It was a photograph that triggered the memory like they so often do. As I turned the page of my newspaper I noticed the group of happy revellers as they celebrated and danced the night away at the Trinity Ball. I smiled and cast my mind back to the first time that I had been there on a warm, May night many years before.
The Ball, as everyone called it, was the best night out in Dublin, and that time Peter and I were determined to make it a night to remember. And with that in mind we invited girls that we knew only slightly – but fancied a lot. When they accepted our invitations we were walking on cloud nine, and suddenly in a desperate search for dress suits. We spent the next few days running from one dress hire shop to another but without any success. It was all getting a little nervy and panic wasn’t far away. The high demand for suits was making it impossible to get anything suitable and our big night was beginning to look in doubt. However, after many, anxious phone calls and much scratching of heads Peter’s uncle saved the day. He was part-owner of a theatre costume company and when we dropped in to see him, he put us right.
‘I still think that you boys would look better as a pair of pirates – I’ve plenty of eye-catching stuff upstairs. Want to check them out?’ he said before laughing out loud.
He’s mad, I thought, and stared at him.
‘I wouldn’t worry about him’, Peter said when we left the shop ‘he’s always like that. He loves playing games on people. He’s a real messer.’
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting and planning, the big night finally arrived. My mother said that I ‘looked the part’ while my young brother said I looked like Fred Astaire or maybe a gangster. With those thoughts in mind Peter and I went to collect the girls, with two bunches of flowers on the back seat of his dad’s car.
Jenny looked great in her long white dress and Peter was delighted when she kissed him on the cheek. A few minutes later we pulled up at Shelly’s house and I felt my heat beat a little quicker. My throat dried up as I rang the bell, and when her mother opened the front door I barely managed ‘Hello’. Her friendly smile eased my nerves, but the sight of Shelly coming down the stairs made my heart jump. She looked wonderful in a long, black dress and her blonde hair fell to her shoulders. She was fabulous, a picture that burned itself into my excited brain. I awkwardly handed her the bunch of flowers and she smiled her thanks. After a quick sniff she took one out, broke the stem off and stuck the red bloom in her hair. Suddenly she was like an exotic Spanish dancer and I beamed my approval.
Our excited chatter lasted all the way into the city where we had booked a table at Nico’s Restaurant on Dame Street. This was really pushing the financial boat out but it didn’t matter one little bit. The place was buzzing and we had a great time and lots of laughs. The night had started well, and many of the diners wished us well as we left the restaurant and walked to Trinity College where a long, noisy queue was moving slowly.
Music from the festivities reached over the old building and people were dancing and singing as the queue made its way to the gate. There was magic in the air and I felt it when Shelly put her hand in mine and we moved with the music. We swayed our way through the gate and entered a wonderland of bright lights, colourful tents, fun and music.
‘Let’s dance,’ Shelly said and we skipped off to the old Exam Hall where a band was whipping up a storm. The place was manic and I had never seen such a frenzy of excitement as the band upped the pace. It was brilliant and Shelly loved to dance – and boy could she dance! She didn’t mind my clumsy efforts and laughed when I almost fell over trying to do some fancy turn. She doubled up and a stream of happy tears shone on her face. She said it didn’t matter and that I was actually better that most of the other guys anyway.
When the band finished we left and walked about for a while taking in the sights and sounds. Across the cobble-stoned yard a disco blasted out the latest hits while inside a pink-coloured tent unsteady groups were barn dancing. Or at least that’s what it was supposed to be! Looking down on it all was the bell tower – the campanile – from where someone had tied a bicycle with its light flashing. ‘How did they do that?’ asked Shelly as we gazed up wide-eyed.
‘I’ve no idea’, I replied ‘but…I’d hate to be looking for a lift home later!’
The night passed as we danced, swung and screamed on a brilliantly lit chair-o-plane, chatted to friends and watched a very adult Punch and Judy show. And before we knew it the sun was rising and the bright, colourful lights began to lose their sparkle as all around us revellers began to drift away. The music had dropped off as, arm-in-arm, Shelly and I walked across the yard and again looked up at the flashing, bicycle light. ‘Hey, it’s still winking at us.’ I said.
Shelly stopped and looked at me. ‘Yes, and thanks for a wonderful night. It’s been really great fun!’ Then she leaned close and we kissed.
‘Memories,’ I thought now, remembering Shelly, the belle of the ball, on that warm, wonderful night.