As you wake up with the fear from your work’s do and head towards the chaos of Mad Friday, Tony Topping reminds us that, sometimes, you do want to remember those Christmas nights out.
Dancing With The Ghosts Of Wigan Casino, 1973
The cold December wind cut through the hole in the window and its icy fingers turned the pages of a discarded newspaper. A tap drip-dropped into a stained and dirty deep square ceramic sink. Somewhere inside the dank walls a rat listened intently then scurried on its merry way. The sun lay low soon to disappear for a day never to be seen again but the date on the newspaper was still plain to see… Friday December 21st 1973…
Inside the Black Bull young men flexed and flowed past the young and not so young women, impressing none but happy all the same. Kisses were found but passion was absent in all but the few lucky ones and alas I wasn’t in that number but hope lingered in the smoky scented air and promise was never far away. The night of the Christmas do was near and a blind date awaited me.
The number 23 dropped me off outside the cavernous Wigan Casino with its red neon light and my platform shoes led me through that entrance door for the first time. I checked my reflection in the mirrored column and hoped it was good enough. A pint of ale to settle my teenage nerves and a nod to the old ones from work sat with their wives. The forty-somethings nodded back though the odd one got up to pat me on the back and asked me did I want a glass of pop before nipping back to the wife laughing.
Check the reflection again, sigh and make my way up the stairs to the balcony seats where the lads had arranged to meet. Some have brought their girlfriends and what does she see in him? Alan’s not arrived yet, he’s bringing his girlfriend and her mate. It’s her mate I’m interested in, sort of a blind date, if we like each other, best get another pint in…
I’m at the bar fidgeting like a dog at a flea convention when Alan walks in with these two girls and I wonder which one is mine, if she likes me, but they both look okay. He sees me at the bar and I pull myself up to my full 5ft 9in (5ft 6in platform-less) and straighten my tie as he walks over. The girls find a seat and check me out from a distance, let’s hope they are short sighted.
“Awreet T?” he sez
“Awreet Al” I say “Which ones mine? If she likes me”
“Dark haired one” he sez “She says your awreet, don’t worry T”
“Did she?” I say “What are they drinking?”
“Cherry B” he sez
“Bloody hell bit posh aren’t they!” I say, fiddling in my pocket to check my money, never bought a Cherry B before and not sure of its exotic value.
We walk over with the drinks, Cherry B not too exotic as it turns out “Awreet” I say “Awreet” they say followed by a silence that last two lifetimes. I gulp half my pint back and it kills me. Gillian, dark hair, looks at me and I do this wide smile with wet eyes, she looks away… “Do you want another Cherry B?” I say “Go on then” she says “I’ll come with you to the bar”
We get up and I walk towards the balcony bar and the bored barman “Come on” she says “We’ll go to the downstairs bar for the drinks” Bit daft I think but oh well. We go down the Casino stairs and as we reach the bottom she pulls me into an alcove and kisses me, and can she kiss. We were in there a while, or so it seemed when one of the forty somethings spots me and shouts to his mates “Look at this mon the randy little bugger!” I’m about to protest my innocence when one of the wives shouts “Good luck to em’ you’re only young once!”
We return to the balcony and I check myself in the mirrored column yet again, my reflection winks back. The night is drawing to an end and the wooden dance floor begins to fill with the old un’s doing their thing. The DJ puts the new Slade single on and I grab Gillian and make for the floor intoxicated by Brown & Bitter and Christmasbut mainly by Brown & Bitter.
As we dance the old un’s make a circle round us and the floor is ours surrounded by smiling booze-filled faces “So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun…”
Then the light grows dimmer and the crowd begins to fade, people smile before vanishing into the ether and their shadows dissolve into the cigarette-burned wooden dance floor, leaving nothing. I look at Alan and he smiles back and waves before he also disappears into that cold starry night…
Christmas 1973… I hope you’re all still dancing somewhere…
Dedicated to Alan Telford and Frank Robinson who sat with me on the young un’s balcony.