On Thursday I watched the Pass Out Parade, an event I didn’t know I would be attending until two days before it was due to take place; now I had to prepare for an evening I had been looking forward to for three months, the ball.
I headed back into Dartmouth for midday on Friday, with a small suitcase containing items I would need for the hotel and my dress and shoes for the ball. A timetable mix-up meant I arrived later than I would have liked, but I met Chris at the bus stop and we had time for a quick lunch at a cute little nearby diner. We were blessed with another sunny day. It was nice to quietly sit talking to Chris over lunch, enjoying my raspberry milkshake.
My first appointment was after one, to have my hair done at a nearby hairdressers. I headed over, while Chris settled the lunch bill, and dropped into a shop to purchase some cuff-links. He later joined me at the hairdressers, where we chatted to the women working their. They were surprised by the amount of time we had been together; apparently we sound like we’ve been a couple much longer than we have. My hair was curled and pinned up, and made secure. It took much less time to do than I had expected, giving Chris and I time to drop into the hotel before I needed to be at my next appointment.
Chris had booked us a room at the Dart Marina hotel, just a five minute walk from the college where the ball was to take place. Our room was prepared and we were able to check in a little earlier than specified. It was a beautiful neutral space, with a balcony overlooking the river Dart. I sat on the balcony eating strawberries and drinking lemonade, while Chris headed off to collect his number 2 uniform for the ball.
When Chris returned, we started off for my make-up appointment back in the village centre. Once again, Chris opted to stick around while I was made-over. He told the lady working magic on my otherwise plain face, that this would be the first time he would see me with make-up. This is not strictly true, but previously I had only worn poorly applied, invisible make-up. I’m none too confidant with applying make-up, nor do I feel particularly confidant in it. Despite my lack of knowledge on the subject, the professional artist was extremely nice about everything.
She too has a partner in the Navy, and we spoke about the difficulties of such things. When Chris went outside to take a phone call, the topic of conversation moved onto how comfortable I was with how I looked with make-up on. I’ll admit, it was strange seeing myself with so much on and in such a way. She had tried to keep things relatively light, but for me there was a lot and I had to ask her to take off some of the eye shadow, which she was more than happy to do. I began lamenting about my lack of skill, and how I sometimes felt jealous about other girls who knew how to do these things so well. It’s hard to feel feminine when you don’t know how to apply or even wear make-up with any level of confidence. Chris caught the end of this conversation coming back in. He gave me a hug from behind and told me, and the room, that I didn’t need to wear make-up all the time, because I am so naturally beautiful.
Once my make-up was done, we returned to the room to get dressed. We only had one more obstacle; tying a bow tie, which neither of us knew had to do. After ten minutes of circumnavigating the hotel’s wi-fi system, I pulled up a video on my phone teaching us to master the bow-tie. It wasn’t easy. Between us we managed a respectable practice job. Unfortunately, we needed the video again when Chris actually got his uniform on. All fairness to Chris, he did a wonderful job tying the bow tie a second time. And finally we were ready to head off, up the hill (in heals again) to the college. Other attendees were also staying at the hotel. As we left we caught sight of lots of well dressed officers and their escorts, heading towards the event. I began to get even more excited. This was the culmination of months of waiting and finally I would be there with Chris.
There was a significant crowd on the parade ground, gathered around two rides, enjoying pimms from a stand. I of course, don’t drink, so Chris kindly requested a lemonade for me instead. We wondered around taking in the atmosphere, mingling with a few of Chris’ Westminster friends, or as they are known, his ‘oppos’. There was one other wardrobe malfunction I forgot to mention; Chris wasn’t informed he would need to buy buttons for his waistcoat prior to the evening. Fortunately, he discovered another ‘oppo’ had some spare, and went to borrow some, leaving me to converse with some officers and their dates. This was the first time I had met any really, and certainly the first time I was required to strike up a topic of conversation. They seemed more interested in what I did for a living (ghostwriting), than in speaking about what they did. It was surprisingly easy to speak with them and their dates. Chris returned complete with buttons and feeling much better for it. He looked almost as good in his number twos as he had in his number ones, almost.
A little later on the Marines band played for us again. We gathered at the top of the stairs with more of Westminster division and our drinks ready to watch. They were as amazing as the previous day; they played some old favourites, as well as more creative, modern tunes, including a song from How to Train Your Dragon. They were able to march more elaborately than the day before, using very little space. They requested the permission of the college Captain to play the national anthem; it was granted.
I’m not sure why they needed to get permission to do so, but the commander seemed thrilled both to have been asked, and to allow the song to be played. Maybe it’s just tradition.
In any case, once the band had marched back down the hill, dinner was announced.
