‘Strictly’ – not Physical Education.

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‘Physical Education,’ it was called, back in the day. Football; hockey; netball; cross-country running, and in my time, to a lesser extent, 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 Boot would have us out playing in the January 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 frequent 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.

Generation Me.

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We’re stuck in a grim, Dystopian scene,
The streets are all quiet where people had been,
‘Cause they’re queued at stores with only one goal:
Grab ten family packs of budget loo roll.

It’s “Me, Me, Me” – that’s all that matters,
The flag of unity lies shredded in tatters;
Ripped at the seam by the selfish and greedy,
Causing no end of anguish to others more needy.

“Myyyy …. Preciousss!” The Gollums of Asda can’t spell guilt,
Tins of beans and spaghetti, trolleys filled to the hilt.
What?! If they eat all of that, to me it would seem
The least of their worries will be Covid-19.

But I now understand why they covet bog roll,
It’s for when Heinz 57 wreaks its terrible toll.
You self-centred bastard! Just have it – it’s fine,
‘Cause your need will soon be far greater than mine.

Mind – there;s less cars on the roads, and the air’s getting better,
Seems the only one happy is wee Swedish Greta.
Is this what she wanted? Her Masterplan?
Vengeful retribution upon the common Man.

OK – Perhaps not. I’m being most unfair.
She didn’t create this total nightmare.
We all know the truth, that sun, wind and tide
Are all more important than some dickhead’s backside.

(Sorry, I digress.)

So the shelves have been emptied and there’s nothing to buy,
It made a hardworking nurse break down and cry.
But her tears have watered this hard land of ours:
From infertile Shame, Hope blossoms and flowers.

For while we distance ourselves from family and friends,
Compassion and Community have become the new trends.
So, forget all the morons, stay safe and reach out –
TOGETHER WE’RE STRONGER, OF THAT THERE’S NO DOUBT.

 

‘Tall Tales and Wee Stories’ by Billy Connolly.

It’s not possible to say anything bad about Billy Connolly. He’s a national treasure.

This book recounts many of the tales he has used in his stage shows over the years. So as a fan from his first double album ‘Solo Concert’ recorded in 1974, many of the stories were familiar to me. And for that reason only, did I not give this book the full 5 star rating.

But there are still some priceless tales in here that will make you laugh out loud – especially if as Billy suggests at the start, you read the book in his accent. (Actually – try NOT to … it’s impossible!) 😀

The short tale of the Wildebeast is a case in point. Hilarious!

Even though much of this is not new material, it is still an great read, and in fact, I love the idea of having the source of so much mirth being committed to written form.

The words and humour will never leave.

‘We Are Sunday League,’ by Ewan Flynn.

This is a book that pretty much everyone who has ever played amateur football will appreciate.The commitment of the players to the Wizards is to be commended – at times it is more than that evidenced by some superstars of the Premier league. The sort of ‘gang mentality’ sense of belonging shines through every page.
I could identify with pretty much all that was written. It’s now almost 40 years since I was forced to give up amateur football through injury, but like the author, I can still recall individual moments of triumph and glory in specific matches. It’s kind of sad, I know – but hey, that’s us blokes for you.

I did wonder how so many pages could be written about an amateur team, but a few chapters go off on a tangent to deal with specific players and their subsequent careers, which I did find interesting.

A really good read if you’re into grassroots football of any description.

First Man In.

I read this is about a week,having been given it as a Christmas present.

I have the utmost respect for our Armed forces, and what with the ‘SAS – Who Dares Wins’ TV programme now into its fifth series, I knew more or less what to expect here. But that did not detract from an engrossing and ‘easy’ read.

Autobiographies / biographies are generally interesting I think because there is always something in every book that the reader can relate to. For me, I love the thought of the physical challenges involved in getting to the selection process for the Special Forces. The courage, bravery and mental determination, though absolutely amazes me.

And I didn’t appreciate the difference between the attitudes of those in Para, to those in SBS / SAS. Interesting.

But though Ant’s experiences are all military based, there is so much to take inspiration from and take into one’s own daily life – especially if a ‘leader’ role is called for – be that in a family life situation; sports team or work environment.

Excellent read.

(I’ve already read Jason Fox’s ‘Battle Scars’ book, and that dealt more with the mental side of warfare, though no less riveting. I’ll not be getting hold of Billy and Ollie’s books too.)

Partition: The story of Indian independence and the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

I love India!

I have visited a small corner of the country on nine occasions (Goa and Karnataka) and have made many friends, Hindu and Muslim as well as Christian. Not that religion is of any consequence to me, but it DID play a massive part in the Partition process of 1947.

And so, when this book was published year or so back, I felt compelled to buy it and read up on WHY India is as it it today.

Now, I KNOW the subject of Partition is a complex one, involving a great many people, but I just found the book TOO mired in the names of the key personalities. And I’m an impatient / lazy reader, I guess, so continuously reading long Indian names kind of put me off. Twice i tried. I rested a while and tried to pick up again from page #120, but just struggled to get into it.

I’ll shortly try to read up on this mega event that has shaped the world, as I genuinely want to understand. But maybe I need to do so via the means of a more narrative book, such as ‘The Lives of Others,’ by Neel Mukhergee.

I never was any good at History at school – perhaps this is why.