My song today is ‘Pony Time’. This song was written by Don Covay and John Berry (a member of Covay's earlier vocal group, the ‘Rainbows’). It was originally recorded in 1960 by Covay with his group the ‘Goodtimers’.
The song achieved greater success when it was later recorded by Chubby Checker the following year, becoming his second US Number 1 (after his 1960 hit single ‘The Twist’). Chubby Checker's recording of ‘Pony Time’ was also a Number 1 hit on the ‘R&B Chart’. The song introduced a new dance style called, ‘The Pony’, in which the dancer tries to look like he or she is riding a horse.
The song begins with Checker's spoken announcement: “It's Pony Time, Get up". This is followed by the backup singers repeating the nonsensical phrase. "Boogety Boogety Boogety Boogety Shoe".
I vaguely recall this song being released when I was aged 19 years in the era that Chubby Checker brought out his song and dance ‘The Twist’. During this period, I would go to the dance halls between Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Bradford, Dewsbury, Cleckheaton, and Batley with a gang of friends to rock and roll. A group of teenagers from the estate where I lived in Liversedge would go dancing three times weekly.
I must confess to thinking the words of this song somewhat ridiculous, especially the silly horse-like actions the dancers to the song would be expected to perform on the dance floor. It was clearly an undignified way to either react or impress any young woman one was trying to get off with, I always thought. It was okay if one wanted to look like an ass on the dancefloor, but not for me thank you.
There is one incident that this song reminds me of more than any other. I recall going out with a young woman from Birstall near Leeds during my 19th year of life. We had struck up a relationship at the ‘Cleckheaton Town Hall’ dance one Saturday night. At the time, I was interested in any activity which improved my body balance (having one leg a few inches shorter than the other since my 12th year of life, following a bad accident and over 50 leg operations). I had considered the activity of horse riding for some time previously as representing good exercise to improve my balance, and for once, I was interested in my own legs more than looking at the legs of my dancing partner.
My dance partner was not the usual type of young woman who would attract my attention. She had a more ‘intellectual’ look about her than the more attractive young woman I might normally seek. Her speech denoted that she came from a middle-class family and she had also been educated at Grammar School and had been offered a university place in the autumn. However, once I learned that she took part in horse/pony riding events (and had done so since the age of thirteen years), my ears pricked up and she had my total attention the rest of that night, plus the month that followed. My date told me she would be ‘jumping’ in a pony event the following Sunday morning in Leeds and invited me to come and watch. This I did.
I arrived at the event around 10:30 am and saw my female friend stood alongside her pony talking to a couple who turned out to be her mother and father. Seeing me, she beckoned me across to meet her parents who had attended the event to support their daughter.
Now, I must explain my dress sense at the time. Outside of my millwork, I would always be dressed smartly in a bespoke fashionable black suit of good quality material, white cotton shirt, smart tie, and a pair of expensive shoes.
My propensity to always be seen outside work in the finest of clothes and to wear the best of footwear was an obvious overreaction and compensation for me having had to do without as a youngster. I was the firstborn of seven children within a poor household. My father was a miner and my mother was a full-time washer, ironer, darner, cooker, and cleaner, as well as being a baby factory in constant production. My main lesson learned on the home front during my school years essentially involved ‘learning to do without’.
Ever since I had started work in the mill, I always prioritised the purchase of clothes above every other form of spending. I especially purchased the dearest of footwear (often Italian shoes), because of having worn second-hand or cheap and ill-fitting shoes as a child. What really influenced me wanting expensive high-quality footwear as a working adult, however, was my childhood experience of being unable to walk for almost three years between the ages of 12-14, coupled with the 50 plus operations I needed on my legs between 11-14 years.
I cannot emphasise the lengths I would engage in to protect and preserve my clothes and footwear. Unlike the teenagers of today, I would always fold up my trousers neatly at the end of the night before going to bed, even when I had been out drinking, and I would never be seen wearing unclean and unpolished shoes. However new my shoes were, if someone stood on them, I would go wild. Even in a fight with another young man on a Saturday night out, I would prefer to be hit in the face with a brick than have someone step on my shoes or scuff them in a brawl as we rolled around on the ground. Having my shoes scuffed would pain me as much as having someone stood on my face, and I would instantly respond aggressively and knock seven bells out of them. I would always polish my black soft-leather shoes so much before I wore them, that I would be able to see the reflection of my face looking back up at me whenever I looked down toward the ground.
Also, being a working-class young man who had never owned any decent attire before I had started work, unlike my girlfriend’s family, I did not know that different situations and occasions in the social life of the middle classes dictated the wearing of different clothes. Working-class men only possessed two types of clothes; working clothes and weekend clothes.
Weekend clothes were one’s best clothes and consisted of one good suit and one pair of best shoes, one white cotton shirt, one tie, and one pocket-handkerchief; and that was that! Always having had fewer clothes than the middle-classes to adorn themselves with, the working classes had no need for wardrobes.
