This is another tale from my days at Lasswade Secondary School. A story about a Christmas dance organised by my nemesis, Mr Stewart the P E teacher, known, behind his back, as ‘Peasel’. Due to my dodgy left lung physical education was not my favourite subject, ergo, I was not Peasel’s favourite pupil. But looking back, Peasel was a pivotal figure in the organising of community events at the school, in the church and the village.
The dulcet tones of “Chattanooga choo choo” seeped into the changing room and swirled around, mingling with the smell of stale sweat and the unique aroma of well used gym shoes.
“Whit the fucks that…..?”
The changing room swung open with a bang against a bench as Peasel, our PE teacher, feared by many, marched in.
”That, Murchison is music. Melodious music, you moron.”
“Sir, sir,! An excited voice from the far side of the room. “That’s alliteration, Sir!”
The room and thirty buttocks tensed. Such a display of being clever would normally be stamped on, the culprit earning himself two circuits of the rugby pitch in the late November drizzle or if it was a nice day, fifty press ups with Peasel’s foot on his neck.
But Peasel was in a trance, absent, his eyes glazed over, lost in the swirling, undulating music. He had probably been transported in his mind to some far off WWII theatre of war, dancing, in a Nissan Hut to Swing Music with a pretty nurse or Wren.
The distant music ended as the gramophone needle began to squeak and scrape and Peasel snapped out of his reverie.
“That, Murchison,” he said reverently, “was Glen Miller’s Big Band.”
“y’mean, like the Troggs?” asked Big Murch, recklessly, then quickly adding “Sir!”
“The who?” Asked a bemused Peasel.
“No The Who, The Troggs. They’re a band, ye ken, like The Who, Sir,” Big Murch endeavoured to bring Peasel up to date with the current Pop groups, “and they’re big, the noo.” Had he been born later, in another era, Big Murch would have been a fan of the Sex Pistols or perhaps head banged to heavy metal music.
The changing room tensed at this exchange. A whiff of fear merged with the other changing room odours. But Peasel simply emitted a slow, resigned sigh of someone that had listened to, but did not comprehend, an obscure scientific theory. He shook his head, and asked us to assemble in the gym.
It was circa 1964 at Lasswade Secondary School. Christmas was tantalisingly close and the annual school dance was on the horizon. The year before, the organisers had pandered to the new Pop Music culture. As the music of the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and the Animals throbbed round the Assembly Hall, the pupils had gravitated into two distinct groups, boys on one side of the hall and girls on the other. We had posed and preened like mating birds, casually glancing at each other, across the fug of faint sweat and and our father’s Old Spice aftershave.
That would not happen this year, not be allowed to happen. Peasel had a plan; a plan to be executed with military precision.
As we trooped reluctantly into the gym we were lined up in front of the, thankfully, folded trampoline, with its blood stained canvas. A few weeks before, Willie McRob had nearly severed an ear when his head was trapped between the springs. Bouncing around on the trampoline was no longer regarded as fun.
Peasel stood arms akimbo facing us. “Right, pay attention!” he barked, “today, we are going to learn to dance. Proper dancing, not jerking around like demented puppets!”
“Ah thought we were playin’ Murder Ba’, Sir.” This was Big Murch, sounding like Jim Taggart at a crime scene, asking if we would be playing Murder Ball, his favourite indoor game.
The clue was in the name. A large leather ball, filled with, what felt like sand was place in the middle of the gym floor and opposing teams strove to carry the ball to the opposite end of the room. There were no apparent rules and inevitably, many injuries. Base on selection by height, Big Murch fronted one team and I the other. It was like facing Attila the Hun at the apex of a phalanx of bloodthirsty soldiers. Many us still nursed a catalogue of injuries from the previous week’s fixture.
Ignoring Big Murch, Peasel separated us into two groups, one to represent the girls, the other group the boys, which of course they already were.
Once the protest from the group designated as the girls died down, Peasel marched over to the gramophone, and like a surgeon performing an intricate operation, delicately placed the needle on the disc. After a few seconds of scratching, “In the Mood” flowed gently over the room.
“I will now demonstrate exactly what I expect.” Peasel announced as he picked one of the smaller, more athletic of the ‘girls’ and launched into a sort of waltz, smoothly progressing around the polished parquet floor. We watched, astonished at this revelation of Peasel’s feminine side, then tried to emulate this exposition of ‘proper dancing’. We stumbled about, standing on toes and colliding with each other, amid laughter and curses. But eventually our skills improved and order slowly replaced chaos. Every week Peasel alternated the roles of each group. He had obviously watched Steptoe and Son, the popular TV comedy of the time, about the fractious relationship between a father and son. Harold Steptoe’s father, to his surprise, helps him prepare for taking a new girlfriend to a social event, by teaching his him to dance. But in the training sessions Harold always took the female role , the father, his mentor, the male. Predictably, the Harold’s relationship embarrassingly hits the rocks on the dance floor where he finds he has no idea of how to dance as the male partner.
As the week’s progressed and the School Dance loomed, more dance genres were added to our dance repertoire; The Gay Gordon’s, Canadian Barn dancing and, of course, Scottish Country Dancing, and, thankfully actual girls. The essential etiquette of dancing was introduced into the training and Murder Ball was forgotten as a real enthusiasm for dance slowly developed.
At last the evening of the dance arrived. We flowed in, through the rotunda into the assembly room. At first we formed the usual gender groups and gazed at each other across the fug of faint sweat and Old Spice aftershave. But as the music began the training kicked in. Or, at least we did as we had been trained to do before Peasel kicked in. The boys politely asked the girls to dance and took to the floor. ‘In the Mood’ was followed by Scottish Reels, Canadian Barn Dances, and later a few popular song to twist and the shake to, or as Peasel thought, jerk around like demented puppets.
At the time we teenagers probably would not have admitted to enjoying the Christmas Dance. After all, it had been foisted on us, forced on us by Peasel; an almost military event. But, Peasel had something. The dancing to Pop Music required little etiquette or normal human interaction, unless it was a dance to slow music, which was virtually fully clothed adolescent foreplay. The ballroom room style of dancing encouraged, required, manners and respect for the partner you were dancing with. The country dancing, the Scottish Reels and Canadian Barn Dances, fostered a true communal spirit, something missing from previous school dances. Something, which sadly is sometimes absent in today’s society.