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Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Intriguing Tale: my early love life [Part 1]

I realise that I have now started a number of stories that I haven’t finished. Well, perhaps there’s no real start and end to such stories. The one about the second ten shilling note, e.g., begins for me in the 1850s [and no, that’s not a typo!] but in the spirit of sheer serendipity, I think it's time to talk about the love triangle that enmeshed my life in my third year of high school. Luckily in telling these tales I decided right from the start to abandon any precision at chronology; my sisters have already pointed out to me a few flaws in chronological accuracy in earlier stories, apart from some factual errors. There’s an advantage in being a couple of years older than I in childhood when it comes to seeing things through larger windows. But, if you’re going to continue to read about my past as I am reconstructing it, you’ll just have to put up with some bursts of exuberance and a little poetic licence, I’m afraid.

So, my romance with Lorraine Rideout took its innocent and natural course for a year, idyllic in its way but limited entirely to the dance floor of the Diggers Arms Hall and chaperoned by the whole of Calliope, or at least those who had the desire to dance on a Saturday night. Then came a period when the dances thinned out a bit in frequency; I suspect partly due to the allure of newly arrived black and white TV in the shire, but a series of awful droughts might have been even more telling in reducing the number of dances. I haven’t even described to you yet the coming of electricity to Calliope, but I know you’ll have worked out that even black and white TVs need a power source more sophisticated than the kerosene we used in our lamps, so that can wait.

Anyway, there were fewer dances at the Diggers Arms Hall in those times, but in my case this was compensated by the institution of High School dances fortnightly at the Trocadero ballroom in Gladstone - the gleaming metropolis of 7,500 people. As my love life in Calliope was constricted by circumstances beyond my control, these dances came to assume an importance they never had before. And I know you have already perceived I am building a justification for the events that were to follow, but I’ll let the story tell itself, and you decide.

Frequently, Dad and Mum would drive me in to the Trocadero and then go over to one of our many relatives in Gladstone for the evening, or maybe to the pictures at the Regent or Civic theatre. Where they went was not my concern, as I was the only person of importance to me at that time [hey come on, I was about 15 – isn’t that a natural state of affairs for a kid that age?] They would pick me up at midnight and we’d drive the 20 km or so back home. The dance ran pretty much along the lines of the ones in Calliope, but with only high school boys and girls there and not family groups - which changes the dynamics quite a bit. They didn’t need much policing, though Danny Bourke was caught one night there drinking port wine through a straw out of its 750 ml bottle, and as full as a state school. By which I mean as drunk as a skunk.

One evening at the Troc, I asked a girl to dance who was one year below me at school. I was in Subsenior [Grade 11] and she was doing Junior [Grade 10]. Her name was Robyn and she had dark brown hair, short and straight, a very olive complexion though slightly freckled on the cheeks; enough to be endearing rather than detract from her slim and trim appearance. She had smiled at me once or twice before from across a crowded room as it were, so I figured the offer would not be refused. 

It was a Foxtrot, and that provides an opportunity for some proximity of teenage bodies, though not as much as the Jazz Waltz affords when both the spirit and the flesh are willing. Mostly at that age they are, but that’s beside the point. It was nice. A few of the hall lights were turned off so the dance floor was dimmed a little. Romance is always in the air under such circumstances. Get ready.

The Foxtrot came to an end. The few lights that had been turned out came back on. We started walking back to her seat for the usual thanks-for-the-dance ritual. Just in case you ever have to do this, chaps, and are not sure of the routine, as you walk the Lady back to her seat, you fully extend your right arm which, for the dance, is lightly on her waist, so that now you are holding her firmly in an upright position, right hand fingers extending fully to the right side of her waist, four ribs down. [I’ve counted with my fingers. It’s exactly the right place.] The rationale for this is that should she slip on the dance floor, you will save her from a fate worse than death by keeping her on her feet. But an alternative explanation is that it gives her the chance to slip her arm round your waist as well if she has a mind to, and this provides compatability clues, if you get my drift.

Seconds after all lights came back on, the entire hall lights suddenly went out, and the dance floor became as dark as a moonless night in our back paddock with full cloud cover. I have to say that the sudden loss of lights was far from unprecedented, as occasionally in dances in previous weeks some bright spark hit the mains switch and then turned it back on a few seconds later. There would be some whoo-hooing and whistles while the lights were out, and it was all good fun.

We stopped walking back to her seat when blackness fell and then the most extraordinary knee-jellifying thing occurred; something I will never ever forget. 

[Continue to Part 2] [Back to Index]

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