This is a special Queer Tango this week to commemorate the seventy five year anniversary of V.E. day. I wanted to throw in some extra daftness knowing everything my own grandparents went through and their families. From safe distance my neighbours chatted about their experiences and laughed and enjoyed reminiscing.
I used to play in an all-female swing band for a few years and so I thought this week’s episode should have a swing-theme.
I hope you enjoy and that you’re keeping happy and healthy.
Episode 8: Red, White and Blue
Bumblethorpe’s school field was full of flags and bunting and little stalls with themed refreshments on—thanks to Mary-Lou providing her leftovers from Squishy’s launch of their Spring collection. In the centre of the pitch, surrounded by school chairs nicked by Ricky, a swing band tooted away while Paulette’s class shuffled nervously into the spotlight.
‘Whose idea was this to try swing dancing again?’ Lanie mumbled and checked over her Land Girl uniform then tapped her bicycle helmet.
‘Andy’s,’ Miriam mumbled back and adjusted the buttons on her WREN uniform. ‘He thought it would be a great way to commemorate freedom.’
‘Yes, stamping on each other’s toes is exactly what would make my granddad proud,’ Lanie said then sighed and checked her helmet again. She’d tried to tie the handkerchief in her hair like the woman on an old poster but her hair was far too short and her ability to knot wasn’t that good… so she’d stuck a Union Jack flag on her helmet instead.
‘Was your grandad in the forces?’ Miriam asked wondering why, yet again, that Lanie was attached to her helmet but she hoped it was because Lanie had more chocolate stashed inside like she had on their theatre trip.
‘Yeah, he was in the ditches,’ Lanie said and gripped onto Miriam’s hand—to ease her nerves and to send, Neal who sat near to the beer stall, a clear signal that Miriam was going out with her and if he tried anything she’d throw gum at his hair.
‘I thought that was the trenches,’ Miriam said, then smirked at Neal who stared wide-eyed back.
‘No, he worked on the railways and I don’t know why there were ditches but grandad wasn’t really the full shilling.’ Lanie shrugged and smiled at George and his tall bear hat. ‘It’s good it’s not raining.’
George wiped over his dribbling brow with his Queen’s Guardsman’s sleeve. ‘I’ll ask you to say that again when I’m passed out in the medical tent.’
‘My husband once passed out in uniform, right in front of the Queen.’ Diane said then tapped the medal on her chest. ‘She was very sporting about it.’
‘She was?’ George wobbled on his feet. He had no idea how Diane’s late husband had managed to parade at all. The furry hat was heavier to handle than Diane mid-twirl.
‘Yes, she gave him some water… or someone did but he seemed to think that Her Majesty made him iced tea and sandwiches too.’ Diane rolled her eyes. ‘He was clearly dehydrated.’
‘Could do with an iced tea, Hedges,’ Mary-Lou said then twirled and swiped through an imaginary practice swing. ‘But I ain’t chewing tobacco.’
Hedges looked up from under her Army chauffeur’s hat. ‘No, I believe that’s a breath strip.’
Mary-Lou snorted and checked her knee high socks. ‘Dunno how the girls slid home in this outfit.’
Hedges adjusted her brown leather gloves not really sure why Mary-Lou was in a baseball outfit but it looked a lot more glamourous than the modern ones the men wore. ‘You don’t have a bat though.’
‘Nope, Paulette said she has it next to the stage in case Ricky runs off with the drumkit.’ Mary-Lou thumbed over to the stage where Ricky, in full Naval captain’s uniform, brushed over the skins and swished the cymbals with ease. ‘He is kinda good.’
‘Learned inside,’ Tracy said and wiped a tear from her eye with her miner’s hat. ‘Should have seen him and Colin play in their Christmas fundraiser.’
Tammy nodded and dabbed her own tears with her blackout warden’s collar. ‘Such a proud moment.’
Tracy pulled out a Snickers from inside her miner’s lamp and handed it to Tammy. ‘Don’t say I’m not romantic.’
Tammy snorted, downed the Snickers in one, and kissed Tracy on the cheek earning a drumroll and bass run from Ricky and Colin in response.
‘I’m so glad Paulette allowed the nail polish,’ Andy said and examined his sparkly pink nails. ‘It goes so well with my sailor’s hat.’
Glynnis nodded but more so because she’d been dazzled by his glittery pink sash. ‘I’m glad it fits, although my husband never wore pink when he was aboard… or perhaps he did.’ She glared at Trevor playing the flute with a serious expression as if he were performing to the Albert Hall.
