PLEASE EXCUSE WRITING – EYESIGHT BAD…
…that was how Nancy O’Connor ended her first letter to me. In fact her writing is all in block capitals and on ruled paper, so it was very easy to read.
She had heard about my project from a gentlemen I chatted to the other day (Mr B ; he of the healing hands). He gave me her three pager, packed with info and memories including a poem she wrote thirteen years ago about the Rink and how she met her husband there. In it she describes how her prospective asked her to dance even though he couldn’t, so they just shuffled around the perimeter.
“I will take lessons he said to me
don’t you worry just wait and see”
When she wrote the poem her husband was still alive. After a few more lines it concludes
“We’ve been together through laughter and tears
but he still can’t dance after forty six years!”
How many dance halls have inspired poetry I wonder. They are certainly vessels of memory. Even though the building no longer exists physically it seems to have persisted as a collective ideal of what the community used to represent, and what many it seems still wish it did.
Nancy knows exactly where she was when she heard of the death of local band leader Benny Nelson; she was outside her second haunt – the Lex cinema. She was shocked.
She has other details that add depth to a picture I have gleaned from others. Her and her friends didn’t want to carry purses around in the ballroom so they rolled up their cloakroom tickets, flattened them out and pushed them under their signet rings. Sorted.
I’ve seen a couple of uninspiring photo’s of the outside of the Rink and she backs that up…it looked like the exterior of a garage or an aircraft hanger she says;
“any stranger passing – they could have had no idea of the tremendous pleasure the inside held for all that went there”
I haven’t met Nancy but she sounds like she was a bit of a girl in her day. She tells me she was the first lady to go to the Rink in a polo neck sweater. Apparently it caused a real stir. Every now and again girls would stop her and ask where she bought it…and how much it cost. Within a few weeks there were others dotted about the crowd. Nancy was a fashion pioneer, and she must have known that her polo neck sweater was a symptom of the change taking place which would very soon usurp the dominance of the big bands that she so loved. The rebels in polo necks and ‘sloppy joe’ tee shirts had more in common with beat culture, the rise of skiffle and the arrival of Bob Dylan et al. The times they were certainly a’changin.
I wrote back to Nancy thanking her for her lovely letter and asked if she would like to chat to me in front of the camera one day. She wrote back by return. Twelve years ago she would have jumped at my offer she says, but it seems she is a less inclined these days. She does however give me lots more info about the Rink days and offers to lend me a photo she has of the outside plus, loan me an LP of Eric Delaney who she saw there many years ago. I of course accept her offer, though I am faced with the problem of copyright. Like so much of this material, it’s not always easy to find the publisher after such a length of time. The law has recently changed so it remains with the performer for 70 years, which means that although some of the recordings I have are quite old they often don’t fall beyond that time frame, presenting me with a bit of a dilemma.
Nancy tells me her memories are pretty much all that keep her going these days. To me that sounds a little sad – but I get the impression from her sparky prose that it’s a happy place, so I guess it makes sense to stay there.