Six months on from my first visit to The Rendezvous, the nightclub at the far end of town, I'm still excited as I get ready. My first visit was on the Saturday after my sixteenth birthday and I haven't missed a weekend since. The music is very up to date - some disco, some rock, and new stuff, punk it’s called - and the boys from different schools and areas are much more interesting than the ones from my school. It costs seventy-five pence to get in but that includes supper; pizza or a bowl of pasta. Even though dad insists on picking me up and walking me home at the end of the evening he waits on the other side of the road so that if I come out with a boy (it hasn't happened yet) he will wander on ahead, so that's ok.
It's 11.30 and the night out is nearly over as the DJ begins playing the ‘slow ones’. The sweaty girls who have been furiously bumping, twisting and hustling all evening have now been joined by spotty, gangly youths who until now been propping up the walls. Couples cling together as if their lives depend upon it, including Carole and the 18 year-old who has asked her to dance. She’s used now to these end-of-night clinches. The music slows down, you’re approached by a boy, you dance to a couple of ballads with his arms around you and then he moves in with an open mouth and probing tongue. If you’re lucky you don’t have to fight off wandering hands. If you’re luckier he’s had some practice at kissing and you don’t feel like you want to spit the minute it starts. The track changes; 10 CCs I’m Not in Love comes on. ‘Here we go’ she thinks, quickly making sure there’s no pizza stuck between her teeth.
As I walk through the high street on my way to meet Carole, I remember my one and only visit to The Rendezvous. Still in my de-mob suit, although it was the early 1950s, I'd, against my better judgement, accompanied Fred to the club. A shy man, disillusioned with my post-war opportunities, or lack of them, I found it difficult to communicate with women at the best of times, much preferring to stay home with a book. But Fred insisted he not only needed Dutch courage to enter the Crooner competition but my support as well. It was as bad as I imagined. The place was full of confident young women who seemed bemused by and dismissive of me as I stood alone in the corner. Bolstered by some whiskey Fred relaxed and after the competition, in which he comes third, his advances towards a pretty brunette are happily received. The brunette - Polly - had a sister, Helen, prettier still with a blonde wave across the front of her glorious crown of brown hair. But my shyness coupled with alcohol induced confusion left me unable to join in any conversation. The night ends with Fred on a promise of a date with Polly and me returning home to the latest Ernest Hemmingway, which suddenly held less appeal than it had earlier in the evening.
After collecting my jacket from the cloakroom I weave my way through the still semi-dark nightclub accompanied by the final tracks of the night. I have to squeeze past a couple who seem stuck together and don't know, or care, that they are blocking the passageway to the exit. Standing by the door is Peter, my dance partner. I didn't expect him to be there and I'm sure I'm blushing. A little later I'm out on the street but not before we have another not bad kiss - ‘six and a half out of ten for snogging’ I'll tell the girls on Monday - and I've agreed to meet Peter on Tuesday evening outside the cinema. My first real date outside of The Rendezvous. How exciting. How scary.
It was five years before Frank saw Helen again. Fred and Polly tried to get them together on numerous occasions but Helen, as she told Frank later, thought he was 'rude and boring.' In the interim he had become even more reclusive. He longed to be brave enough to approach women and dreamt of having a wife and a happy family life. But even if he had been able to summon up the courage to venture beyond the confines of work and home he felt sure he'd never meet anyone to match the beautiful woman he'd met at The Rendezvous. So when, miraculously, he is given a second chance at Polly and Fred’s wedding he behaves in a way he never thought possible; not only approaching Helen at the first opportunity but making himself talk, clumsily flirt even, telling her how much he is attracted to ‘pretty half blondes'. His bravery rewarded when she agrees to see him again.
Enjoying my cigarette and pretending interest in the window display of a chandler’s shop I am still overwhelmed by my good fortune in life. I glance towards the nightclub entrance. Here she comes; my darling girl, my other darling girl, for our own Saturday night rendezvous. She’s on her own but looks happy, is glowing in fact. She beams at me, a sight worth missing Parkinson for. She runs, no skips, across the road, kisses my cheek and starts to tell me about her evening. I let her talk, listen and ask the right questions. My beloved daughter hugs me and skips a few steps further down the road. I smile at how young she still is, my little girl for a while longer at least.
‘I’m going to have toast when we get in, dad,’ she says ‘dancing always makes me hungry’.
‘Good idea, chicken, I think I’ll join you.' I reply.
And with that happy thought we link arms and head towards home, to home and Helen.