I first met Mary when I was a young man playing the alto saxophone in the big Tony Stuarts Orchestra at the Astoria Ballroom in Plymouth Grove, Manchester.In those days it was a very popular dance venue, and every Saturday night, bands which were famous in those days used to appear at the Astoria to attract even more dancers. Bands like Vic Lewis, Teddy Foster and Edmundo Ross — all names which are forgotten now.
Within our band there were several single young men, and of course we always had an eye for the pretty girls. One day, three of the musicians had a ‘dispute’ over one of the young ladies they were all simultaneously trying to attract. As a result, in order to save arguments, we all agreed that the first one in the band to point towards a particular girl should have the first option to test his chat-up technique at the interval. This idea worked, smoothly until the evening when Mary walked in. The whole band pointed (married men as well!) and, for a brief moment, there was no music to dance to, and Tony, who was conducting the orchestra, turned to look and fell backwards off the stage into the arms of a young man who thought his luck was in.
After peace was restored, it was reluctantly agreed amongst the orchestra that I was the winner, and so until the interval I spent some time trying to catch Mary’s eye each time she danced past with one of her dance-floor admirers until, at last, we made eye contact! Only a shy smile, but it was enough. The interval couldn’t come quickly enough.
The time came, and my hopes rose as I looked for her and noticed that she was already standing near to the stage — but, alas, she was still with her last dance partner. ‘Nothing ventured’, and all that, so I prepared for battle and bravely walked up to introduce myself. “Sod off!”, said the little man. Being unprepared for such an ungentlemanly remark, I replied in similar terms, until Mary (who hadn’t stopped laughing the whole time), said she would decide for herself. Of course, all my fellow band members had been watching with interest, and all raised a big cheer for me when Mary reached for my hand and raised it in the air as if it had been a boxing bout, which it very nearly had been.
After the dancing was over, Mary shook off the last of her admirers and waited whilst I put away my saxophone and, holding hands, we stepped outside to where Mary was expecting my car to be. I pointed to my bicycle which was chained against the wall and said, “It’s the cross-bar or nothing”. And so there she was, with my arms wrapped around her on the cross-bar, under the stars.
In my day, that was real romance.