Danny Zuko (Travolta), leader of the T-Birds, has recently started cross-country running to win back his estranged girlfriend Sandy (Newton-John). Unbeknownst to him, Sandy, who has been conflicted about her upright and proper etiquette in a school full of brash greasers, has herself transformed into a greaser queen to win Danny back. In the song, Danny expresses pleasant shock and arousal at Sandy's transformation, with Sandy responding that Danny must "shape up" to prove himself capable of treating Sandy the right way.
When this song came out, I’d been married ten years and was discharging the combined roles of mother and father to our two sons. My then marriage was on the verge of a breakdown and however hard I struggled to make things work in our union, the passing of each year witnessed a deterioration which could only end in separation and breakup.
I then worked as a Probation Officer in Huddersfield. Like a line from this song, a part of me wanted to tell my wife ‘you’d better shape up’, but instead I just carried on in my attempt to save a sinking ship and stop all aboard drowning. I was unsuccessful in my attempt to salvage the marriage, despite trying to win back my wife’s affections for me and our children. She had suffered from post-natal depression immediately after their births; a condition that persisted four years into their life, and it was still being left to myself and my mother-in-law to provide every aspect and functioning of my son’s daily care.
So, while this song was upbeat, telling the listener how the character Danny won back his estranged girlfriend, Sandy, my own attempts at winning back the semblance of a marital dream I’d once held on my wedding day was going up in flames literally. I realised that my marriage was over the day my mother-in-law died and the house almost burnt down.
As I was upstairs in my bedroom phoning relatives to inform them of her death, I had left the oven grill on in the kitchen and the melamine kitchen fittings caught fire and started emitting poisonous fumes. Within five minutes the kitchen was ablaze and threatened to burn down the house. Meanwhile, noticing the fire, my wife collected our two young children and took them to a friend’s house nearby for safety. I later discovered that it was her friend who phoned the fire brigade to tell them that our kitchen was ablaze.
Meanwhile, I was upstairs oblivious to the fire below and the imminent risk to my safety as I continued to phone relatives and friends about our family bereavement. I eventually looked through the upstairs window and saw and heard three fire engines outside our house and smoke billowing from downstairs. I was eventually conveyed downstairs through the toxic fumes and flames by two burly firefighters. Later, when I learned that my wife had not told anyone that I was upstairs in the house at the time of the fire and that she had fled the scene without warning me, that was the moment I knew our marriage had irretrievably broken down and was beyond salvage.
If you are fortunate today to be living with ‘the one that you love’ like I am with Sheila, never take your good fortune or them for granted, as there is no better feeling than waking up and retiring to bed daily in love with your partner, family and life around you.
Love and peace Bill xxx