J had a very smug grin on her face when she announced we’d been asked by The Cupcake Queen to attend the annual air cadet dance. The younger of our nephews, Neff2, is still in the cadets while this year Neff1 became too old and was chucked out. She knew full well that this sort of militaristic event would be like waving the proverbial “red rag to a bull” as far as I was concerned. She also knew, it being a family event, I would have to smile and put up with all the senseless nonsense that would accompany the proceedings.
She advised me that “Mess Rules” that would apply to the event.
“Whit!” “No!” “Oh no!”
The conversation went on like this for a while as gloatingly she passed on all she had gleaned from her sister. The hackles were rising.
“But you can wear your kilt”. She sneaked in at the end.
It was all long frocks and high strappy sandals…the chaps looked spiffing! The ladies were much put out.
A mere trifle of an exaggeration: I did have my big, brightly coloured, woolly skirt on though as did most of the gentlemen present. Those males that didn’t were turned out in uniform, ill-fitting, drab grey-blue. This provided I have to say…a rather crumpled look to proceedings. During the 1940’s, when ladies heads were “turned” by said uniform, it was fairly obvious that the Italian fashion houses had still to make an impact.
Regimental decorum required the ladies to keep their shoulders covered during dinner and they were also “encouraged” to wear dresses with a hemline below the knee. As one lady walked past, hemline a considerable number of inches above the knee, in hushed tones The Cupcake Queen advised us that someone would be “spoken to” about this flagrant breach of etiquette. Goodness me…a firing squad…how exciting! “Burn the witch!” they all screamed.
I peeked into the main hall. A huge Union Jack hung above the stage, dominating the room. I shuddered. On seeing that flag I don’t think of Great Britain. I think of Glasgow Rangers, the Orange Lodge, the British National Party, three organisations associated with sectarianism and bigotry. A multicoloured piece of cloth tarnished by association.
Cadets and guests had no sooner made themselves comfortable than we were asked to stand as the top table entered. We stood waiting for these fine dignitaries to deign to put in an appearance. As we stood….and stood…and stood…I concluded that the guests at least showed exemplary manners. The lack of consideration shown by these undoubted pillars of whatever establishment it was…was sadly disappointing. Eventually they dithered into their seats in front of the stage, behind them the red white and blue of the “Govan True Blues”
To get things off to a jingoistic start the regimental sword was marched up to the top table. I was unsure whether this was about tradition or whether we were to witness the execution of the lady in the short dress. Beads of sweat collected on my brow as I and others garbed in highland outfit checked the length of our kilts. Anyhow the top table seemed very pleased that the sword had arrived, so maybe they were just a knife short.
They then insisted on toasting the Queen. I felt that this was particularly cruel….she appears to be a nice old lady. I quickly scoured the menu. Not the chicken then.
I should point out at this juncture that “Mess Rules” forbade the removal of a gentlemen’s jacket during dinner. It also required permission to be sought from the top table to allow one to go to the toilet. The latter constraint was quite literally storing up a heap of trouble.
The meal ended with our host graciously announcing that there would be a 15 minute comfort break. 120 straining bladders threw back their seats and charged for the doors. Our table had been far more restrained by way of fluid consumption and we watched with raised eyebrows the others less than dignified stampede.
With all that stored up liquid it took less than 5 minutes for the inevitable to happen.
Our host made an announcement.
The management had advised that the hotel was now experiencing “flooding” problems with the toilets near the function suite, would guests please use other toilets within the building. After a few hundred years of military tradition you would have reckoned on them sussing this one out.
“As you sow…so shall you reap”
The speeches were about to begin and all were seated after the undoubted relief of the “comfort break”. All that is other than two of the higher ranking officers who insisted upon ordering drinks at the bar even though table service was in operation.
A condescending “Just carry on, don’t mind us!” public school accent raised a few eyebrows from the guests. We waited…and we waited…as our out-ranked host endeavoured once more to entice them to their seats to be met with the same response. Our host sat stony faced at the top table determined that proceedings would not start until our ill-mannered miscreants returned to their seats. Eventually after some 5 minutes they swaggered back to their table joking as they went. The speeches began. I grinned…I was witnessing caricatures in action…they were as pathetic as I could have hoped for.
Once the speeches were over and the tables re-jigged for the dancing, we were allowed back into the main hall of the function suite. The Union Jack had been part lowered towards the floor and now provided an oversized front panel for the disco sound deck. Sadly this piece of new equipment was malfunctioning with the eventual jamming of both the bass and treble slides. The noise was horrendously unpleasant on the ears…but the young cadets didn’t seem to mind as gradually more and more of them appeared on the dance floor. The officer class were absent, having retired to the bar. I questioned Neff2 on the subject. “No” he said, surprised at the sheer idiocy of my question. “The officers won’t be mixing with the ranks.” Another grin from me.
It was an odd set up. The DJ was a man of “limited height”, in fact our host, who appeared to be a close friend made a number of tasteless jokes about his stature, one being a reference to the “animated garden gnome”. His lack of height also meant that, unlike most DJ’s, he was totally invisible at his sound deck.
As the evening wore on the stage with its drooping flag and hidden DJ, took on a uniquely bizarre appearance. In the darkened room imitation fabric flames illuminated by red flashing lights billowed upwards either side of the half-mast Union Jack, while, once every so often the bearded dwarf-sized DJ peeked out from behind his makeshift screen. I couldn’t decide if I was stuck in an episode of “Twin Peaks” or had ventured into the alternative universe of the British Third Reich.
The end of the evening eventually came and we headed out to get our taxi. I asked Neff1 about how this bunch fitted into the armed forces. Were they regulars?
“Oh no” he laughed. “They’re just volunteers.”
“You mean they’re nor even real soldiers?”