Wait. I forgot to mention the almost naked fan dancer women. Yes, you read that correctly. For some reason, the college hired four women to meander around in burlesque style bikinis, carrying fans used in fan dances around. I was half expecting a performance, but they just sort of stood around looking pretty. Was just kind of weird. As we entered the college to dine, they adorned the entrance, but again, they didn’t really do much. I can only think they must have been thankful the weather had stayed so nice.
Dinner was served in the Junior Gun Room, an ornate room within the college adorned with portraits of the college’s commanders.
It has a high intricately detailed sealing, and a helm from a ship of old hung from the far wall. It’s reminiscent of the great hall in the
Harry Potter films, with high domed windows, but it has hanging ship shaped light fixtures. For the meal, they had illuminated the tables with candelabras. Our feast began with an odd, yet scrumptious, salad, complete with a cheesy, fruity ball which not even the waitress serving our table could explain. Wine and water circled the table, pleasant conversation flowed with ease. Chris and I were sat opposite a friend from Westminster division and his wife, who had given birth a week before to their first daughter.
Post meal we remained in the hall and conversed. Other members of Westminster Division meandered over to join us. A magician approached the table and performed some impressive magic using multiplying foam rabbits. If you squeezed the rabbits hard in the palm of your hand, when you opened your fist there would be more.
Darkness fell shortly after dinner finished. We walked through the college halls having taking in all the entertainment. Several rooms presented different delights; there was a casino, an arcade, swing dancing and a rat-pack style singer. In the Ward Room, a trio of war time singers were belting out classic wartime tunes. Booths had been set up offering a go on a vodka luge, which I didn’t get, and a Bailey’s fountain. Chris and I had a professional photograph taken against a swing themed musical note dotted backdrop. We danced a little to the swing music, until I accidentally tripped on my dress and landed a heal square on Chris’ toe. We both laughed it off. Our relationship can get goofy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Then it was time to head outside for everyone’s favorite sky based entertainment: fireworks.
The Navy put on a pretty impressive display from the mast on the quarterdeck (I think). I don’t care who you are, you regress to being five the moment the bright, loud displays brighten the sky. The night air retained the warmth of the day. At some point during the evening my shawl had fallen from my attention, so I was
glad for the heat.
Interesting lunar activity provided a beautiful view down to the river. Apparently it was the closest the moon would get to the earth this year. The light reflected upon the water, causing it to shine through the hills.
We stopped near the bell to have photographs taken with some of Chris’ Navy friends. Here we actually gathered quite a group. I spoke to many, many people, including personnel from the Navy and the Army, and I was surprised at how simple it was to converse with everyone. Partners and friends joined in, and we spoke about many subjects. I think I fit well into it all.
Drawing later into the night, it was time to ride the Twister. There were also bumper cars, but sadly, we didn’t get round to them before everything started winding down. In any case, the ride was queue-less when we hassled down to it.
If you’ve never gussied up, had your hair done, make-up put on, donned a flawless dress, and then spun around on a fast ride, you are missing out. Put it on your bucket list. It’s one of the most liberating experiences; the fun just takes over. All pretense of having to look nice falls away. The officers began high-fiving as they whirled past one another. I was crushed between two guys much weightier (muscle wise) than myself as the ride whizzed us about. A superior officer, known for being tough, got on as we got off, and offered to buy a pint for the first man to high-five him from the side-lines. I realised how important an occasion is was for everyone to just bond and let their hair down.
By this time it was getting on for half-one in the morning. Chris and I headed back to the Junior Gun Room for something to eat. A breakfast of bacon butties and pastries had been laid out, along with tea and coffee. Chris went up and returned with a buttie for himself and a jam pasty for me. We drank tea and mulled over the evening. Everything was drawing down. The bands had mostly gone, save for a DJ in one room. Neither of us felt like getting any kind of groove on. The rides were being disassembled as we headed back out into the night, choosing to walk back to the hotel rather than hopping one of the taxis which lined the ramps. Everything had grown quiet, save for a few lingering guests, including some wild guys who had elected to climb the mast, and were being ordered down by college staff.
Chris and I walked down the hill and into the silent town. The walk finally crippled me. Chris carried me down the remainder of the hill. Back at the hotel we undressed and fell into bed, exhausted after a fantastic evening. As I drifted off I remembered all the fuss I had made about looking great. Actually that turned out to mean very little in the grand scheme of the evening. I had amazing fun just being with Chris and taking everything in. Not once did I grow concerned with how my make-up looked compared to anyone else, or if my dress was grand enough. I was more bothered by how I presented myself to Chris’ friends, and being part of the conversation, of ensuring I experienced everything on offer.
And when Chris lifted me up on the way home, I just felt joy.
And hey I left a shawl behind; that’s a little bit Cinderella.