‘I’d have liked to have been in the Navy,’ Andy said with a wink then did a jig on the spot. ‘But I’m not sure they would appreciate my dancing skills.’
Paulette took Mary-Lou’s baseball bat and crashed it onto Ricky’s cymbal. ‘Now, for the main attraction, Paulette’s Prancers performing a medley.’
Stan rooted himself to the spot hoping that no one in his old corps was there to see him in his old uniform with a skirt instead of trousers.
‘You need to move,’ Gaynor muttered between chomps on her crisps—who knew how handy trench coats were. They hid baby bumps and provided hiding places for food.
‘I can’t,’ Stan clung to her and Gaynor dragged him out and scowled at crowd. ‘That Marmite?’
Stan moved her into hold before she took on Andy’s dad.
‘You look very handsome,’ Ceri whispered up to Janis in her Marine outfit. ‘That looks like an authentic uniform too.’
‘It is,’ Janis said with a grunt and leaned sideward to fix the tape holding the wires onto the stage. ‘My dad and grandad were Marines… Mum says they had to give uniforms back but grandad forgot.’
Ceri beamed up at her. ‘I’m glad he did.’
Janis tutted and moved Ceri into hold. ‘Don’t think Mum will let me wear it when we get married.’
‘Not even if I buy her a new set of trainers?’ Ceri asked with a cheeky smile—Janis’ mother did love trainers.
‘Sneakers,’ Hedges said to Mary-Lou and pushed the brim of her cap up so she could see.
‘Yoga pants,’ Mary-Lou chimed back and winked at her husband Barney crooning into the microphone. He was all kinds of cute in his wing commander’s outfit.
‘Snickers!’ Tammy said, licking at her lips and bumped Mary-Lou’s hip with hers as the band switched to a high-energy swing tune.
Andy and Glynnis set off across the centre with a flourish as Agnes, with cake in one hand and cup of tea in the other, ooh’d and aah’d with Janis’ mother and friends—they did love a cuppa.
Paulette shimmed away to herself watching her class barely avoid crashing into one another while their dance moves—apart from three couples—looked more like they had gotten a wasp in their trousers rather than… well… we’re they doing the quickstep or jiving… or… well… Tammy was tap dancing.
‘I noticed you have planted a jungle in your garden’ Andy said twirling Glynnis then twirling himself. ‘Are you thinking of embracing your wild side?’
‘Hah, my darling husband is unimpressed that he can’t get to his workshop… or the shed to everyone else.’ Glynnis snickered and waved, smugly, at her husband who was dressed like someone from Dad’s Army. He parped his trombone back at her with disgust. ‘I told him that he could try something called hard work and cut it back.’
‘I did say that those grasses grow like wildfire,’ Hedges said then hung on to Mary-Lou and spun her—that was sort of a turn, right? ‘They need constant maintenance.’
‘That was the point,’ Glynnis said with a triumphant chuckle. ‘If he wants to get into his shed to do the crossword and drink himself silly, he can work for it.’
‘I’ve been working hard,’ Andy said and threw in some tap for Tammy then winked at Paulette. ‘We’ve been shopping nearly every other day and do you think we can find the matching attire for Ruby and her prince… no.’
‘Ooh, I heard that you were stepping out,’ Tracy said and pulled her Liza pose.
‘Ruby is declining to comment,’ Andy said then chuckled as Agnes waved her cake at him with a delighted smile. ‘However Paulette does have wonderful knowledge about stage makeup.’
Tammy blew a raspberry. ‘We wanted steamy details.’
Andy twirled and the pursed his lips, dancing Glynnis over to Paulette. ‘They are implying that you have run off with Ruby.’
Diane cheered, one because George managed a turn without stamping on her toes and two, because she wouldn’t need to steal Ruby’s wigs and sell them to Ricky.
Paulette held up her bat. ‘We’re not those kinda friends.’
Mary-Lou ‘ah-hmm’d’ then tutted. ‘Why, Andy has a better body than most guys?’
Which Paulette was ignoring… well… she tried to and she wasn’t letting on that she’d snuck in to watch Ruby perform and was more impressed than she liked. And she wasn’t sure if fancying a bloke in a dress meant she needed to dye her hair like Miriam but she wasn’t going pink, she didn’t suit pink.
