One for the Road

You know, there comes a point when you just have to admit you are not as young as you used to be. You stop resisting. You roll with it. And do you know what? That’s when life starts getting better!

Take nights out, for example. My friend Ginny and I used to love our Tuesday nights out together. We would meet at the Dog & Duck for a glass of Pinot Grigio and then head for one of the local nightclubs that clustered around the edge of the city centre.
 We would dance away around our handbags and shout office gossip over the incredibly loud music. But that music seemed to get even louder and louder and the clubs busier and busier. 

The time came when there was no longer room for handbags and we couldn’t hear each other speak.
 Everyone around us seemed so young, and so trancelike in their dancing. A night came when we even stayed in the Dog & Duck and sat by the jukebox getting slowly sozzled as it played out 1980s tracks. Now this was real music, we agreed, as we reminisced about our teens and 20s. We knew most of the words and we would have sung along if the pub hadn’t been so quiet that it would have been embarrassing. That pub does have a problem attracting customers and was almost empty that night. Dave the landlord was doing his best, however. Ginny and I noticed a table flyer standing next to the menu.

‘The Oldest Swingers in Town,’ it said. ‘Come to the Dog & Duck’s own Over 50s Night. Everything from The Glenn Miller Band to Duran Duran’. 

‘Well, Ginny,’ I said. ‘That’s us! Let’s go!’

Ginny was equally excited and we agreed to go on the following Tuesday.

We needed half an hour beforehand, round the corner in the Wig & Pen for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and then a second – one for the road. 

When we got to the Dog & Duck, we had never seen it so busy – there was even a small queue at the door. Everyone was noticeably older than our usual fellow clubbers. Dave was acting as bouncer and when we got to the front he put his arm across our path. ‘Can you prove your old enough?’ He asked.

‘Dave, it’s us! We’ve been drinking here for years,’ we complained.

‘Yeah, but are you over 50?’ Ginny and I insisted we were. ‘Can you prove it?’ Dave asked. ‘Its management policy to insist on identification for anyone who looks like they might not be over 50. Have you got photo ID or a SAGA membership card?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ we replied. ‘We are not old enough to be in SAGA.’

But then a couple behind us chipped in. ‘Oh yes you are. We joined as soon as we got to 50. We’ve been on some amazing cruises. You should join.’ 

Dave relented and lifted his arm. ‘OK, well, make sure you bring some ID next time. Remember, if you are not on the list you’re not coming in.’

‘What? Is there a list too?’ I cried. 

‘No. If you’re not on the ‘list’. You know…’ he repeated, listing over sideways and hobbling along. We all laughed at Dave’s little joke and on we went, through to the hall at the back of the pub. And do you know what? We had the most amazing evening we’ve ever had! We knew every song that was played and we knew the lyrics of most of them too. We could really relax and go for it.

And everyone around us clearly felt the same. There was no need to put on an act or feel at all self-conscious. No one was trying to be someone they weren’t. The music was loud, but nothing like the deafening boom-boom of the usual nightclubs. Instead of the disorientating flashing lights and strobes we had had to get used to there was a brilliant disco mirror ball slowly spinning round on the ceiling, making it look as if it was snowing indoors.We could actually hear each other speak and I kept saying it was just like the old days. 

The best thing about the evening was the people. They were lovely. They were really welcoming and we kept having little exchanges with people as they boogied past. And the very best bit of the evening, which was obviously the traditional climax that everybody had been waiting for, was when ‘The Oldest Swinger in Town’ came on. Absolutely everyone knew the words and we all sang out

 ‘You’d like another dance but you’re scared you’ll have a stroke!’ at the top of our voices.

As the lights came on at the end of the evening everyone came over to said goodbye to us and to ask if we were going to come again next week. ‘Try stopping us!’ we said, as we all piled out the back and made our way to the cars.

Ginny and I kept talking about that night over the next few days and we agreed that we would absolutely love to go again. But something came up – I can’t remember what – that meant we couldn’t make the next dance and so it was two weeks later when we started to get ready to go out again. Ginny had a brilliant idea. She said it would help us really make our mark. ‘Do you remember that move Bucks Fizz did in Making Your Mind Up, when Mike and Bobby grabbed hold of Cheryl and Jay’s skirts and pulled them off, and everyone on Top of the Pops went wild?

