Rites of Passage: The School Ball


Here I am at my seventh-form school ball.

I am seated in a chair made of cane, shaped into a peacock’s tail. To sit in this chair for some of us, was the apex of our school life, which by that stage had spanned some 12 years.

That’s a long time to be at school and the school ball was pitched as the ‘social event of your existence’.

Our venue was the Mandalay in Newmarket, Auckland.

If you are situated elsewhere in New Zealand, just imagine it’s like your local club/ RSA, but hexagonal shaped. It was a wonder of wood panelling, stainless steel tureens and a resident DJ. I could probably track down his name if I tried hard enough, but let’s just settle for DJ Bryan.

Somehow, the entire seventh form arranged to take a bus to the venue, from the pre-ball. I cannot imagine how we a) paid for this b) got on this c) were allowed to do this d) or who would do this for us.

It was a rocky ride into the venue, and empty stubbies of Rheineck rolled up and down the bus aisle with the odd ball-goer rolling simultaneously. The bus driver seemed nonplussed. It was probably perk work on a rogue bus.

Having alighted at the venue, we were greeted by the Senior Leadership Team. Hand shaking and polite patter took place while the DPs weeded out the children who smelled like stale Rheineck.

Can I pause here and say there is nothing in this world more tragic than a drunk 17-year-old guy in a hired Frank Casey suit, crying because he got locked out of the ball.

Through we swept and onto the ballroom floor. I fancy it was parquet, like the Louvre but I was mentally talking this place up.

When the dinner bell rang, it was time to sit at the formica tables and spoon the great dollops of Thousand Island dressing down, with the smattering of food as its accompaniment. It was everywhere, like a bright orange reminder of how cheaply this shindig had been thrown together, and how much buildup we’d endured to get to … this.

There was Fanta on tap, everything was orange; there was orange taffeta coming out of every orifice and I started to feel sick.

And then, the after-ball. Taxi-vans were fought over, and delicate 16-year-old girls turned into bouncer-strength boars, fighting other humans out the way of the taxi sliding doors.

The after-ball was an even less structured and sober event, if that is possible.

The parents were away and the house was big. But really, people weren’t interested in ‘upstairs’.  They were interested in a night of ‘hot knives’ and school-leavers. The boys who had left in sixth form were there, they had gone and taken jobs and had cars, and they had that rough edge we sad, white, soon-to-be-university kids lacked.

They had rotary cars and aviators, and a few legends would turn up wearing one white glove and dance MJ styles.

The heels, sinking into the berms were filthy, and some dresses had almost perished as if this was some kind of rugby world cup final.

As a teacher, I attended a school ball or two and they were entirely different affairs. They were policed, vetted, ticketed, parented, chaperoned, breathalyzed and bouncered.

You get what you pay for, it’s no longer the 80s and parents can relax a little. The after-balls are huger than the ball anyway, and ball ball ball. Balls.

What I remember about my ball was that we were quite repressed in the 80s, we never partied all that hard, and the ball was a steam vent (of tragic proportions) but a steam vent nonetheless.

We’d traipse into Bursary later in the year to write some low-quality responses to predicted questions that scraped us through into uni and then …SHADOWS BAR. Shadows would make the after ball look like High Tea, and we weren’t ready for it and it showed.



One Comment

  1. Was there food at the ball? I struggle to remember any of it apart from photos on that bloody cane chair. Actually I remember Megan Farndale’s backless sequin top and ample bosom… that’s about it.

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