A NEW YEAR CALAMITY! The New Year’s Eve Balls at the Hall were usually the highlight of the year. After twelve months of hard work, especially running the Mediaeval Banquets twice a week through the winter, we were always ready to see out the year in style with a big new year party. In those days it was always black tie for the men and long dresses for the ladies – usually around 500 people bought tickets for an evening of entertainment with a dance band, disco and a meal. At midnight a man dressed in traditional Scottish regalia, including a kilt and sporran, would pipe in the new year with his bagpipes. Down the Long Gallery he would slowly walk and into the Ballroom with his pipes droning on. When midnight arrived a net full of balloons was dropped onto all the guests from the ceiling, out came the party poppers and hats and everyone joined hands to sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Once all the traditional stuff was done the band started up again and we all did the Hokey Cokey, the Conga and other silly dances that only happen on New Year’s Eve! It was always great fun and I loved to dress up in my long dress.
My parents were having a trial separation around this time so my dad had to run the New Year’s Eve Ball on his own. I helped, as I had before, with the administration; posting out tickets and doing a bit of book-keeping. The week prior to the Ball was spent moving furniture about and cleaning the house up after all the banquet tables and benches were removed. We usually used some of the banquet tables for people to sit at but this particular year my mum had stored them all away in the basement and put a lock on the door – these were her property now! This left my dad in a bit of a quandary about what to do for tables and after a lot of ranting he decided that he would have to hire some. As my dad was well known for being ‘careful’ with his money, he didn’t want to spend too much and hired the cheapest tables and chairs he could. They arrived on the day of the Ball in a van with a man (or two) and they carried them into the Ballroom and left. Kev and I went to set them out later on – it was only then that we realised why they were so cheap. The tables folded out but the chairs were all joined together in rows of 10! So it meant that every time someone got up to leave the table, the other 9 people had to get up too as they all pushed back together!
Eventually we got the house sorted out and hoped that people wouldn’t be too bothered about the chairs. Then my dad noticed that the Christmas tree lights weren’t working. In true dad style he went down to his basement workshop and found some old lights that weren’t really safe to use – however, he insisted that he could fix them with a bit of tape even though Kev (who was a trained electrician) told him they were unsafe and he would be willing to go to the next village to buy some new ones. But my dad wouldn’t have it and he certainly wouldn’t spend the few pounds required, so they were botched up much to Kev’s disgust and hung on the tree.
As we went to switch the lights on just before people arrived, they blew the main fuse in the fuse box. My mum had locked the cupboard that contained the fuse boxes because she kept all the bar stock in there and as she had gone away for new year there was no way of getting the key. My dad was furious and asked Kev to break into the cupboard. Once again we were ‘breaking and entering’ at my dad’s command – at least we had a valid reason this time! An enormous crowbar was found in the workshop and Kev set to work on the door, wood splintering everywhere – these doors were incredibly well made! Eventually we got in and Kev managed to re-set the fuse box – the lights were thrown away.
People were starting to arrive but they were a little late getting to us. One or two complained about the car parking facilities but we didn’t think anything of it as we were all very busy with limited staff to help – most of the ‘staff’ being our friends! Then one man arrived covered in mud from the knees down, his dinner suit ruined. He told us he would need a tractor to get his car out when he went home and then some other guests arrived in the same state saying their cars were also stuck in a muddy field. Eventually we got to the bottom of the mystery – my mum had turned the ‘To the Hall’ sign round so that it pointed into a field next to the road to the Hall and everyone had been parking their cars in there. How embarrassing! We had to ring a local farmer and ask him to tow all the cars out of the mud – not a good start to a ‘happy’ new year!
However, the evening soon livened up and guests were dancing to the band which happened to be Kev’s band this year. They seemed to go down well and looked completely different in their dinner jackets, even though they still wore long hair!
When the buffet was served later on the caterers put all the food out at once but there weren’t enough people around to staff it properly. The first guests that went up to help themselves took platefuls of food away so by the time the rest of the guests got their food there was hardly anything left! This nearly caused a riot and my poor dad ended up being surrounded by a bunch of angry men demanding their money back! He had to give it back too – it was the only way to calm them down.
The evening was going from bad to worse. My friends and I were serving on the bar, even though we’d never done this before. It was incredibly busy all night and I remember desperately trying to add all the drinks up in my head and eventually rounding it up to the nearest pound for quickness – in the end we were just charging anything as we ran out of ice, glasses, patience and steam!!
As the new year arrived and was piped in by the Scottish piper, everyone got really excited (maybe from the wrong drinks measures by untrained bar staff) and started pulling at the cord that held the net of balloons in place. As the crowd surged forward to catch the balloons a man grabbed the cord and gave it an almighty tug. Not only did the net come down but also the metre high wood and plaster moulding that hung off the ceiling. It fell to the floor with a mighty crash hitting a man on the head, although thankfully not fully. The evening ended rather abruptly for that man as he was taken off to hospital by ambulance and we were left to clear up the mess and calm down my dad who was now worried to death about being sued! Luckily the man was OK but he did write a letter of complaint to the local council about the perils of ornamental mouldings on high ceilings.
This led to a new law being made for the inspection of ceilings in businesses which held a Public Entertainment Licence. We found this out to our cost about twenty years later when our own nightclub in Leicester was subjected to a ceiling inspection – Kev asked the inspector why this strange law had been made as it seemed a bit pointless and an unnecessary expense for us. He was told that it was due to some incident in a stately home near Lichfield back in the 70s when a ceiling moulding had fallen on somebody’s head. Imagine the looks on our faces when we realised it was my own home he was referring to – this inspection cost us £1500 - and all because of my dad!
Happy New Year!!
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