 We should do that! It would be hilarious!’ And we agreed there and then that that was just what we would do. I’m afraid we probably went over the top. We bought some cheap satin lining fabric from the local curtain shop and stitched on some Velcro to make the skirts. I made up some bright, shiny ultra-short dresses. Ginny came round to my flat for a rehearsal and we watched the video of Bucks fizz winning Eurovision several times, having a right laugh about the dance moves and Terry Wogan’s hair.

 We had a lovely girly chat while we did each other’s nails and tried on our costumes. When we practised the end move I discovered I had put too much Velcro on Ginny’s skirt and when I tugged on her waistband I flung her halfway across the room! I found just the right finishing touch: two of my shiny blonde wigs I’d bought in a party shop – we looked brilliant!

The night of the dance finally arrived and Ginny and I got ready excitedly. We were singing out the lyrics as I drove us both over. I must say, we were very good. We must have arrived a little early, because the car park at the back of the Dog and Duck was empty. The lights were on but there was no one in the hall yet.

‘Are you sure it was tonight?’ asked Ginny. 

‘Yes,’ I reassured her. ‘I checked the web yesterday. It said ‘Oldtown Swingers, the third Thursday each month.’

‘But wasn’t it a Tuesday last time?’ asked Ginny. We were looking at each other doubtfully when suddenly we heard the roar of car engines and headlights lit up the windows. We peeked out the back and watched as cars began to arrive. There were some very posh ones. BMWs, Volvos and even a Porsche. ‘Some people are lucky with their pensions!’ I moaned. As couples started to come into the hall, Ginny and I couldn’t see anybody we remembered from the last dance. People seemed, well, rather different.

It wasn’t just that they were obviously pretty monied. They seemed very confident, perhaps a little brash, whereas our friends from the last time had been very warm and friendly. One of them opened up the bar and started serving drinks. I wasn’t sure that Dave would like that but he was nowhere to be seen.

 Armed with drinks, everyone started sitting in groups at the side of the room. And then they noticed us. I suppose we were rather obvious in our bright green and blue dresses and skirts. ‘Oh, hello there!’ they all said as one. ‘Look! Some new faces! How lovely!’ 

Several men came over and introduced themselves to us. ‘Have you been to this sort of thing before?’ they asked. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll show you the ropes. You stick with us!’

I must say everyone was very attentive. One chap, who introduced himself as Gerald, seemed to want to be my new best friend. He had an enormous walrus moustache which twitched as he spoke. ‘That’s my wife Janet over there,’ he said, pointing. ‘We love coming to these dos. It’s the highlight of our month.’ Another man came over and introduced himself to me and Ginny. We looked at each other wide-eyed: he was the spitting image of Colin Firth. Ginny was digging me in the ribs. We both spluttered into our gin and tonics when he introduced himself as ‘Colin’.

My attention was grabbed, I have to admit, by an an incredibly striking woman standing by the bar. She was tall and statuesque and if you saw her you would immediately say ‘Sigourney Weaver’. She was talking to a young woman with purple hair. Then she looked across to me, raised a glass and smiled. My first response was to turn around to see who she was looking at but there was no one there. She laughed and I felt a surge of warmth rising in me. ‘This is a bit different to last time!’ I said to Ginny. She agreed. 

‘No one is dancing. Why don’t we get things going with our routine!’ She suggested excitedly.

‘Great idea!’ I said. So we put on the CD we had made, went over to the middle of the hall floor and clapped our hands to get everyone’s attention. Everyone stared at us bemusedly. 

‘It’s the summer of 1981…’, I announced, setting the scene. 

‘… and the Eurovision Song contest is in full flow…’, continued Ginny. ‘The Germans have set the bar high with Johnny Blue and then on comes Bucks Fizz…!’ 

And off we went. We stepped to the left. We stepped to the right. We turned on the spot and we swished our arms sidewards. We really put some welly into it. It was going better than our rehearsals. And then the big moment came. Ginny reached for my waistband and pulled. It worked! I went spinning across the floor and out flew my dress. I was so glad I waxed my legs! I yanked Ginny’s skirt off and away she twirled. We did it! We finished the routine punching the air to the last line ‘making your mind up!’ and stood there breathlessly… to complete silence. Everyone was staring at us, dumbfounded! 

