These dances were held in the Mess on a Saturday night. Many of the huge tables were removed and the others placed around the walls. Huge bunches of fan palms and other attractive greenery was cut from the surrounding rainforest and draped in strategic places to give the huge mess a more festive atmosphere.
Although the floor was cement, at least it was smooth and shiny, and was not too bad for dancing. It was a great meeting place and, although the boys outnumbered the girls, that didn’t stop the boys from dancing. They just danced with each other.
Many of the younger teachers attended the dances and at times the locals from Keravat town or nearby villages were also made welcome.
The following article appeared in Wawarikai magazine in 1976 and it captures the essence of the school social. It may have been written by a student but I think it is more likely to have been written by an anonymous member of staff.
Walking back to the dormitory after the usual predictable Saturday evening meal in the Dining Hall, coarsely labelled and still referred to as ‘The Mess’ – a militarist colonial term - Joseph felt his pulse increase its rhythm as he thought about the evening before him.
His heart seemed to be spinning round as if in an attempt to force enough blood through his capillaries to cool down the excitement welling up inside them, like the pump of a car pushing the cool water through the radiator’s narrow pipes to prevent the engine from overheating.
Although not quite overheating, his excitement verged on boiling point. He thought of the course of his present excitement and the first time he had seen her, standing just in front of him in the queue in the Mess on the second day of term, her second day at Keravat.
He trudged barefoot up the muddy incline past the staffroom, kicking a rusty old sardine can which was lying in his path. He watched it roll noisily onto the road by the side of the boys’ basketball court, forcing a toad which was crouching slovenly on the grass verge, to leap, if leap is the word, out of the way of the approaching missile. But it was too slow and the tin hit it full on the side of the head and bowled it over.
“If toads have brains, they certainly aren’t upstairs” he thought.
But the toad did have brains enough to know that the students on the nearby field, counting and crushing snails for Mrs Robinson’s Biology class might have toads next on their list.
Meanwhile, up in Dorm 14, the ‘barrack-room boys’ were occupied in various schoolboy activities. Two of the Form Fives were playing guitars, practicing a song which Mr. Campbell, the English Music teacher with a Scottish name, was going to record on Monday morning, if he was lucky.
Next to them, a more serious minded Form 6 student was lying on his bed patiently trying to revise his notes for a Chemistry test which Mr. Martin, the Scottish teacher with an English name, had threatened them with “soon”. Others were chatting, joking, playing cards, moaning, groaning or partaking in that most pleasurable of all schoolboy activities, sleeping.
When Joseph reached the Dorm, he walked over to his bed and picked up his faded yellow towel, hanging to dry on a louvre blade, and took his soap and razor from the locker.
“Hey, Eddy…,” he said in his quiet unassuming manner.
“Could I borrow that grey checked shirt of yours tonight?”
“I said can I borrow……”
“Oh yeah….sure…. take it….it’s on the hanger…but I think it needs ironing.”
“Okay, thanks. You revising for Dennis’s test?” asked Joseph.
“Trying to,” muttered Eddy, not taking his eyes from the page during the whole brief conversation. In fact, his eyes never left the same word.
Joseph went down to the washroom. The taps did not need turning on as all the washers had worn and there was a continuous 24-hour flow of water. A job for Simon, the plumber and odd-job man.
“Withered washers waste water” Joseph reflected, poetically.
Outside Girls Dorm 2, Isabella was taking her new blue-and –white flowered ankle-length dress, better known as a ‘maxi’ in female sartorial jargon, off the clothes line, just as the first large droplets of rain started to sprinkle from the rose of the grey mass overhead.
She had been looking forward to Saturday night ever since the previous Wednesday, when the end of afternoon sport signalled two more days and nights of hard graft and boredom before Saturday, the most exciting day of the week for some at least. Over half of that day was over, and having experienced no such excitement so far, Isabella was looking forward very much to 7.30.
Rushing up the outside dormitory stairs with the dress huddled up to her stomach to protect it from the now pouring rain, she asked Mary, her ‘wantok’ in form six from Madang, if she would mind pressing the dress for her. She had to rush off to the Mess, otherwise she would be too late to get any food. Nearly everyone else in school had already eaten.
She hurried down the corridor of curtained cubicles that made up the girls’ dormitory, picked up her green umbrella hanging forlornly on the handrail of the verandah at the top of the steps, jumped them two at a time and made her way to the Mess.
Dodging the puddles, she held the umbrella well in front of her face to ward off the driving rain. On her way she could hear the strains of “…Country Road” emanating from one of the dormitories. It sounded very much like one of the students singing…perhaps a future pop-star.
The Mess was almost deserted but Isabella (‘Issie’to her friends) glanced around nonchalantly to see if he was there. But she knew that he wouldn’t be. He always got there soon after the bell rang.
She knew this because she had watched him and always tried to make it there at the same time, just to see him or, even better, if she timed it right, to stand near him in the queue. Of course, he was totally unaware of this. Being a form five she felt much younger than him. She was not even sure of his name: Josiah she thought, or maybe Joseph. All she knew was that his mates called him Jo.