As for possessing ‘dress sense’, the only dress sense I displayed was to always wear a clean white shirt for Sunday best’ and never to go out in dirty underwear in the event of having an accident and being obliged to go into hospital. I would never wear unpolished black shoes (brown was the exclusive shoe colour of headmasters and the middle-classes), and I never kicked cans or stones and scuffed the leather of my footwear after I'd left school and had started buying my own clothes with my own hard-earned wages.! And, if I happened to get in a fight with another chap when I was wearing my best suit, I'd always get the first blow in. I would try to never let him floor me or wrestle me to the ground and risk tearing or soiling my best clothes as I fought.
I was a working-class young man who only had two occasions to ever consider my ‘dress sense’; going out to work and going out to enjoy myself leisurely. When I went to work, I wore my working clothes and when I went out leisurely, I wore my best clothes. That was it; simple! Being unacquainted with the numerous different occasions that the middle classes had to cope with engaging in their social sphere, it had never entered my mind that there were middle-class fashion and expectations of ‘being appropriately dressed for the occasion’(whatever that occasion happened to be).
As I walked smartly, but a bit apprehensively across the muddy field towards the parents of my latest date in my best weekend attire, I heard this enormous ‘squelching sound’ from the ground upon which I strode. I had walked through the biggest pile of horse shit ever to be shat in any Yorkshire Shire by the evacuation of the bowels of some middle-class pony upon the grass between paddock and field jumps.
By the time I reached my date and her parents, I was so embarrassed that I did not know where to put myself. Fortunately, my young date couldn’t care a fig and just laughed it off, whereas her parents were slightly more conservative in their response, and responded to the offensive smell by the engagement of small talk, coupled with their pretended ignorance of the horse shit on the soles of my Italian shoes which I attempted to clean on the field grass unnoticed.
That was the day when ‘dressing for the occasion’ became a practice that I accepted thereafter. I was clearly a young man who was eager to go places in my life, and I was in the process of learning the social graces of how one went on this journey between the classes. I would in due course learn the type of clothes one wore was just as important as what kind of event one went to, and what specific occasion one celebrated, and how one looked when one arrived, and who one went with!
At the age of 26 years, I married a teacher, and by the age of thirty, I had changed my job from being a Mill Manager and textile worker to the more professional occupation of becoming a Probation Officer. By the age of 30 years, I had negotiated three years of Night School Classes to complete the education (GCE ‘O-Level’ and ‘A-levels’) I had abandoned at the age of 15 years. This was followed by an I-year Probation Officer training course at ‘Newcastle upon Tyne Polytech and University’, plus one-year probationary training on the job in Huddersfield.
My marital abode was a three-bedroomed modern house that had its mortgage fully paid off. We ate out regularly at expensive restaurants, frequently consuming meals and drinking wine that cost twice as much as my hard-working father had earned in one week as a miner. Our standard of living on two professional wages, with no children to support, was high enough never to worry about having sufficient money to spend, and we holidayed abroad annually and went out weekly with a group of middle-class upwardly-mobile newlyweds who lived in the same Crescent.
Without realising it at the time, by my mid-thirties, my lifestyle, attitudes and general values had changed so much that it would have made Keir Hardi (the socialist founder of the Labour Party in the early 1900s) turn over in his grave. Everything about my then present lifestyle would have been anathema to my socialist father, my siblings, my old friends and workmates whom I had happily grown up with.
I was the son of a pit-face worker from a poor Irish immigrant family that settled in West Yorkshire. I was the oldest brother to six siblings who were reared in hand-me-down and jumble-sale clothes from infancy to teenage years. I was the firstborn in a family whose food this week was never paid for until my father’s next week’s wages. I was the 11-year-old boy who, after passing his 11 plus examinations to attend the local Grammar School could not bring himself to sit next to perceived ‘toffs’ and ‘middle-class kids’ in the ‘classroom’, so refused to change schools. I was the youngest trade union shop steward in Great Britain at the age of 18 years, and who had been offered a university sponsorship by the textile trade union with the prospect of being 'fast-tracked' within the trade union organisation.
I had changed dramatically since my marriage in my mid-twenties, and until after my divorce at the age of 40 years, I would remain socially less comfortable with the working classes into which I'd been born and reared and still unreconciled with the middle-class social circles in which I now moved.
My politics had invariably changed from those of ‘Labour’ to those of voting ‘Liberal’, before becoming gradually more Conservative as my material assets increased and my future work prospects became rosier the older I became. As I moved more upmarket in the social circles I now mixed with, so my new learning of the social graces correspondingly improved.
Eventually, the time arrived when I knew that it would be a long time before I would ‘put my foot in it again’.
Love and peace Bill xxx