Corinne of the School Disco
Steve “Stevo” Mason looked at his watch. He was always checking the time like it might go faster through the power of his gaze. He knew the bell was imminent which meant assembly was next over in the new building. On cue, class finished and he found himself bumping and boring down a busy corridor with his buddy, little Michael “Micky” Nix riding shotgun amongst heaving masses of students. It didn’t pay to go to The Dead Cat day for a crafty smoke for fear of arousing suspicion. The prefects were all in on it but caution was still the better part of valour.
The daily gathering of the great and good took place across the road in a glass fronted block that looked more suited to offices than class rooms. Testosterone-infused teens made their way into the main hall where the usual pantheon of seats had been pre-arranged by the erstwhile school janitor. Steve hated assembly. It was slow torture going through the usual tick boxes of school song, hymns and pupil missives from the headmaster. He would often find himself staring out of the striated glass, back wall of the school. Aston Park was on the other side, an emblem of freedom for the inmates of the academy. Aston Hall formed a Jacobean backdrop with Villa Park further on over the brow of a hill. It was the flashing glare of an annoyed teacher looking back over their shoulder that put him back on the straight and narrow.
Steve was flanked on either side by a seated Micky and an equally inert Dan Slatcher. As prim and neatly turned out as Nixy was with his immaculate blazer and short back and sides haircut, Dan the man was untidy and generally scruffy. He reeked of stale cigarette smoke. They all shared the same glazed over expressions until Mr Checker, the balding geography teacher, stood up from the row of dignitaries sitting on the elevated stage at the front of the hall. There was a small table in front of him with a glass bowl, towels sat underneath awaiting an accident. He was chuntering on about all boys fulfilling their potential when he rolled up his shirt sleeve and thrust his right arm into the prop that was conspicuous with its absence of goldfish. Water cascaded over the sides and onto the wooden floor as the entire room held its collective breath. He milked the moment, using a pregnant pause before explaining that life was what you made of it and the more you put in, the more you got out. Metaphorical light bulbs went on as Steve looked first at Micky, then at Dan. And that was a moment of unusual high drama for daily assembly.
Having filed back out, the three renegades met up at lunchtime in the park. Dan had his box of Rothmans while Micky preferred his red packet of Embassy Number One. Steve struck a Swan Vestas match and lit one of the smokes from his golden pack of Benson and Hedges. Excitement was in the air with the disco due later that evening to be held in the same place as assembly. Whilst King Edwards was a single sex establishment for boys only, there was the foresight to arrange get togethers with the girls’ school that came under the same academic umbrella. Mr Cohen, the progressive RE teacher, organised proceedings with admission strictly ticket only. Agreement was reached to meet up at the park gates at 6.30pm which allowed half an hour’s drinking before going in. Alcohol was banned at dances like this on age grounds so a workaround was needed if attendees wanted to spice things up. Micky promised to bring a bottle of scotch which would be shared around - Dutch courage for the night ahead.
The afternoon passed into oblivion with a heady mix of history, maths and general tediousness. As the clock struck 3.40pm, it was time to go home once more. Changed and ready, Steve, Micky and Dan met again outside the worn, paint-flaked metal gates that marked the entrance to the park next to the school. Micky was holding a Tesco carrier bag. He was wearing a denim shirt and blue jeans. The boys looked about simultaneously, furtively, not wanting to be seen guzzling booze out in the open. As well as avoiding getting into trouble at the disco from being dobbed in by snoops, they didn’t want to invite grief either as the park was inhabited by tramps and weirdos as well as the gangs that roamed about looking for trouble. The trio crouched in bushes a few feet away from the park entrance. The covert undergrowth backed onto gardens of terraced, Victorian houses that dominated Frederick Road. Steve looked back at the rusted, iron railings that bordered the garden of the closest property. There was an old, broken stand-alone bath sitting on the other side of the fence amongst other bric-a-brac in the dirt and weeds. He wondered why people let their plots get into such a mess like that.
Whilst there were people milling about, nobody was close enough to give them any hassle. The magic bottle of “Famous Grouse” was revealed and handed around like a shisha pipe in a footballer’s hotel room. Dan had gone for a t-shirt with a picture of The Jam on the front along with a studded belt and black trousers, both made of leather. Steve took a swig, instantly grimacing, as the liquid set his insides on fire. Micky and Dan giggled. Steve wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, eyes wide, mouth blowing. “What the fuck?” he managed.
“Puts hairs on your chest.” Offered Dan noting his friend’s conservative white shirt and black trousers. Dan considered Steve to be the biggest square he knew.
“Nearly blew my head off.” Steve exclaimed, smiling (he thought it tasted like shit).
“We could always top up with aspirin and coke later.” Micky had a theory that by mixing the coke on sale outside the main hall with the analgesic, this could also get revellers drunk. Funnily enough, supplies of the popular drink were always exhausted by the end of the night; others were aware of this particular ruse.
Half an hour passed, a time filled imbibing fire water, talk of girls, telling stories and taking the piss out of the other students in class. It was just after 7pm when Steve, Micky and Dan finally made their way to the shindig. Steve broke ranks and headed left instead of straight on with his pals when he entered the school building. This took him to a set of stairs – upwards led to science classrooms and laboratories, downwards led to the woodwork and metalwork classrooms along with a cloakroom that separated the teaching areas from a full size snooker table and toilets. It was the latter he needed.
