The Ball of '75

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Plans for the annual ball went awry.

Submitted: July 06, 2019

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Submitted: July 06, 2019

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Old codgers used to refer to time as the enemy, and they was right, you too will find the older you get the more you realise it. With time comes change and those same old codgers will tell you that change isn’t always for the better. Back in the day, in our village there was a store, a post office, two churches and a seventy-kid primary school. Even further back still there was a butcher too, but they all are gone now except a garage with two petrol pumps. But the village hasn’t been abandoned, there are no empty houses, in fact there are a few new ones. There’s something missing though… community spirit, a community spirit that went with the demise of those bastions; the store, the churches, the school and when they privatised the forest. There was a time when local men spent three years carting and stacking hay to raise funds for a new community hall. Those same men rolled up their sleeves again to build the hall which was used extensively for indoor sports evenings for kids, meetings and the odd formal ball. The most popular of the balls was the annual, not-so-formal Forestry Ball!

A lot of planning went into a Forestry Ball and plans were well underway for the next one to be held on the evening of 2 August 1975. Tickets were presold, the catering would, as usual, be done by the local women, and a team was appointed to gather greenery to decorate the hall. At 11:00 pm on 31 July, a Thursday, an intense anticyclone perched over the South Island was nudged by a deep depression coming in fron the Tasman Sea. The isobars were tight and the resulting wind grew in intensity! The famous gale of 1 August 1975 was about to hit!

Trees toppled or snapped off, limbs and branches flew horizontally, house roofs were damaged, power and telephone lines were cut, roads were closed, grain silos bowled along the ground unmindful of the property they damaged, hens and blackbirds too, were blown out to sea! It took three years for blackbird numbers to return. There was major damage to the forest, trees toppled or snapped off, blocking off all access. Any wonder then, that Henry was surprised when most of his men arrived for work the next morning. He had been up most of the night with an eye on a fire that whizzed along the back ridges, chased by the wind, but hadn’t come dangerously close to the forest. He was up at daylight clearing his own drive and surveying his garage that had floated off somewhere in the breeze!

Eight men had arrived, and Henry wanted to know how their families had coped and if their properties were severely damaged. All had damage but all wanted to help out people who were less physically able to help themselves. He sent them in groups of two up into the village to attend to damaged roofs, dangerous trees and to check if anyone needed medical treatment. Nobody had been hurt! He and Albert started a clean-up of the road into the forest, but for everyone it was slow going because the damage was great.

By nightfall, at the debriefing, Henry was told that all the roofs had been made weatherproof and they reckoned another half day up in the village would have everyone secure and able to exit their properties easily enough to reach the main road if they had the need. It dawned on Henry that Saturday night was the night the ball had been planned, so he asked if the team thought it should go ahead. It was unanimous that it should because everyone would benefit from the distraction, it was decided that the hall wouldn’t be decorated and that supper would be whatever could be rustled up.

They stopped work at midday on the Saturday, knowing full well that the work wouldn’t be completed for at least a couple of years, but finishing early allowed them to attend to a few tasks at home and to make preparations for the evening. Henry made the trip himself to pick up the booze, last time he’d sent Mel and Phil who he had to rescue after they had taken a fancy to a barmaid! The barmaid was fine but Phil spent two nights in hospital! There had been a good number of tickets bought by townies, but they couldn’t be sure just how many would turn up because the town had been hit by the gale too! Fortunately the damage was by no means as severe as in the countryside, and the emergency services had responded well to the clean-up.

The alcohol laws hadn’t quite matured at the time, making it illegal to sell it on unlicensed premises, so to get around that, a set amount of coupons went with each entry ticket. There were enough coupons to more than pay for the refreshments, so after the coupons were used up, if there was any booze remaining, it was to be free – the punters didn’t know that beforehand. Albert opened the hall at 8:30 and slowly it began to fill, the band started playing at 9:00, with old Tom sitting up like Jackie on the drums, the ever-smiling Lionel on his fiddle, happy-go-lucky Bob blowing into his saxophone and Dorrie tickling the ivories. Nobody sang, but Lionel’s fiddle was just as good and Bob’s sax was smooth as botrytis wine! For the first hour they played slowly and softly allowing for conversation and a few drinks to flow, but once the hour was up and the booze had reached the bloodstreams, they revved up and the dancing became lively.

It wasn’t long until the news hit Henry that the toilets weren’t working! The header tank perched on the roof was well-built, but the water scheme had failed because the power supply to it hadn’t yet been restored. Henry rushed off to bring the Wajax fire trailer with two hundred gallons of water aboard, hoping it would last the night. Mel dragged the hose up to the header tank and every half hour someone started the pump for exactly three minutes.

It took two beers to get Jack going, he embarrassed his missus by singing Take My Boots Off When I Die – three times and still everyone called for an encore! Heather managed to tuck her flimsy miniskirt into her knickers, Hooks laughed at the sight so hard that his top dentures fell out, splitting when they hit the floor! Mickey tugged on Ned’s red tie, but it was a clip-on job and came off in his hand, poor old Mickey toppled backways, into the lap of old Bid, who enveloped him in her ample bosom and she gave him a kiss on the cheek – his face turned red as a turkey’s arse, and from then on they called him ‘Bricky’! At the eleven o’clock Wajax start-up, Skip became drenched when he opened the bi-pass valve by mistake, dripping wet, he waddled back into the hall like a duck with a bum-full of tacks, wanting a free a whiskey to warm up! Lloyd dropped his end of the supper-laden trestle-table, spewing cream cakes, savouries and sandwiches across the dancefloor! After supper, or what was left of it, the generator ran out of petrol, so a bunch of townies took the opportunity to mount an attack on the bar - nothing was taken, but a couple of them sported black eyes when the lights came back up! During the last waltz, a passion-struck young fellow became too sexual for the conservative locals, so he was turned upside down and party ice poured down his trouser legs – a kind of country-style cure for an over-active libido!

It was a fairly normal Forestry Ball of its day, so was chalked up as another successful night! The clean-up the next day was something to remember too because Dorothy was on the warpath! Lionel’s bow had picked up her wig and dumped it on the floor, and Nobby, who’d had a couple too many,  had the temerity to stand on it! The trouble was, he’d been next to start the pump and after Skip’s watery episode, the ground was muddy and so became Dorothy’s flash blonde wig!

Those were they days, but they’re long gone now! Nowadays the community hall sits unused as the enemy races by.


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