Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Swimming and Maypole Dancing

So. As I suspected would be the case, they have cancelled the Great North Swim for this year. They did try to reschedule but the blue-green algae are still there, lurking ominously and poisonously in the water. Grrrr.

It's been a learning curve for me about how I handle disappointment and really, it's shown me that I haven't had that much disappointment in my life. As I mentioned before, I've known grief and tragedy - but those are different.

My first - and most major - disappointment happened in 1963.

In Leeds in the fifties and sixties there was a huge event called Children's Day. It was a huge event which was attended by about 50,000 people. There was a parade, and a Queen of Children's Day, and then lots of displays in the large open-air Arena in Roundhay Park, watched by massive crowds sitting on Hill Sixty, where the hillside had thoughtfully been cut into large steps and then grassed over to provide lots of seating for people to watch events in the Arena.

Here's the link to Children's Day in 1957. If you watch for a while, you will see the maypole dancing. Over a thousand primary school children would take part.

Several years later, in July 1963, it was to be my turn.

I don't think I was chosen for my natural aptitude for dance - I didn't have any! - but more for my good memory and hence for my ability to learn the steps and the routines. I remember the Head Teacher coming and taking me, with a few others, out of class to practise, because we had been chosen as Gledhow Primary School's Maypole Dancing Team. Wooohooo! Or, as we would have said in those days, Hurrah!

I was six and just about to be seven, and ready for this responsibility. We all saw it as a great honour.

We practised for weeks, in the school hall, on the shiny wooden parquet floor with the lingering smell of the school dinners. Maypole Dancing requires the dancers, holding ribbons, to weave in and out of each other around the maypole, whilst the ribbons make brightly coloured patterns. Then the whole dance is done again in reverse, to undo the ribbons. I can still hear the crackly gramophone record echoing in the hall, with all the PE equipment hoisted up out of the way.

And if you have - as Leeds had, in 1961 - forty maypoles involved on a huge grassy arena, then the whole thing looks very spectacular. Our school was to provide just one of the forty. And we were the dancers who had been chosen! We knew the true meaning of happiness.

We were to have special costumes, too - the boys in white shirt and shorts (boys always wore shorts in those days) and the girls in white cotton dresses, just like in the link above to the 1957 Pathe News film.

My dress had what I called a "sticky-out" skirt, reminiscent of the big skirts of the 1950s, because this was before the days of the 1960s straight-up-and-down shift dress. It was a brilliant white with a little lacy pattern on it. I had a white ribbon in my hair. I had new sandals. I had sparkling white socks. I felt girly and pretty and, for once, able to forget my new glasses. I was in Clothes Heaven.

Children's Day took a lot of planning. We rehearsed and rehearsed, so we would be step-perfect and not let ourselves, or our school, down. Here's a short clip of some modern-day children doing the kind of thing we did. We used to dance to traditional tunes such as Lillibullero and Pop Goes the Weasel.

I can still remember skipping round like that, and weaving in and out to make the patterns, and how we had to take it in turns to sit cross-legged in the middle to stop the pole from falling over. If you needed me to, with a bit of rehearsal I could do it all again in a couple of days' time.

The day dawned. We put our costumes on and waited to be collected and taken to Roundhay Park.

Then, just before midday, there was a terrific storm. I still remember seeing the darkness of the clouds, and the torrential rain.

Soon afterwards, we got a phone call. Children's Day had been cancelled.

To me - and to thousands and others, no doubt - it seemed like the end of the world. I took off my useless white dress and I hated my new sandals and my new socks and my white hair-ribbon.

There wasn't to be a "next year". There was too much disappointment and too much effort had been wasted.

In Leeds, Children's Day never happened again.

Writing this post, I have come to understand something. That July day in 1963 was the last time I enjoyed dressing up for a special occasion. Ever since, I have hated special clothes, hated dressing up, feared any event with IMPORTANT hanging over it. And now I know why.

But I'm older now - much older! - and I've learned at least one thing along the way, and that's to get up and get on with it. Tomorrow morning, I'll be swimming again.


Anonymous Ruth said...

How sad that one (hugely disappointing) cancellation should have had the effect of forever blighting your potential enjoyment of dressing up for and going to special occasions. Every woman should be able happily to participate in wearing a sticky-out dress/skirt. But perhaps not a white one if they are over the age of about 10. Unless it's a wedding dress.

8:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the swim: Bravo! ... as we would have said in the 60s.

9:03 am  

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