‘R-i-g-h-t. OK, thank you Lilly and Ginny for that… So let’s get the evening under way shall we? Marcia, would you do the honours?’

The woman who looked like Sigourney Weaver picked up an empty tray and began to circulate around the group.

 As she passed by, men reached out and tossed their car keys onto the tray. ‘Why are they doing that?’ I asked Ginny.

‘Well I suppose if you drive a very expensive car you want to keep your keys safe’, Ginny suggested. 

Marcia came over to me and I was just about to put my Skoda’s keys on the tray but she put her hand on mine to stop me. ‘Not you, Darling. It’s men only. And me. I drive a Porsche. Look, it’s the key with the bright red tag on it. Over here.’ She said giving the tray a little shake ‘Look, over here in the corner where you can’t miss it.’

‘It’s very nice.’ I said. 

When she had finished collecting in the car keys, she laid the tray down on the bar. Gerald, who seemed to be in charge, clapped his hands and announced, ‘Well, shall we all get proceedings underway, Ladies and Gentlemen? Let us see what those gorgeous twins, Fate and Chance, bring us all to night! Usual rules apply! And remember our motto, everyone? Variety is the Spice of Life!’ 

And a very bizarre scene started to unfold. One at a time, a woman would walk up to the bar, rummage around in the keys on the tray and lift one up into the air.

 To whoops and cheers from the assembled group, the owner of the keys would then step forward and take the lady by the hand. There were lots of knowing nods and under-the-breath comments that we couldn’t quite hear. ‘Are we going to try test driving each other’s cars?’ I asked Ginny. ‘I’ve still got last night’s takeaway in the Skoda!’ 

‘I think it might be one of those treasure hunts for motoring enthusiasts’, she said. ‘How exciting!’

And then it seemed to be my turn. I was prodded forward by a lady behind me and I went up to the bar. I had always wanted to try driving a Porsche so I sought out the red fob. But Gerald, who was leaning on the bar seemed to slip slightly and nudged the tray. My fingers closed on a BMW badged key fob and I held them up. ‘That’s me!’, cried Gerald. ‘It’s my lucky night tonight!’ He squeezed my hand and whispered in my ear ‘I loved your routine! And you have gorgeous legs!’ Marcia seemed a little put out and glared at Gerald. But she smiled at me and winked, as if to say ‘maybe next time’. Oh well, I thought, I would just have to wait for another chance to drive a Porsche. 

Next it was the turn of Gerald’s wife, Janet. I was surprised to see that she first took the hand of an older lady standing next to her and they went up together. They rummaged around on the tray and lifted up a fob for one of those little two-seater city runaround Smart cars. I must say, I’ve always liked the look of those. You can park them anywhere and there must be a very good on petrol consumption.

 Two men with bandido moustaches, who had arrived together, stepped forward to claim them. The four of them held hands and stood at the end of the bar. ‘They seem very happy’, said Ginny. 

‘I can’t see how they are all going to fit in that Smart car,’ I observed. 

And then it was the turn of the young woman with purple hair who had been talking to Marcia. Her name was Pippa, to judge by the chanting that had broken out. She was a very dramatic type. She walked up slowly, but purposefully, towards the bar, swinging her hips with each step. She reached out straight for the red Porsche fob and held it out, pointing straight at Marcia with one long-nailed finger.

Marcia was beaming. I was feeling jealous. ‘It should have been me’, I muttered under my breath to Ginny. Marcia and Pippa must have been very organised types because they had brought along snacks for the driving trip, in two of those plastic yellow bananas you can get to stop your fruit from getting bruised. ‘Look, that’s a good idea’, said Ginny. ‘They’ve got straps on them so you can carry them when you’re going out on a picnic’. 

‘I think I’ve seen them on Amazon’, I replied.’ I’ll get us some.’

Then it was Ginny’s turn. She went up to the bar gamely. She looked through the keys and picked up an old MG leather fob. Ginny loved her retro clothes and I was not surprised that she had picked an old vintage sports car. But I hoped she could cope with the old-fashioned clutch box. She held up the keys and who should step forward but the Colin Firth lookalike. He was very debonair. One corner of his mouth lifted in a half smile, he raised one eyebrow, bowed to Ginny and took her by the hand. Gerald leaned forward and whispered in my ear ‘Quite a mystery, that one! He’s never been before. All the ladies are talking about him’.

