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Dancing Shoes - Cliff Richard and the Shadows

We went back to our childhood town, Awali which, unlike the rest of the island, appeared to have changed hardly at all. We visited our old houses - some of us having had permission from their current occupants to go inside them, others striking lucky and finding someone there only too pleased to invite us in for a tour, and the rest, like myself, finding no-one in, were left to peer in at the lost domain of our childhood. And as I walked around the place where I had lived from my birth to the age of 12, I realised that it was a whole lot smaller than I remember, and that it was indeed a lost domain in the true "Grand Meaulnes" sense. When we arrived, we went first to the hospital, where so many of us were born, and then went to Awali School, which we all had attended, then the church where many of us where able to find records of our christening. Bizarre, looking back, that the geography of the town led us to revisit our childhoods in near chronological order, like a rebirth and re-infancy, winding up in "the club" for many the location of a first kiss or illicit alcoholic drink at one of their teen dances where we were treated to a generous slap-up lunch. There were welcoming speeches and then we set down to eat. While we were on our main course something extraordinary happened. The incessant chatter of old friends sharing memories died down to almost a whisper, the food suddenly could have gone cold for all we knew, because on the large screen at the end of the dining hall a silent film was running, with images mainly in black and white of life in Awali, back in the fifties and sixties.

An explanation is required: Awali was built specifically to house the non-Bahraini employees of Bapco, comprised mainly of Brits but also including quite a few Aussies, and a smattering of English speakers from other countries such as South Africa, Canada, Ireland and (even) Holland with the layer of top management being mainly American. Apparently it was the first fully air conditioned town in the world, driven by cooled water supplied from five large tanks that were situated just behind my childhood house. It was the prototype oil town, designed to house families, softening the harsh desert island conditions and thereby keeping the employees for longer periods, encouraging them to think of Bahrain as home. Now, we were invited back by the oil company to celebrate 90 years since its inception, and there was an extraordinary moment at a first day gala dinner, when the current CE of Bapco began his speech by saying "welcome home". This took us by surprise, not only because it was true, but because he was perceptive enough to notice it and say it, and it was an unexpectedly moving moment.

The film at the club dinner painted a halcyon time of innocence and freedom, swimming at the large, communal outdoor pools, sports days, dances, sailing at the beach at Zallaq, everyday life with white picket garden fences, tidy, hedged bungalows and gardens with flowering oleander and hibiscus trees.

In those days we were in some senses culturally cut off from the western world, at least the young people were, relying on people returning from "long leaves" (two to three month holidays) and returning brothers and sisters to keep up with musical trends. As under 10s we found Cliff Richard more in keeping with our innocent world than the faintly rebellious Elvis Presley - our first exposure to both was through the movies we imbibed on the Friday afternoon matinees at Awali Cinema: for us "The Young Ones" and "Summer Holiday" beat the hell out of "Blue Hawaii" and "Kissin' Cousins" but time has told against us and now, while Elvis' hard-edged tracks frequently make the playlists of oldie radio stations, Cliff's comfier and "nicer" hits are , with the exception of the the "Young Ones" itself, almost completely (and rightly) absent. And maybe even this is due to the ironic adoption of the song by Rik Mayall and friends for their eponymous tv series, although it is by far and away his greatest track. But the song that Simon and I thought really tore it up was this gem, subverting the seeds of rock 'n' roll rebellion to a more acceptable parade of nursery rhyme characters. Which nicely sums up our early years: on the surface full of adventure, but in reality safe as the Awali bungalows - there weren't even stairs to fall down.

The Shadows were tight though, and the hand-clapping's cool, and even your parents might have a second thought about entrusting their seventeen year old daughter to clean-cut Cliff for an evening at the flix, but only for a moment before handing over the car keys.

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