Farmers Don’t Dance
By Howard Matthew
There was lots of sunshine on that day. Buttercups ‘Do you like butter?’ and Rosemary for remembrance? I don’t remember very well but on that day I do remember that we walked hand in hand along the riverbank amongst the buttercups. She was carrying a large wild rhubarb plant which she’d carefully chosen as we walked along the path. There were, and still are I think, lots of them near the river. She had stopped and chose the biggest one she could find. It was hot, really hot, that day so she used the plant as a sunshade.
‘I’m going for a paddle. Are you coming?’ she asked as she folded her dress into the legs of her knickers. She tossed off her shoes and walked down to the river’s edge. Over the years floodwater had cut out channels in the sandstone riverbed so it was possible to walk over them when the river was low in the long, hot summer months. The water at the far side was only a few inches deep. She splashed her legs a couple of times and then she did the most amazing thing. She began to dance and sing ‘Singing in the Rain’. Not only did she know all the words but all the dance steps as well. When to splash in all the right places and when to use the wild rhubarb as an umbrella. It was amazing.
Whilst she was drying herself off I picked a blade of grass to chew and lay down on my back looking up into the gently drifting clouds. As I heard her climbing up the banking a sudden thought came to me. ‘Where did you learn to sing and dance like that?’ I asked as she sat beside me and finished drying her feet.
‘Nellie Luke’s,’ she said. ‘She runs a dance class. I’ve been going there for years!’
When she’d finished rearranging her clothing and put her shoes on, I said, ‘I’ve got a proposition for you.’ She rolled over on top of me, took the blade of grass from my mouth and looking into my eyes said, ‘And what might that be?’
‘Well, I’m sure you know that the annual Agricultural Show is on the first weekend in September.’ She nodded then rolled off me. ‘And Walter Scott’s travelling fair arrives at the same time.’
‘So what?’ She sat up with a frown on her face.
‘Every year on Saturday night, the floor of the dodgems becomes a temporary dance floor and the highlight of the evening is a Jive competition. After seeing you dance I think we should enter.’
She stood deep in thought. ‘How do I know you can dance?’ she asked.
Now I played my Ace card. ‘You know I have two sisters – they’re a little bit older than me. They are absolutely crazy about Rock ‘n’ Roll, or Jive as the Americans call it. They have pictures of Elvis Presley, Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard all over their bedroom walls. They both loved dancing but sadly didn’t have any male partners to practise with so that’s where I came in. I was dragged into their practice sessions in the front room and after a few weeks I knew all the steps’.
‘Come here,’ I said as I held her hand and gave her a quick demonstration. We did the ‘Roll-Up’, the ‘Back-pass’, the ‘Nutmeg’, the ‘Hip Swing’, all the special steps my sisters had shown me.
When we finished I said, ‘Is that OK?’ She smiled. ‘That’s OK,’ she said and we danced barefoot on the grass all afternoon.
It was the middle of August and we had only two weeks to get our act together. We practised in the empty storage shed at the bottom of her garden. She had borrowed her brother’s record player and that place gave us some really good echo – just right for Rock ’n’ Roll. We practised for hours. It was hard work but she was the brains behind it all. She was meticulous in every detail. The dance lasted exactly three and a half minutes, with a two-bar finger-clicking introduction. We danced to Buddy Holly, Elvis, Little Richard. Even her dad contributed with some wild American stuff he’d picked up in his youth, from some visiting GIs. Her mum made some cool lemonade and gave some cool advice. And then we were ready.
In September the fair arrived as usual. Thursday was the first night so we went on a reconnoitre. It was about this time I was beginning to get nervous as I eyed up the empty dodgems track. She was more practical than me, doing some mental measurements.
‘That’s fine’, she said, ‘plenty of room and the floor is not as smooth as I thought it would be’.
‘Smooth!’ I said. ‘Smooth! There are more things to worry about than the state of the floor! Do you realise that Saturday night is Show Night? This place will be full of farmers – hundreds of them. I bet people won’t even notice us. Get them all dancing and we won’t stand a chance!’
‘Don’t be silly’, she said. ‘Farmers don’t dance.’
And she kissed me on the nose.
On Friday it was our dress rehearsal. She looked amazing. She wore a bright yellow leotard with a red skirt that flared out when she spun round. To finish off she had yellow socks and red ballet shoes and her long, silky hair was tied in a ponytail. My costume, they all agreed, was the ideal complement. I already had a black leather jacket and a pair of black drainpipe jeans. I borrowed some crepe-soled ‘Beetle Crushers’ from my mate’s brother. A bright red T-shirt and some canary yellow socks, compliments of the local market, added the final touch.
On the big night I turned up early with the gang from school. We hung around the slot machines and I got more nervous by the minute. She finally arrived around 8:45 – a quarter hour before it was time to dance. Before I could say anything she dragged me by the hand until we found a space between the candy floss van and the shooting gallery.
‘We need to warm up’, she said.
‘No, for the dance silly!’
We did some stretching and bending like we’d practised and finished with a Roll-up. As I had explained to her, ‘When you’re dancing with your left hand in the girl’s right hand and she curls inward until she ends up with her back to you with your arm across her waist, that’s a Roll-up!’
And that was when she kissed me. Now I don’t remember how long that kiss lasted. It could have been two seconds, it could have been two minutes, for all I know it could have been half an hour. However long it was, from now on the rest was just a dream.
I heard the announcement for the dance off. We climbed the steps onto the Dodgem Track. I don’t know have many couples there were. I didn’t care. The music was ‘Come on Everybody’ by Eddie Cochran. We’d practised that one to death. After plenty of ‘Roll-ups’, ‘a Nutmeg’, a variety of ‘Hip Swings’ and ‘Back Passes’ we finished to a sound of applause and whistles – and yes, we won! I spent the next hour with my arms around her in a dodgem car using up all the free rides we’d won as a prize.
After what seemed an eternity, her mum and dad arrived to pick her up. She said goodbye and gave me a kiss on the cheek. After that, I met the lads from school and we went to the ‘Royal Oak’ and sat round the back. Somebody’s brother sneaked us a bottle of brown ale and I sat with the others thinking, ‘What a night!’
The following week I went away on holiday with Mum and Dad. When I came back she was spending time with one of the lads from the next village. She still spoke to me when we went back to school, she always smiled when she saw me, but we never went out with each other again. At the end of that year her Dad got a new job and the family moved somewhere down south – Essex, I think.
‘Mr Rawcliffe. Mr Rawcliffe, you’ve been dozing off again. Here’s your tea!’ Susan, my favourite Care Assistant, brought me back to earth. ‘What have you been dreaming about?’ she asks.
‘Oh! Buttercups, romance, but mainly sunshine.’