He staggered in, unsteady and decidedly worse for wear already. An older boy standing at the sinks that complemented the urinals looked over at him, shaking his head. “You need to drink lots of water to get yourself sorted, mate.” Steve meandered over to one of the basins, bent his head under a faucet and opened his mouth. He drunk deeply like a man with a canteen in the middle of the Sahara Desert. He took in his bearings unsteadily and made his way passed the billiard table and back up the white stone staircase, his arms outstretched groping the walls for balance. Through the fog in his brain he knew he needed to find his friends again.
Micky and Dan had been joined by several other boys from their year. Standing in a huddle, they looked ready to defend the wagons against any raids from hostiles. Lights pulsed and flashed from the DJ set up on the stage. Ring My Bell by Anita Ward was playing prompting a number of girls to slap handbags down on the floor and jig around them, eyes closed, heads flicking hair back with arms making gentle shapes in the air. The seats from earlier in the day were now stacked high at the back of the room. Rumour had it that several lads had been caught sniffing glue recently whilst hidden away amongst the temporary jungle of chairs. Around the edges of the dance floor, girls chatted, hunched in conversations, some seated, others standing. Steve stood tucked away amongst a chattering cavalcade of pumped up youths. He looked over surreptitiously at an attractive girl with curly, brunette hair. She was wearing a faded, red and blue chequered shirt tied at the midriff with velvet cord. Steve was hopeless with women at this stage of his life. More interested in being a man, he would dive into any activity that advanced his years even if it was only in his head but when it came to the opposite sex he turned to jelly. These were the start of the Thatcher years when men were men and women had balls. Still, he did like the look of this one…
The atmosphere quickly became charged as the opening strains of Pretty Vacant rang out “There’s no point in asking, you’ll get no reply….” Circles of young males formed with legs kicking out stridently in time to the Sex Pistols and their punk incantations. A smaller lad wearing braces and with his skinhead split by a purple plume down the middle tugged Steve on the elbow. “What’s this dance called then geezer?” he shouted over the din. Steve was confused for a second as he had never seen this boy before. He considered the question and replied “The Kick”. The short, abrasive youth started laughing, hands gripping his heaving, pigeon chest. “It’s called Kick the Can, you dick.” Steve felt embarrassed at this lack of important knowledge. He thought this might be a prelude to something more sinister as the lugs that accompanied the loud mouth were all considerably bigger, all wearing fully fledged punk gear with earrings and luminescent multi-coloured, spiky hair. He needn’t have worried as his unexpected adversary wandered back to his friends seemingly uninterested in goading him further. For now.
The night wore on and Steve drifted back to dull sobriety, the lack of whisky resulting in his buzz dissipating over time. It was a mixed bag of songs on the playlist like Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough by Michael Jackson, Tragedy from The Bee Gees and Oliver’s Army by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Steve could take or leave the populist tunes from the charts but he did like the anger and rebellion of the New Wave and Punk movements.
The end of the evening was always signalled by slower songs and gave lads a chance to ask a girl if she would dance with them. Reunited by Peaches and Cream saw the dance floor empty to be filled again by couples slinking on to drift slowly around in tight circles. Steve suddenly felt an impulse. Steeling himself, he brushed through human traffic and found himself standing over the pretty girl he had been staring at earlier. “Fancy a dance? He asked more in hope than expectation. He expected to get a rejection but, for some unknown reason, he felt more confident than he normally did. Maybe this was down to a Scottish Distillery that had sponsored him from afar in the park. The object of his affection looked up coyly, smiled and nodded in agreement.
Steve did a double take inside, his heart racing. Fortunately, instinct took over as he led her by the hand all the time realising he hadn’t got a clue what to do when they started moving together to the music. He had been watching others closely. He slipped his arms around her waist as she put hers around his neck and they shifted around in slow rotation. Steve was terrified in case he tripped her up, self-conscious about where he was placing his feet. This felt good. He could smell her perfume as he looked into enchanting brown eyes. She smiled innocently and Steve felt like the King of the World. The annoying imp from earlier eyed him, sneering, grinning, looking absent then disinterested. After a few minutes, Steve noticed that some of the other couples had moved from slow grinding to full snogging. He deliberated whether to go in for a kiss. The problem was her head was face down on his shoulder by now. He hoped she would raise up from this position allowing him to make his move. Curly hair started to rise, Steve drew breath. Just as he found himself looking at her baby browns once more and, more importantly, at her cherry red lips, the music went off and the lights went on.
Steve sighed inside. It was her turn to take his hand as she led him back to waiting friends. Steve looked at her sheepishly and asked “Can I see you again?” She reached into a glittery handbag and took out a notebook and pen. She scrawled something on it, smiled serenely and glided out with her entourage. Steve looked at the folded piece of paper and opened it. The message read “Corinne” along with a landline number. He looked across as the diminutive Nazi glowering at him as he drifted out along with his gang of punks. As they disappeared through the exit doors, Steve stuck his two fingers up. Just as Mr Cohen looked up from his turntable.
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