‘George needs to bend your ear and explain how wonderful Ruby is,’ Andy said then sighed. He was getting used to the idea that he could marry Paulette—Think of the wardrobe he’d have access to for a start.
‘I was hammered,’ George muttered then wobbled and tried to right his hat… phew. ‘I dyed my food the colours of the Union Jack,’ he said to Diane hoping she’d focus on him and ignore Andy… and stop digging her nails into his shoulder. ‘Wanted you to know I’m showing my support.’
Diane released her clamp-like grip and smiled then stopped dancing. ‘You were there for me the entire way through all the pain.’
‘Oh no, you’d better not start the poetry,’ Gaynor said, mid-chomp as she charged Stan toward Andy’s Dad who held out his Marmite jar for her to dip into on the way past.
‘If I had the words, I’d try,’ Diane said then kissed George on the cheek. ‘But hopefully that says it more clearly.’
George beamed, and yes, he went as red as his guardsman’s jacket.
‘I used our therapist for that,’ Mary-Lou said and winked at Barney. ‘He has been wearing one of those hats you guys like so much… even to bed… Therapist said that it was all cerebral… you know?’
Everyone looked to Hedges.
‘Um… I thought cereal was in a bowl…?’ Hedges peeked under the ridge of her hat.
‘Cerebral,’ Mary-Lou said with a grin. ‘In the head, honey.’
The class ‘oh’d’ and Paulette wondered why they just couldn’t call it being crazy like everyone else.
‘Therapist said that he was exploring his roots, finding himself.’ Mary-Lou glanced at Tammy who was tap dancing so threw in a few steps thinking how much Brits did seem to love their taps. She’d heard Stan fixed taps but he didn’t look real confident in class so she guessed he was hustling.
‘Trevor’s found himself a flute,’ Glynnis muttered then scowled at Trevor parping away out of tune. ‘Who let him have a musical instrument?’
‘So, Barney’s roots are in chimney sweeping?’ Hedges asked. Although she’d never seen a chimney sweep in a uniform before.
‘He sure looks like one,’ Mary-Lou said with a sigh. ‘But his roots are in the coal industry.’
‘Ah,’ Andy said and doffed his hat to Paulette mid-step. ‘I thought he might have been a footballer or something.’
‘Soccer,’ Hedges translated and tried a tap move but Mary-Lou was too fast so she just hopped.
‘You think?’ Mary-Lou smirked at Andy then hopped with Hedges glad they were throwing in some Brit Tango from class. ‘I said, honey, I got roots too… and mine are in tourism… you want me to wear a mouse hat to bed?’
‘I suppose he might go for a mouse snapback,’ Hedges tapped her finger to her lip, still hopping because Mary-Lou was, and smiled at her husband playing the keyboard and son on guitar. ‘I met him when he played in a band.’
‘He looks great,’ Tracy said hopping by. ‘His family in the Scot’s Guards?’
‘No, they only had that one left in the fancy dress shop,’ Hedges said then chuckled at her husband’s furry knees. ‘He told me that if I was wearing a uniform, he was going kilt.’ She winked at her son, Mr Cool, in a sailor’s outfit with skinny jeans on. ‘We both agreed how much it would embarrass our beloved boy.’
‘Colin is meant to be a farmer,’ Tammy said, blowing a kiss at Hedges’ son just to make him beetroot. ‘I told him, he wears those joggers all the time and that farmer’s actually do some work.’
‘I was going to dress up as a munitions worker for my grandma as I couldn’t get an infantry outfit for grandpa,’ Hedges said high-fiving Tammy as her son flushed a lovely colour. ‘Grandma said that she should have brought ammunition home with her for when my grandpa came home without his wedding ring.’
‘My father was a major,’ Glynnis said and waved to him sitting with his tartan blanket provided by Agnes. ‘He was in charge of the girls who sent Morse code, my mother was one of them.’
‘Oh, that’s beautiful,’ Andy hopped on the spot, threw in some cancan and a wiggle. ‘Falling in love while… delivering mail.’
Paulette waved her bat at him. ‘Morse code is when they tapped stuff.’ Which she didn’t know a lot about because her father learned to drive tanks and then when he’d come home, drove her mother crazy.
Andy threw in some tap.
‘Yes, my mother still tells him his tea is ready by tapping her walking stick to the wall.’ Glynnis chuckled and joined Andy and threw in her own cancan.