Everyone now seemed to have picked a car and driving partner. Gerald tapped his glass. I was expecting him to hand out maps and explain the route, but he simply raised both hands in the air and said ‘Enjoy!’

Now I was really getting confused because, instead of heading out to the car park, the various couples and groups were heading for the stairs up to the pub’s guest rooms above. The only thing I could think was that the start of the treasure hunt had been delayed because not all the clues had been put out. And then the strangest thing happened. Gerald reached out and held my hand. Now no man had ever held my hand like that before. Yes, okay, I had held men’s hands during Auld Lang Syne, or to pull someone up a rock face, but this was so different.

 He slid his big hand over mine and gave it a little squeeze. Then he held it in a way that I think he meant to be gentle, but that was really just hot and sweaty. Do you know what? It actually made me feel quite feminine. 

‘Is everything not ready?’ I asked Gerald as he drew me slowly over towards the stairs. 

‘Oh, I’m ready alright! Vroom! Vroom!’ he replied.

We followed everyone else up the staircase and Gerald led me to a small room with a double bed and an en-suite bathroom. He sat me on the edge of the bed, stood back, looked me up and down and smiled. ‘As soon as I saw you I knew I wanted to take you for a spin. You’re just my type’.

I smiled back politely, not really sure Gerald was my type. Anyway, he was kind enough to take me out in his BMW, I thought, and if we were delayed I should at least try and make conversation while we waited. I wasnt sure how to break the ice. ‘How did you get here Gerald?’ I asked. ‘Did you use the B416?’

‘Good God, no!’ exclaimed Gerald. ‘I use the A43 every time. I come down as far as the B46 and then take Town Road through Headley as far as the old gas works, and then it’s the B219 all the way down to the High Street here. No, the 416 can be chock-a-block even at this time of the evening.’ I said nothing for a minute. ‘Did you say you were from Crawley, Lilly? Did you come down the B59 and then across on the A27? That’s what I would do. Oh, actually, no, I would have used the B63. Those roadworks at Evesham are still causing absolute buggery, aren’t they!’

‘I don’t know’, I replied. ‘Ginny was map reading’.

Gerald was looking at me, unsure. I could tell he couldn’t really make me out. I could see he wanted to change the subject. He sat down on the bed beside me and put one hand on my knee. I flinched. Gerald was really buzzing. He was being very attentive and was obviously keen to show his guest a good time. ‘Can I ask you a question?’ he said. He was  trying to find a topic of conversation that he thought would be of more interest to an obvious fashion expert like me, because he asked ‘Lilly, do you like doggy style?’ 

Now, I’ m not really keen on our canine friends, and I really can’t see the point of dressing them up in little bows and dresses. ‘To be honest’, I answered, ‘I think it looks ridiculous, but I suppose people do it because its fun’.

‘Fun? Oh, it certainly is, Lilly, isnt it!’ said Gerald.

Gerald seemed to be trying to find another female-friendly topic but unfortunately I couldn’t really hear him very clearly because of his enormous with walrus moustache. ‘Lilly, do you like a blow dry and facial’, I think he asked. 

‘Oh no!’ I replied. ‘I find using a hair dryer really gives me split ends. And, actually, I don’t wear make-up that much, so I don’t find I need to moisturise’.

‘Lilly, you are so funny!’ Gerald laughed. ‘I like that! My wife Janet loves a facial. Look I’ve got some photos’. Now I do take quite an interest in make up, and have watched plenty of tutorials on YouTube, but there are limits to my interest. Gerald’s wife Janet did indeed seem to love moisturising, and obviously found the whole process quite hilarious, to judge from the many photos of her rubbing in Nivea. ‘She must get through a lot of cream’. I observed.

‘Oh she does, Lilly’, replied Gerald. ‘She does. I keep her well supplied.’

I was really wishing the treasure hunt would get under way way. Gerald seemed like a nice man but conversation was not his strong point. I think he could tell I wasn’t comfortable.

‘Lilly, you haven’t really done an event like this before, have you?’ he asked. 

‘Well’, I replied. ‘Ginny and I drove to Woodstock once’.

‘”Drove to wood stock”? I’ve never heard that expression before. It’s sounds very… “hard”‘.

