David Maughan Brown: Of deckchairs and dance schools


Deck chairs are one of the world’s more considerate inventions when it comes to soporifically sunny summer days on beaches, particularly when those beaches happen to consist of stones rather than sand, like those, for example, in Brighton and Hove(actually).   ‘Beaches’ consisting of stones, euphemistically referred to as ‘pebbles’, can occasion acute discomfort to bare feet, even when they have had some of the sharp edges worn off by being rolled around in the waves for a few millennia.  They also tend to be seriously uncomfortable to sit on. While not exactly the lap of luxury, deck chairs are generally a preferable alternative to sitting on stones. 

Wet afternoons on hilltops in Sheffield, a very long way from any pebbly expanse alongside the sea that purports to be a beach, are by contrast a very different matter – even at the height of what passes for the summer.   Deck chairs appear to be cleverly designed to ensure that, regardless of which of the various options one chooses as the correct angle for the back rest, rain water can be guaranteed to run down the back and pool in the seat, irrespective of whether or not one happens to be sitting in it.   So one can get thoroughly soaked from the bottom up, so to speak, without ever having to go near the pebbles or the sea.   Add an umbrella into the mix and you have a marriage made in a very wet heaven: the rainwater cascades off the umbrella to be redirected by the back of the deck-chair to swell the pool at the bottom. 

Our Sunday afternoon last Sunday was spent on top of one of Sheffield’s seven hills – the city’s main, and possibly only, claim to affinity with Rome – watching the annual dance-show put on my ten-year-old granddaughter’s dance school.  The weather forecast had not been propitious, predicting rain around the time the show was scheduled to start, but that wasn’t ever going to faze the dedicated organisers of a dance-school annual show – any more than Covid-19 was going to stop the show just because it couldn’t take place indoors.  So we went prepared with such waterproofs as we could muster, and armed with quantities of umbrellas.  I even managed to locate a set of waterproof leggings to wear over my jeans that I had last worn thirty years ago when watching my sons play football in the pouring rain in Hove, which seemed somehow appropriate.

So we took our seats on deck chairs in the open in front of a stage that looked as if it had been designed for a pop concert and, by way of the trailer for the main event,  watched a thunderstorm advancing inexorably towards us from the south west, which, conveniently enough, happened to be behind the stage.  Given that thunder-storms and lightning go rather well together, I spent part of the time trying to assess whether there was anything in the immediate vicinity that would provide a more welcoming conductor for the lightning than the metal uprights supporting the cover over the stage on which my granddaughter would soon be dancing.  I concluded that there was a good chance that any lightning would find a couple of lamp-posts near the carpark more attractive as they reached marginally higher into the sky than the stage uprights.  But I wasn’t able to convey this less than definitive information to my socially distanced granddaughter who was very scared by the thunder when the storm did hit us two or three dances into the show.

Health and Safety fortunately dictated that a temporary halt need to be called, so we were able to escape the worst of the downpour to sit in a very steamy car for twenty minutes or so until the storm died down to a steady and persistent cold drizzle and a resumption of proceedings was announced.  Although hastily folded and left on the ground on our way to the car, the deckchairs were no drier by the time the show resumed.  Nor did the stage entirely escape the rain.  Although the organisers conjured-up a pile of towels from somewhere with which to dry the exposed front edge of the stage, some water had leaked through at the back, as one of the somewhat older dancers discovered to her cost when she slipped and fell flat on her face.  Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt, merely shocked, but she wasn’t the only one who slipped, and for the next few ballet items the dancers had to dance barefoot, which hadn’t been rehearsed.

The show lasted three and a half hours with the dancers all taking part in at least one freshly-costumed dance in each of the disciplines they were taught in the school: ballet, tap, street, modern… you name it.   The rain relented towards the end of the first half and most of the second half could have been completed without any added wetness, had the organisers hired a portaloo or two.  But the available resources had apparently been used up by the hire of the stage, so the cold and bedraggled audience of doting relatives had to queue for the one loo that Covid restrictions allowed to be open in the community hall beside which the stage had been erected. The result was a very prolonged interval and a late night for the gaggle of twenty to thirty three and four-year-olds who had showed off their very nascent dancing capabilities in the first half but were expected to stay until the end so that they could stand looking tired and forlorn off-stage in the rain for the finale.

We are very pleased that Covid-19 restrictions had been relaxed to the point where we could go down to Sheffield for the weekend, and we very much enjoyed watching our granddaughter dancing her six dances, which she did beautifully.  It did cross my mind from time to time, however, that the Blitz Spirit can perhaps be overdone, and that the organisers of children’s dance-school shows might sometimes, not entirely unreasonably, be considered to be somewhat over-endowed with that spirit.  

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