My Rock n Rolling Folks

I promised to use this blog to catalogue my attempts to mastering the art of photography. Well, this week’s photo is one of my most precious and beloved, but not one I have taken myself.

Despite the indifferent demeanour of both partners, it is a picture that gives me a lovely warm feeling every time I look at it.

The stockings-footed dancer is my mum Olwen, with my handsome dad John. They were snapped mid-twirl sometime in the 1970s, the era of Slade, brown and orange swirly wallpaper, power cuts and bin bags, and that baking hot summer when the tarmac melted.

Nobody is quite sure when and where this photo was taken, but that really doesn’t matter, for what it captures in a single frame is a headful of my memories of mum and dad jiving their way across the dancefloors of Shrewsbury and beyond.

I was born in 1968, so was just a slip of a tomboy through the 70s. I hated wearing skirts, girly dresses, dolls and looking pretty. Yuk. I was usually dressed in either a football kit (Shrewsbury Town FC, blue and yellow) or a pair of my favourite blue jeans with white piping down the side. I dreamed of scoring the winning goal in a Wembley cup final. I was also in love with Donny Osmond and fantasised that he would fall in love with me after presenting me with my winner’s medal. I think I mixed him up with Royalty.

My mum tolerated my tomboyish ways and even my lack of interest in housework, looking smart and having female friends.

But she hated that I was never interested in learning to dance. Saturday mornings, she would grab me by the arm and twirl me around and try to teach me simple jive steps. Without fail I would pull away, grumbling that I was busy watching Tiswas, and she would give up again.

Later that day she and Dad would put on their best togs – Dad in his brown flares and wide lapelled suit jacket, Mum in a swirly skirt and pretty blouse – and they would head off to the Saturday dinner-dance while some teenage slip of a thing would saunter in to babysit me and my two siblings.

It wasn’t the dinner they loved so much – it was the dancing afterwards.

Once the cheese and biscuits and pot of coffee had been consumed, along with a few drambuie and cointreau liqueurs – the same old dialogue would start up. It went something like this:

Dad: “Do you want to dance Ollie?”

Mum: “Did you have to wear that tie with that shirt, it looks terrible.”

Dad: “Ok, but do you want to dance?”

Mum: “Well, I’m not sure I want to be seen with you. You can tell you’ve been painting, it’s still in your nails.” (Dad was a builder).

Dad: “Come on, it’s Bill Haley.”

Mum: “You know I don’t like this one, it’s too fast.”

Dad (wearily): “All right, we won’t dance then.”

Seconds later, Mum (standing up): “Well, are you getting up or not?”

As I got older, I got the chance to go along on some of these Saturday nights out and see what happened next – and every time it would bring a silly lump to my throat. I don’t whether it was pride, or love at seeing them together, or perhaps an early understanding that it was important to REMEMBER THIS MOMENT…

For what happened is that Mum and Dad would transform before my eyes into this two-headed, swirling, twirling dervish, so completely and utterly in tandem.

Wow, they could jive up a storm. Mum always maintained a complete air of indifference about the whole thing – in this picture she looks positively disdainful – and pretended not to notice as the dancefloor gradually emptied and people stood around, mouths open, watching them strut their stuff.

Dad would turn and bend a knee, grab her hand and twirl her into a spin, then catch her, arm round her waist, and continue to spin with her held tight to him. It was magic.

They always got a round of applause at the end. I never once thought they were showing off – I was just bursting with happiness.

My Mum has never been one for showing her love publicly. If Dad tried to give her a cuddle in the kitchen in front of anyone she would invariably shrug him off or tell him not to be so silly – but on the dancefloor, despite her best attempts to hide her feelings, she oozed love for him.

The 1977 edition of the Guinness Book of Records holds permanent testimony to their jiving excellence. There they are, on page 223, under Jiving: “The duration record for non-stop jiving is 53 hours by John and Olwen Abbott at Tiffany’s, Shrewsbury, on 20-22 June 1976.” The record was stolen off them the following year by a Canadian who was allowed multiple female partners. The injustice of it still rankles.

Mum and Dad are still, thankfully, going strong. Dad is badly affected by crippling rheumatoid arthritis, and I think one of the things he misses more than anything is twirling Mum around that dancefloor.

They will have been married 45 years on April 3. Hopefully they will be able to get away for a nice break to a hotel which has its own dinner dance – and maybe they will be cajoled into taking another spin, for old time’s sake.

My mum and dad, John and Ollie, clear the dancefloor

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    • Marcia
    • March 29th, 2010

    OMGoodness Jane, this is absolutely wonderful! Thank you for sharing. At a glance, I thought that was you then I realzed the era, lol!
    In my mind, they definitely were robbed of their place in the record book! We know the truth.
    Again, thanks for sharing! It was a great morning read…think I’ll read it again:)

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