We would position ourselves on the road about seven o’clock, with thumbs out to every car that passed. It was important to start early, as not everyone would give a lift to two teenage girls standing at the side of the road with a hopeful look on their faces. Also there were not that many cars on the road in rural Ireland in the 1960s.
Sometimes an hour would pass between cars, but we never gave up hope, we were determined to get to Pontoon Ballroom to see our favourite showbands. My friend Chris and I had absolutely no idea how we would get home; the important thing was to get there. We lived about an hour from Pontoon, so getting a taxi was out of the question, and anyway, our funds would not have stretched that far.
We were lucky hitchers and nearly always met somebody who would bring us home. On the odd occasion when our luck ran out we had an old reliable to count on. Mickey was a middle-aged man with a Morris Minor who had a ‘thing’ for Chris, and if the worst came to the worst she would have the last dance with Mickey and guarantee our lift home. I would be warned to say I was spending the night at her house, so we both got out of the car together and she would avoid further amorous advances. Oh, the cruelty of teenagers.
Micky’s hopes were dashed every time, but he never gave up and could always be relied on as a last resort. In later years my friend’s sister, Mary, got married to a man with a car, Tom. Mary lived next door to me, and she and Tom were kind enough to bring us to see the showbands. I remember especially one night we went to see Brendan Bowyer in the Royal Ballroom in Castlebar, and Tom bought me my first alcoholic drink. It was a Babycham, in a stemmed glass with a picture of a fawn on the side. With the bubbles tickling my nose I felt so grown up and sophisticated.
My uncle Brendan always went to the Royal Ballroom and taught me all the steps of the quickstep, foxtrot, and the old-time waltz. We went regularly to the Pavilion Ballroom in Westport on St Stephen’s night. All the lads arrived home from England for Christmas and they stood out a mile with their drainpipe trousers and winkle-picker shoes. They had all the latest moves too and taught us how to jive and do the twist.
The girls wanted to dance with those lads, and often a fight broke out among the locals over some girl or other. If you were lucky, the lad you fancied would ask you to go to the mineral bar for a bottle of orange and a packet of custard creams.
Another time, when I was going out with this nice fella, I missed my lift home. We had to spend the night in his granny’s house. She was an elderly lady, and we were terrified she would come down the stairs and find us. So we spent the whole night sitting bolt upright on her sitting-room couch, and jumping at every creak that old house made.
I got the first bus home the next morning, all the while racking my brains as to what I would tell my parents. I was saved by the most unexpected source – the sudden arrival of my uncle and family from America.
The whole house was upside down and in the bedlam I managed to sneak upstairs unnoticed. For the only time in my life, I was delighted to hear my mother shout: “Are you going to sleep all day or what! Get up and give a hand, the Yanks will soon be here.”
And as for the lad I spent the night sitting beside in his granny’s – well we are still sitting together 51 years later.
Maura Flynn, Westport.
First published in ‘From The Candy Store to The Galtymore’.
Ward9writers is a Mayo-wide writing group. Contributions from Ward9writers members appear once a month in The Mayo News.