beautiful ring, an emerald and two diamonds bought second hand from a pawnshop.

Fred accepted this arrangement but blew the whistle by gesticulating to my ring finger and my neck in so obvious a manner that Dad guessed what I was up to and insisted I wore the ring. Fred said he thought I had forgotten to take it off my finger but I was sure it was deliberate and I felt Dad had let me down badly but I had no choice.

The only point in favour of marrying him was his stated intention to make the airforce his career. I thought I could put up with married life in short doses but we quarrelled when he spoke of married quarters. There was no way I was going to trail round with him.

I finally realised I didn't care for him at all when I became very ill. No one knew what the problem was. My periods had stopped; I ran a high fever and was in such pain that morphine was administered. My weight dropped from eight stone to six stone, four and I had an "out of body" experience, during which I learnt that my mother did care for me. I looked down on her stroking my head and calling my name.

My medical certificate gave "salpingitis" as the cause and my boss tried to sack me after the office girl told him it was caused by abortion. I was livid and so was my doctor. However, after I was seen by a hospital specialist the diagnosis was changed to appendicitis and I was put on a waiting list to have the appendix removed.

My father was so concerned at my emaciated state he bought a fur coat for me. It was an opossum, a fur which was relatively cheap. I wore it until my handbag, which was clutched under the arm at that time, wore away all the fur.

After my illness, I broke off my engagement as gently as I could and after that I dated only on a casual basis. Dad thought this immoral. He believed I should only go with one chap at a time but I had found breaking the engagement so traumatic I didn't want to face the same situation again.

When I broke off my engagement I wrote a letter to Fred and enclosed my engagement ring. Some little while later Fred came to see me one night after I was in bed. He made a great deal of noise outside the house demanding his ring back.

I told him it was in the envelope with the letter I gave him. He said he had thrown it onto the fire without opening it.

After I broke off my engagement I began to seriously think about my future. I realised I was going nowhere unless I obtained some qualifications. I had taken a correspondence course in Chemistry but found that I had no aptitude for the subject. I began a night school course for a City and Guilds Dyeing Diploma, I wasn't really interested in it but it was an excuse to get out at night and it would be something to put on a job application form. Dad was still of the opinion that going out every night was a bad habit for a girl to get into, whereas, I felt staying one night a week to look after the shop and my kid brother was hardship enough.

It is very difficult putting events in sequence as memories come in random order. I try to relate the events in this period to the war. It was 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and brought the Americans into the war. Their troops didn't arrive in England until January 1942 and when they came to Nottingham they took over the Palais.

It wasn't long before ballroom dancing was overtaken by smooch and jive and some time after this I stopped going to the Palais.

During 1944 I heard that Fred, my school day sweetheart was in the army and had been sent abroad. Knowing all servicemen liked letters from home, even from girls they had never met, I wrote to him sending the letter care of his mother. I was in my seventh heaven when he replied. He told me he had heard I was standing up fellows and had decided to "teach me a lesson by giving me a taste of my own medicine."

I thought it was his brother who told him this lie for they were very close and I don't think he approved of me. I have never made any date I haven't kept and thought such behaviour despicable, what was more I didn't date anyone else whilst I was going out with Fred.

In his next letter he said he had seen me once, after we split up, but hadn't the courage to speak to me as he thought I had cut him. Unfortunately, I had and still have the habit of daydreaming as I walk about and I never see anyone.

He sent a silver filigree bracelet, the first present he had ever bought for me and I took it as a pledge.

During this year things began to look more hopeful for the outcome of the war with Russia going on the offensive, Montgomery's eighth army having successes in Tripoli and America beginning bombing raids on Germany.

In September 1944, the blackout was replaced by dim out so we had some street lighting and shop windows were lit with blue lights. Seventy year olds got an extra tea allowance. In this month too the Home Guard was stood down so presumably the danger of invasion was past.

Figure 1Jean & Me at the PALAIS

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Joan Mary Fulford
Fulord Consulting Ltd
West Bridgford
Nottingham NG2 5GF

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Nottingham, NG2 5GF


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