During the early years of World War 2 regular “socials” were held on Saturday evenings in the Parish Room at Mount Pleasant, and local people of all ages could enjoy a night out without going far from home. As children we would congregate outside the doors before 6 pm waiting to be let in. Getting inside the Parish Room was not entirely straightforward because of the blackout precautions that were being strictly observed at the time. Before opening the doors all lights inside were switched off. We stumbled up the steps and stood in the dark until everyone was in and the doors closed before the lights were turned on again. This ritual had to be repeated several times as fresh batches of revellers rolled up. It seemed quite exciting at the time although I have sometimes wondered if it was really necessary.
Once inside the evening followed a regular pattern. The youngest children made eye contact and began chasing each other around. Some of the more adventurous would climb onto the Parish Room stage, do a lot of squealing and shouting and then jump off again. The rest of us sat round talking while waiting for some activity to be organised. The only person with enough authority to do this was Mr. Dawson the parish priest at St. Luke’s, and quite often he didn’t turn up for some time, so this part of the evening was a hit and miss affair. When he arrived we played a few party games like “A –Hunting we will go!” and “Spinning the Plate.” For anyone unfamiliar with the latter, someone had to stand in the middle of a circle, spin a plate, (in this case a dartboard from the downstairs room) and call out the name of a person who had to dash forward and catch the plate before it dropped or else pay a forfeit. This invariably involved kissing. It was a simple game affording endless opportunities for horseplay. Mr. Dawson was very enthusiastic and would stand on the dartboard to stop it spinning so that he could extract the forfeit. Incidentally, I have some recollection of his ministry at St. Luke’s coming to an abrupt end when he eloped with a pretty teenage parishioner. This was totally unexpected, causing quite a stir, but I believe they were happily married and went to live at a place called Tolleshunt d’Arcy. I wish now that I had been old enough to take more interest at the time.
However the lively Mr. Dawson always brought along his radiogram and a pile of records for dancing, the main purpose of the evening. Before it started a mysterious powder was sprinkled on the floor to improve the surface. This was the signal for a handful of daredevils to test it out by taking a run and sliding as far as they could. There was an element of competition in this pastime and stern measures were often required to restrain them before the dancing proper could commence.
The dances and the music were always the same – the St. Bernard Waltz, the Valetta, Barn Dance, and Military Two-step. In this dance you had to salute smartly at one point and we all complied proudly like the armed forces on parade. A great favourite was the Palais Glide, which had been invented at the Hammersmith Palais, a famous London dance hall, but at Mount Pleasant, or “Bottom’ end” as we called it there was no such fancy name. It was simply the “Polly Glide” executed in long rows with a lot of stamping and leg kicking. Once the music started it was amazing how rapidly several rows materialised and swung into action. Another popular number was the “Hokey –Cokey.” When it was announced we quickly formed circles and stood with bated breath, poised ready for the unknown artist on the record to start issuing instructions. On the command “You put your right hand in!” we were off –wheeling, plunging and gesticulating with increasing fervour until the final “prestissimo” section. After that, everyone was ready to sit down for a bit.
I seem to recall refreshments being available during the interval. In wartime these usually consisted of half a finger roll spread with potted meat or salmon paste – products supplied in jars so tiny that it was hardly worth taking the lid off! Needless to say it was always spread very thinly. There might also be an eighth part of a small pork pie and a paper case containing a bun with icing and a few hundreds and thousands on top. A cup of tea was provided to help it down. It must have made a heck of a lot of washing-up!
Sometimes they held a raffle, the prize being a bunch of grapes or bananas, or occasionally a chicken – all commonplace inexpensive items now, but at that time they were almost unobtainable luxuries.
At about half past seven there would be a loud knock on the door announcing the arrival of Harry, a young man who lived nearby, but was unfortunately confined to a wheelchair. Darkness descended before the doors were opened and a group of shadowy figures carried him inside. When the lights went on again Harry would be sitting in the corner with a good view of everything. As serried ranks of Polly Gliders paraded past calling out “Hello Harry!” he smiled happily and acknowledged the greetings with a wave of the hand like a general reviewing the troops. For a while he was the most important person in the room.
The later part of the evening was devoted to dances like the quickstep and fox trot, which were a bit too sophisticated for the younger ones. However Harold Smith and his wife Nancy was a very accomplished pair of ballroom dancers. When they took the floor most people watched with admiration as they moved around the room with complete mastery and assurance.
A few later arrivals had been to the pub before coming on to the Parish Room. Among them there would occasionally be a local serviceman in uniform on weekend leave. It was customary to say; “hello” to him even if not well acquainted in recognition that here was someone “doing his bit” for King and country.
Older members of the community usually put in an appearance towards the end of the proceedings when they came to escort the children home. It would probably only have been about half past nine, but late nights were not encouraged, and we’d all had a good time.
If it were possible I would like to go back and re-live one of these “socials”. As a 71-year old I would undoubtedly be sitting at the side observing with interest how everyone enjoyed themselves, and I’m sure I would be smiling. With a bit of luck I might even win a bunch of grapes!