‘No, it wasn’t really’, I replied. “We just took the B14′.

‘Lilly, you are hilarious! I’ve never met a girl like you before. Id love to take you up the B14!’, said Gerald, as he moved round to the other side of me. I noticed that he had also brought along a snack for the ride. He had one of those plastic banana protectors, like Marcia, but it was the type you keep in your pocket rather than on a strap. I really wished Ginny and I had planned ahead but we thought there would be food at the dance, like last time.

‘Have you done “A-Level”‘?’ asked Gerald.

I always get very self-conscious when people bring up education. I know I should have tried harder at school, but all my energies were devoted to synchronised swimming. ‘I’ve done a few O-Levels, Gerald. But A-Level isn’t really for me. I think I would find it a bit of a stretch’.

‘”O-Level” is just fine, Lilly, although I think you would find “A-Level” easier once you started’, he said.

I had had enough. ‘Look, Gerald. I don’t mean to be rude but isn’t it time we got this show on the road?’

‘Goodness me, Lilly. I’m so sorry! I thought you wanted to warm up. You certainly won’t find me being tardy. Just give me two minutes’. Gerald couldn’t get up fast enough and disappeared into the bathroom.

Now what? I wondered. But then I thought, yes, it probably would be a good idea to go before a long car journey. I sat there waiting on the bed and then… Oh My God! Oh My God! I couldn’t believe what was happening. The bathroom door flew open. Gerald came striding out and stood there right in front of me hands on hips. He was stark naked! There was no sign of his snack now but his lunchbox was completely ready for action!

‘Gerald!’ I cried. ‘What are you doing?’

He could see I was horrified. ‘But…? I thought….?’  he started.

‘No, no!… ‘ I spluttered. ‘I thought… !’

And then the full horror of my mistake hit me. As per usual, poor old innocent Lilly had got the wrong end of the stick. Why was I always so naive? I Began to replay the events of the evening. So…!  And that must have meant…! 

And then I remembered Ginny!

‘Ginny!’, I cried. ‘I must find Ginny!’ How could I have let her down. I had to rescue her and get us both out of there. I ran out of the room and down the landing, trying every door. Everything went by in a blur.

In the room next door was Gerald’s wife Janet and her friends. ‘Have you seen Ginny?’ I asked, looking at the carpet.

‘Ginny? they replied.

‘Ginny’, I repeated. ‘You know. Cheryl.’

‘No, we haven’t’, they replied. ‘But we loved your routine!’

I didn’t recognise anyone in the second room, though one or two features caught my eye. They hadn’t seen Ginny, and said the timing on the skirt pulling had been off.

Marcia and her friend with the purple hair were in the third room I tried. I closed the door very quickly again. I definitely wouldn’t be buying any of those banana carriers, I decided. And I had suddenly gone right off bananas.

And then, to my tremendous relief, there was Ginny standing on the landing beside me.

‘What’s all the commotion?’ she asked.

‘Ginny! Thank goodness you’re ok. We’ve made a terrible mistake. This whole thing is a WIFE SWAPPING PARTY! Let’s just get out of here’. I grabbed Ginny by the hand and we ran down the stairs, across the hall and out into the car park. We jumped into the Skoda, and, with a squeal of breaks I reversed hard into the dustbins, put my foot down and sped off towards the exit. Then suddenly I remembered. ‘We’ve forgotten our skirts!’ I cried. We’d put too much effort into our routine and we weren’t going to let tonight be the last performance. I screeched to a halt, we both ran back into the hall, grabbed our skirts from the chairs where we had thrown them and ran back out to the car. ‘Ginny, we need to work on the timings!’ I shouted as we ran. And then we were safely away, and caught up in the traffic in the High Street. I looked across at Ginny. ‘I am so, so sorry. I can’t believe it took me so long to realise. I left you alone with that imposter Colin for more than fifteen minutes. Are you ok?’

‘Lilly, you don’t need to worry’. She replied. ‘He was an absolute gentleman. And look!’ she exclaimed, waving two bits of paper in the air. ‘Behind-the-scenes passes for two for the Elstree Film Studios!’

‘No! Never!’ I screamed. 

‘Oh, yeah! laughed Ginny. ‘You’d better believe it!’

The End

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