When to the days ...

Whem I woke up this morning I noticed a strange blue mark on the back of my hand. Sort of abstract representation of a fish! Brief moment of panic before yesterday came back in a flash, for yesterday we had put up our Pictures and Poems stall in Ullapool, on the pier, for the Rotary Club's annual market. To go off the pier and come back without getting charged an entry fee one needed to be branded; just as, in the old days, you were similarly branded for leaving and re-entering a dance hall.

As I lay in bed sipping my early morning cuppa my mind went back to Saturday nights at the De Grey Ballroom, York, c. 1953. Groups of young men - R.A.F. National Servicemen in my case, and well primed before coming with the help of a couple of nerve strengthening ales - conversing with each other along one side of the beautifully polished, well sprung floor, and groups of young women made up and dressed up like their Hollywood idols similarly occupied along the other side. When the band struck up another number - quickstep, waltz, foxtrot or very occasional tango or jive, if you felt you could acquit yourself reasonably well at it you walked casually across to ask the question of she who you had noticed, surely had been noticing you. Of course you always dreaded the receipt of a negative and the empty handed return walk, doing your damnedest to look as if you hadn't wanted to dance with her anyway. Very difficult to maintain dispassion when colouring up as red as the proverbial beetroot. But the supreme moment came before the last waltz, generally Moon River as I recall. The lights were always dimmed for that. The whole idea was to get your chosen lady on to the floor (just to dance, this was 1953, remember!) then, as the lights came up, to ask her whether you could walk her home. Funny how you didn't mind the three or four miles through a slow rain , coatless in your one and only drape shape suit, in exchange for the briefest of kisses at her garden gate, then the walk / run back to miss the last bus, then walk another twelve miles to your camp billet. Ah, then the best of a bad job. Congregating round the central coke stove for a black-baked potato and a cigarette or two with your fellow airmen, outdoing each other with fictitious tales of post dance boy/girl derring-do.

But yesterday's Ullapool Rotary was great. We made some money, talked to some nice strangers, watched and listened to the pop band with its talented girl singer and the marching Junior Pipe Band of Ullapool and the littler girls with their energetic highland sword dancing etc. I applauded with the rest as a young man called Billy emerged from the sea, having swum across Loch Broom from Altnaharry, and as the racing skiffs finished, exhausted, to tumultuous cheers. The weather had been awful all week but yesterday it relented. What a day. Thank you Ian and your overworked fellow Rotarians. We will, as the General said, return.

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