Inspiration can be gained anywhere, at any time. Yesterday, I had no idea what today’s blog subject would be and thought maybe I would have to post a photograph of some Autumn leaves and write a little caption and that would be that. Then I was scrolling through my Twitter timeline and noticed a tweet from the lovely @kyleorchid. Apparently she had been to the cinema and was saying how much she had enjoyed “Philomena”. Just a throw-away remark, but it got me thinking about films and one thing lead to another. I thought that maybe I would write about some film, or even the last time I visited the cinema ……… but no, that wouldn’t do. Because I have mostly lived in rural places, far away from ‘picture houses’, my visits have been few and far between. In fact, I struggled to remember the last time I saw a film from anywhere other than the comfort of my own sofa. No, I would have to think again.
I suffer from insomnia and often lie awake at night, thoughts whirring through my head, Last night was such a night, but as I lay there, my head buzzing and searching for sleep a memory popped into my head ! A memory of my first visit to the Cinema………or the ‘pictures’ as they were known, in those days. Apparently, I had been taken, when I was very young, to see ” Snow White and the Seven dwarfs”. That would be the original Disney version, made in the 30s, I suppose, but I can’t really say that I remember it. Sometimes flashes of it come into my head, but I am not going to write about that. Nor will I write about the Saturday ‘matinees’………….. dozens of children whooping and cheering at “Roy Rogers” and “The Lone Ranger”. No, not that ! I am going to tell you about the first time I was taken to the cinema to see a proper film.
As a child I was Ballet mad. Some children are into sport, some horses; but I was into fantasy. Well, the sort of fantasy that I found in children’s books. Wild adventure stories, “Ivanhoe”, “Treasure Island” and all the fairy tales that I could lay my hands on. And I loved Ballet. I begged to be allowed to take lessons and was thrilled when my parents agreed. I took to dancing like the proverbial duck to water and adored the whole idea of dressing in beautiful tulle outfits and tripping about like some fairy princess. I was a real ‘girly’ girl and still remain so today. I had lots of books and many of them were about Ballet. I read them over and over and pored over the glossy photographs. One book was about the famous Bolshoi Ballet, its history and its dancers and choreographers and this was my favourite. I must have almost read the print off the pages and knew every photograph so well that I could name every dancer. The most famous Ballet Company in the World; the dancers were legends; oh how I longed to see them. But, way back in the 50s, the Bolshoi had never been to Britain, staying almost exclusively in Russia and even if they did, I knew that tickets would be far beyond the modest means of my family. So my dream had to remain just that.
One day in December of 1957, my father asked if I would like to go to the ‘pictures’ with him. This was a surprise because I was used to going to the Saturday ‘matinees’ with my friends. But my Dad didn’t mean the matinee, oh no ……….. he meant the proper, grown-up cinema, to see a proper film. I was 9 years old and more excited than I had ever been …………..in those days this was a big deal. But what was the film ? My father said it was a surprise, my Birthday is in December and it was going to be an early present. My mother just smiled and would not be moved, either, so I just had to wait and see.
At last Saturday arrived and I dressed in my best, warm clothes. We lived in Guisborough at the time and we were going to take the bus into Middlesbrough. There had been heavy snow and my father did not want to drive on the narrow, snowy roads and then face the hassle of finding a suitable parking space in town. Things were so different in those days ………the buses always got through ! I could barely contain my excitement as the little, red, single deck bus bumped along the icy roads. I remember the snow had been piled high on either side of the road by the sturdy little snow ploughs. We never had the ‘wrong kind of snow’, or ‘leaves on the line’ in those days …………… we just got on with it and coped.
Finally we pulled into Middlesbrough Bus Station and we began to walk up Linthorpe Road . The pavements had been cleared but snow remained at the edges and we had to jump over huge piles of dirty, grey slush and ice when we wanted to cross the road. I’m afraid I can’t recall the name of the cinema, I think it was the Odeon. I can’t swear to it……but it doesn’t really matter. The name paled into insignificance when I saw the huge banners that advertised the film we were about to see,
“THE BOLSHOI BALLET” !!!!!!!
I could hardly believe my eyes and can still remember that I had a lump in my throat. I was actually going to see the Bolshoi Ballet, I couldn’t believe it. The whole place seemed to be magical, with bright lights and deep red, carpet in the enormous foyer. There were huge cardboard figures of the principal dancers, dotted about and I knew every one. I pointed them out to my father, who was suitably impressed with my great knowledge ! We bought our tickets and I was also given a small box of chocolates…………… I felt so grownup. And then, a special gift……..a glossy programme, in the form of a book, full of pictures of the dancers and information about the ballets we were about to see. We walked up the wide stairs to the balcony…………. gosh it was like a real theatre , so much more glamourous than the rather scruffy little picture house back in rural Guisborough. To me, this was the big city !
We settled into our seats and I breathed in that plush, luxurious aroma of velvet and polished wood and perfume. Then I opened the glossy programme and sighed as I realised I was going to see my favourite ballet “Giselle” danced by my heroine…………. the legendary Galina Ulanova ! The lights lowered and I hugged my book and watched the usual Newsreel and little Public Information film ………we don’t have them now, but they were a feature of the 1950s cinema experience and then………………. the Ballet.
It was everything I had ever hoped it would be and I gazed in awe as Ulanova seemed to float across the stage. My father says that I never uttered a word for the whole hour and a half of the film ………….. I was a very garrulous child, so that was no mean feat. The Ballet that I saw that day has remained in my memory ever since. I have seen many Ballets and lots of dancers over the years, but none has ever come close to the artistry and effortless grace of Galina Ulanova and the Bolshoi company. I may be looking back with rose tinted glasses and the naivety and innocence of a child, but I don’t care. it is one of my clearest childhood memories and, as such, I cherish it and keep it close in my heart.