‘My great-grandad was on a boat,’ Andy said, mid-cancan. ‘I don’t know what he was doing but he got sunk twice and mum tells me he could sink a beer far faster.’
‘My grandmother lost two husbands,’ Ceri said joining in the cancan as Agnes and the crowd cheered. ‘One at sea, one in the trenches… when she met my grandad she checked where he worked first.’
‘Where was that?’ Janis said joining the cancan but flicked Ceri’s feather dusters instead of her legs.
‘In the stores, handing out uniforms,’ Ceri said and chuckled as her dusters tickled her ears. ‘She thought that was safer.’
‘My grandad was great at fighting… at least at the pub,’ Janis said and tickled Ceri’s girl, Bailey, on the nose who sneezed and hit a growly high note on her saxophone.
The crowd clapped.
‘My grandad went down the mines to avoid the draft then said it was more drafty down there than anywhere else… Said he was relieved to go back to his profession,’ Tracy said, joining the cancan.
‘What was that?’ Paulette peered around her bat not sure why the class were doing the cancan and hopping.
‘Burglary,’ Tracy said with a proud smile. ‘I don’t like to think what he’d say about my boy arresting his own father.’
‘Ooh, he made his first arrest?’ Lanie said, doing the cancan with one leg and hopping with the other.
‘He did… Colin said he got the caution perfect,’ Tracy let out a sigh. ‘I think he was quite touched.’
Miriam joined in the cancan and kissed Lanie on the lips.
Lanie wobbled, mid-leg flick, and booted Tammy in the bum.
‘Oi,’ Tammy turned, sure the perpetrator had been George who was half hopping half gripping his hat and booted him up the bum.
George ‘yowch’d,’ his bear hat fell over his face and he stumbled into Mary-Lou who, mid-leg flick, had to think fast as she tilted off balance. She sprang into a cartwheel, with a twist and threw in a backflip before landing in the splits.
Hedges, who felt compelled to produce some kind of follow up, did a roly-poly and jumped back up only for her sleeve button to catch on Glynnis’ Wren trousers and yank her forward.
Sure that this was now a competition, Glynnis threw herself into a somersault and landed next to Mary-Lou who high-fived her so Andy tap danced over in full-Liza mode then dipped his sailor hat and ripped off his shirt.
The crowd—and Diane—cheered… Paulette really wanted to but she was in shock as George, still struggling with his hat, staggered into Gaynor whose crisp packet flew mid-twirl so Stan threw himself into a military roll—not suitable when wearing a skirt—and sprang to his feet, caught the crisps then caught Gaynor in his arms.
The crowd clapped and cheered as Gaynor gave him a smacker on the lips.
George clattered into Tracy who hit the stage, Barney’s microphone and the music stand which fell toward Miriam’s head. Lanie dived onto her, took the blow to her helmet, and sprang back to her feet with Miriam draped over her arm.
Diane tried to help George only to knock his hat off into Agnes’ lap… and, yes, Agnes narrowed her bespectacled eyes. Those spiders just didn’t learn. Out came her shoe—a plimsole if you will—and she beat the bear skin in a perfect swing beat.
Janis’ mother, sure that this meant audience participation, jumped on her chair and marched in time with the music.
Paulette gripped her bat for support as Ceri, seeing her girls were struggling without their sheet music, stuck her foot in Janis’ hands and was thrown over Janis’ head onto the stage where she slid, swept up the music, compiled it in order, righted the stand, booted Trevor in the ankle—cue cheer from Glynnis—and slid off the stage into Janis’ waiting arms.
The crowd cheered.
Tracy, spotted George wobbling toward her and dodged, only to catch Tracy’s foot and lurch sideward, Tammy spotted her, snapped out her hand and swung her to stop her hitting the ground only her hand still had chocolate on it and her grip slipped and Tracy hurtled toward Stan and Gaynor’s Marmite pot. Stan launched in a perfect hairy legged ballet leap into the air and his tool belt sash came off. He caught Tracy, then Tammy who clung to each other in the best twirl they’d managed yet.
Diane caught George and flopped him over her arm next to the others as Stan’s toolbelt hit the cymbal to add a flourish to the band’s crescendo.
Paulette peered between her fingers as the crowd roared and marvelled at how wonderful a teacher she must be and Agnes held up the bear skin hat in triumph. Yes, celebrating seventy five years of freedom had definitely left her class, red cheeked, white faced, and a lovely bruised blue.