Memories of Courting at City Hall

I was sixteen in 1958. It was a good time to be sixteen. I was a telephonist for BT and we held our annual dances in City Hall. There were crowds of young people and we danced the night away, the lot of us. They decked the whole place out with balloons and paper decorations and laid chairs down both sides of the hall. The girls would come in and take a seat and if you were lucky, a handsome man would come over and ask you to dance. If it was someone you weren’t keen on, all of a sudden you’d look down at the floor and get very interested in your shoes. It was grand being asked to dance, but the best part of the evening was the ‘ladies’ excuse me’, which gave you the chance of a lifetime. You could tap any man on the shoulder, even if he was dancing with someone else and ask him to dance. There was no point in being a wallflower, you had to grab the opportunity while you had it. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, take your places for a quickstep.’ They had a dance band, The Clavitones, who played all sorts, from waltzes, military two-step to the Gay Gordons and the hokey cokey. Bob Williams, the chemist, used to play saxaphone with them. The slow dances were my favourite, though. You’d eye someone across the room and wink at them and they’d come over and you’d dance with their arm around you and it felt wonderful. Everyone got a bit more forward as the evening went on. At some point you might go outside with them for a kiss and a cuddle. The dances finished about ten thirty. It was nothing like going home at two in the morning like you might do today. It was a lot tamer than that. If you met someone and they wanted to take you home, you’d wonder if they would hold your hands or your arm might brush their arm, which was everything. If it went really well, you might get a kiss at the gate. Of course, I lived with my parents back then and my dad would wait up until I got back. We had a dog and he’d use the dog as an excuse to stay out in the garden when he was expecting me back, which was his way of saying ‘Come on in now, Josie’. I remember at one dance this gorgeous man came in through the door of City Hall and later in the evening, when he asked me if I wanted to dance, I said ‘do I?’ Our first dance was a quickstep. He was tall, and handsome too. We courted for three years before I married him. We went to lots of dances at City Hall in that time, and to the cinema too at The Regent. I remember he took me to see The Summer Place – even now when I hear the songs it takes me right back there. I remember being in there in the dark of the cinema and his knee touched mine – talk about the vapours. We married at Chasewater and had a reception in the village, bought a cottage at Greenbottom and we had our twins there twelve months later. When you’ve had a good marriage and you met your man at a dance, you’ve had what lots of people would love to have. You can’t imagine anything better. But that’s me, I’m an old romantic.