Of Lady Birds and Gatecrashing

I just watched Lady Bird. What a treat of a film, a little throwback, a reminder of all of those vaguely awkward stages of growing up, a gorgeous, rich tapestry of friendship and love. 

In one of my best scenes, Lady Bird dumps her sort-of boyfriend and goes to Prom with her best friend, Julie, instead. There’s a fantastic scene of them dancing (it also includes a favourite Dave Mathews song, Crash into Me) that sent me flying back 25 years, to Grahamstown, 1993, my first year at university. I turned 18 that year. 

Those ‘varsity year’s were a blissful whirl of youth, senses heightened by our newly-gained freedom in that tiny town that was our kingdom, our playground. It was a wild love affair that went on for four years. We were invincible. 

My best friend, Katherine, and I made it our aim to attend as many balls as we could that first year, before we moved into digs in second year. And by attend, I mean gatecrash. We had no money for tickets (and no serious boyfriends for partners, yet). 

Our university had a thing about balls – every res had one every year, as did every society. This meant lots of balls. They were fun. There was loads of dancing and sometimes a theme. Tickets had to be bought (ahem), partners found, dresses and suits donned. The local photography shop took photos (this was pre-cellphone), which would appear in lines of racks on their wall the next week, ready for buying. We decided we’d aim to be in each set. Or, at least, a good few of them  

We did it for a while, heading off to the Great Hall, up to the Monument, or down High Street to the Crillion on Fridays  and Saturdays , before meeting up with our friends at The Vic later, fed (res food was bland in comparison to ball food) and flushed from dancing and the exhilaration of getting away with it. 

I still wonder if the people developing the photos ever wondered how we managed to get invited to so many balls, including one of the local school’s Matric Dances which, as I remember, had the best food of the lot. For that one, we hid our photos on the shelves of the shop the next week, convinced we’d get caught by beady-eyed teachers. 

We weren’t. 

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