After collecting her food from the hatch, she bent down and filled her mug.
In the boys’ washroom, Joseph looked at his reflection in the small hand mirror, which bore a resemblance to the type used in the science labs. He hummed softly to himself as he thought of the bell ringing at 7.30.
“Dong! Dong! Dong!” he said aloud to himself.
“Strange things, bells,” he thought. “Sometimes they signal; pleasure, sometimes pain. A sort of neutral connotation attached to the ringing of a bell. That’s a good word….connotation. Unnecessary noise but necessary for boys,,,Pollution of a sort…polluting the air, drowning nature’s own music…Bell…a strange word. Not quite onomatopoeic…bell…do we need bells..? Is a bell really necessary?…Is a bell…Isabelle…”
His daydreaming was cut short by the sudden sensation of cold water running down his legs. The basin was overflowing.
From both dormitories the sounds of the school band warming up could be heard. The Mess had been cleared and the tables put outside and around the dance floor.
In the boys’ dormitories, things were very much the same as usual. For many of them, a social was like a rugby game…you went along to spectate, to enjoy. It didn’t matter what condition your trousers were in or what colour they were, whether your shirt was pressed or your hair was combed. That made no difference to the game. You were a spectator. You were watching.
But for the girls, a social required far more preparation. It was a special occasion; more of an interview than a game. People made notes on you and asked for references. You had to look your best; or you failed the interview. You were being watched.
In the social game, the boys were the spectators and the girls the players. No referee was needed. There were no rules.
No-one likes to be the only one standing in a crowded hall; no one likes to be the first to applaud in a large assembly. It draws attention to oneself, or so one thinks. And so no-one wanted to appear too eager to be the first one at the social. The bell had rung at 7.30. The first students arrived just before 8.30.
At about 8.45, Joseph and Eddy strolled past a group of students who for some unearthly reason insisted on standing on tables outside the Mess for the duration of the dance. They walked in hesitantly, as they were both basically shy, and stood for a few moments just inside the door.
There were already a few other form sixes sitting in the spectator stand- the tables around the Mess. The two boys joined them as the school band thumped out ‘Hey Tonight’, fairly proficiently if a little too fast.
As the evening progressed the hall filled up, gradually and imperceptibly, like raindrops making a bigger and bigger puddle. You don’t actually see it getting bigger but eventually you look and it is too big to cross. Within half an hour, there were so many students that it was impossible to see from one side to the other.
Sitting on the edge of the table between the door and the stage, Joseph tapped his left foot to the rhythm of the music, while Eddy chatted to a couple of dorm mates. He looked around at the now swaying mass of students, the appearance of the boys looking incongruous against the immaculacy of the girls.
Some were obviously enjoying themselves and moving as though they had been storing up a whole week’s supply of energy for just one dance. Others looked less enthusiastic, even passive and unconcerned.
One looked at though he had just received notice of a transfer to hell. He was dancing, or rather rooted to the floor, and simply moving his hips by the occasional millimetre this way and that. His face was expressionless as he stared, as if in a trance, at an invisible spot on the floor a few yards ahead of him.
But we all have our problems. They were all here tonight. Happy ones, rich ones, poor ones, shy ones, sad ones; extroverts, introverts, converts, perverts; the radiant and debonair; the sullen and lethargic.
Suddenly, Joseph ceased tapping his foot to the music. His heart raised its beat instead and he felt once again that peculiar and unique sense of excitement which only she could create in him. Unaware of his attention, Isabella and her two friends, one of them Mary, who had earlier pressed her dress, made their way towards the centre of the floor and started to dance to ‘Baby Blue’.
Trying not to be too obvious about it, Joseph glanced quickly towards the middle and noticed the long blue-and –white dress she was wearing. She was dancing sideways on to him, so he did not have to worry about her seeing him, which would have been very embarrassing.
What he did not know was that Isabelle knew exactly where he was. Mary, with the sly dexterity of which only females are capable, nudged her subtly and with a quick raise of the eyebrow and movement of the eye, indicated where Joseph was standing.
And so, in that crowded hall, amongst the chatter, laughter, music and movement, at least two people were thinking of one another, both completely unaware that their feelings were mutual. And not once did their eyes meet.
It did not seem like three hours since Joseph had been sitting there watching her. He had not had a single dance; there was only one thing on his mind. Similarly, except for the occasional single with a boy, Isabella had stuck with her two friends and had appeared to be enjoying herself.
But when Mr Broderick, the Irish Master on Duty, with an Irish name, appeared at the door, placed his hands firmly on his hips as was his fashion and issued a curt nod of the head to the band on the stage, it was time for the last dance.
Later that night, as he lay in his bed, Joseph though of the first time he had flown in an aeroplane and reflected that the excitement of knowing he was going to fly for the first time had, paradoxically, given him more pleasure than the actual flight itself, which turned out to be something of an anti-climax.
It seemed to him that socials, and even girls come to that, were rather similar. Before he could form a definite opinion on the matter, he had fallen into a blue-and-white sleep, dreaming of someone who, at that very moment only three hundred metres away, was lying in another bed wondering what he was dreaming about. But she would never know.