Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Steve Lamb - The school disco

(June 01, 2017)

The school disco

“Mr Lamb, are you still in lodgings in Thomas Street?” the Headmaster called after me as I was passing his office on my way out of the main entrance at the end of the school day.

“Yes, just the other side of the council estate, is there a problem?”

“No, not at all, I was checking as you are the only single man on the staff living locally and I want someone to stay on after school for a couple of hours in a fortnight’s time.”

“Of course I can help out. What’s the occasion?”

“The prefects are arranging a dance after school for the younger pupils and their peers in our partner schools. They will do a good job but we need staff representation as well.”

 

There was more going on in his mind than he was disclosing. The day when the three local secondary schools would merge was looming and apparently the three headmasters were convinced that there was trouble ahead. Perhaps little could be done about ingrained rivalry between older pupils. For many years they had been encouraged by teachers and parents to compete against each other in rugby and netball with a seriousness that was out of proportion to the real importance of their games. Nevertheless the boys and girls in the junior classes surely could be encouraged to rebuild friendships from their primary schools and make the transition to comprehensive education more relaxed. To this end the grammar school prefects had been instructed to put on a school disco for the first and second years of the three schools. It would be held in the grammar school hall from four to six o’clock and free buses would be arranged to ensure everybody got home safely.

 

45 years ago popular culture held little authority in a grammar school and preparations for a dance were minimal. No decorations or trimmings would be allowed in the hall; pupils had to wear their school uniforms; there was no DJ with professional decks, just a Dansette record player with the sixth formers’ records amplified through additional speakers: all very different to the school discos enjoyed or endured at the end of my teaching career. The prefects were in charge but each school nominated a member of staff to attend the disco while the senior staff took the opportunity to hold a planning meeting in the head’s study. I think they feared being called in like riot police when the inevitable battle broke out.

The sixth form girls had done their best. Heavy curtains, reduced lighting and music playing loudly successfully created an unusual atmosphere. This was at odds with everything else represented by the wood panelled hall, the formal furniture, the lectern and the memorial to past students who had given their lives in twentieth century wars. The youngsters looked daunted as they arrived and you could tell exactly which school each came from. Only the grammar school insisted on full uniform, the others wore diluted versions marked only by a wider variety of colours and with jumpers instead of blazers. Back in Birmingham the differences would have been extreme. You would have seen the influence of the Bay City Rollers and Slade with baggy trousers, braces and horizontally striped tank tops if the uniform rules had been relaxed. Hair styles would have been trendier with mullets and spiky cuts. Life was less sophisticated away from the city in the valley where I taught and childhood was still just that, not a strange, warped reflection of the adult world. As I mused on fashion the mingling started with boys and girls delightedly recognising old friends and trying to talk above the sound of the music. I can remember the records even now.

It was ‘Ernie’ – the tale of the fastest milkman in the west – that got the party going when suddenly they united in reciting Benny Hill’s ballad. Children can learn narrative poetry so easily especially if it makes them laugh. Then the dancing started with a mad gyration to Slade’s ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ – an English teacher’s nightmare. Again you could hardly hear the record because the children shouted the lyrics while they danced. Again and again that happened. ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’ was the favourite and Little Jimmy Osmond was played many times. I can recall being a bit surprised when Chuck Berry started singing ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ with a massed choir supporting. I couldn’t tell whether the singers understood the suggestiveness of the words or not. Best not even to think about it was my conclusion. By now all normal school inhibitions were disappearing and teachers were dragged into the melee. “Sir dance with me. Sir, sir, come on.” When Alice Cooper sang ‘School’s Out’ the volume of vocal support reached its climax.

Now the youngsters looked as if they came from one school. All sense of formal uniform had disappeared as the temperature had risen, the tempo of the dancing had increased and blazers, ties and sweaters had been thrown aside. There were grins of delight on all ruddy-cheeked faces. Laughing, chanting dancers advanced and retreated to the beat of the music. When Donny Osmond sang ‘Puppy Love’ only girls stayed on the dance floor and there was a rush for the squash and biscuits. The sixth form girls looked proudly at the party they had thrown. It seems so little now but as schools and society were more disciplined then it felt like a wild holiday from the rules - carefully restricted to the space within the walls of the dimly lit assembly hall.

Six o’clock soon arrived and the senior staff emerged to usher pupils to their buses. The thought of returning to my digs was not appealing after this storm of energy. I didn’t hesitate to say yes to an invitation to the pub for a quick drink to cool down. Gareth and I walked into the small lounge of the pub on the far side of the village and he went to the bar gesturing me to a corner seat. He was from the next valley but he knew the landlord well. He had taught his older boy who was working on an Israeli kibbutz for a year. When he brought our drinks over he was grinning like one of the dancers in the disco we had just left.

“You’ll never guess,” he said. “These drinks are free. It’s our lucky night. Somebody in the bar has won first prize in a Stella Artois competition. They’re going to Brussels for a free holiday and brewery tour. The pub has £50 to treat regulars. Arthur decided to keep it quiet so the pub isn’t swamped by freeloaders who never ordinarily come here. There’s a free bar tonight until the money runs out. Arthur reckons he’ll give away between 150 and 200 pints. There’ll be sore heads tomorrow for the early drinkers.”

And a lot of long faces on the regulars who arrive after the £50 is spent,” I laughed as we emptied our glasses and ‘forced’ ourselves to have another: just reward for services to popular culture and the introduction of comprehensive education.

Steve Lamb, June 2017

Steve Lamb's new novel, Search, is serlialised in Cymru Culture.
Chapters 1 and two of Search are linked here.

If you enjoyed this, you'll also enjoy Steve's previous stories:

     Exams, then and now; March 2017
The rugby tour
; December 2016
The sponsored walk
; September 2016
A typical day
; June 2016
The school eisteddfod; March 2016
The school play; December 2015

Corridor duty; September 2015
End of an era; June 2015
Teacher training; March 2015
"... the best thing that happened to me in school"; December 2014
The punishment; September 2014
The interview; June 2014

Steve Lamb is a retired teacher who lives in south Wales. In a career spanning more than forty years he worked as a teacher, local authority school improvement officer and inspector of education services for children and young people.

 

Steve Lamb - 2014 Steve Lamb - 1972
Steve Lamb ... now  ... and then (1972)

 

cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan:
Caregos Cyf., 2017

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