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Smallville: Changing Times

If you go Youth Hostelling these days, watch out for long-haired blondes in the shower room. And face the fact, you may not get to see the Midnight Cowboys. There's good humour aplenty when you enter Peter B Farrell's smallville world.

After drinking our cocoa my companion and I bade goodnight and sought out our respective dormitories. This was in the 1950s and as a sign of the times strict segregation of the sexes was enforced; separate dormitories and lights out at 10.30 pm.

We were staying at Youth Hostel which had been an old manor house, set in it’s own grounds amid magnificent scenery in Derbyshire. The YHA (Youth Hostels Association) afforded the opportunity for young people to meet up to escape the drudgery of work for a few days, usually by hiking or cycling around the country.

As was the custom, clean - if Spartan - overnight accommodation was provided in exchange for a few chores, usually cooking breakfast, washing up, or sweeping floors…

“It should be quite an experience. I’ll book straight away.” Planning a walking holiday some fifty years later, my wife and I had joined the YHA. Although my wife had expressed reservations regarding communal living, and we were hardly “youths”, seemingly there was no apparent age limit and we looked forward to a Spring holiday walking in the hills of the Peak district.

Outwardly the hostel had not changed in fifty years, but we were surprised to find a restaurant serving evening meals, with a wine list and a bar. The modern accommodation also catered for couples and families and - being fully staffed - there was no requirement for us to perform chores.

On booking in, we discovered we were accommodated in the annexe next door. Apparently the hostel had been fully booked for the coming weekend, it being the Spring Bank holiday. A recent acquisition, the annexe had all modern facilities, including a kitchen and showers.

The next day after an exhilarating, if tiring, day spent in the surrounding hills we returned to the hostel.

“You have a shower first, see how the system works then let me know.” My wife was still wary of the pitfalls of communal living and dutifully I made my way to the showers. An “Engaged” device indicated I would have to wait awhile. Within a few minutes a small queue had formed behind me and was becoming impatient. I banged on the door.
“There’s a queue here.” I shouted hoping the inmate would taken notice and hurry up.

The door opened and through a haze of steam I glimpsed the back view of a bronze torso with long flowing blonde hair clad in the briefest of, well... briefs, gliding to what I assumed was the changing room.

I had my shower. My imagination ran wild and didn’t finish running until I was back in our room, panting.

“Margaret, you wouldn’t believe it.”

“Wouldn’t I? Try me.” I enlightened my wife and subsequently found myself stationed outside the shower. She only came out when I gave her the all-clear signal.

That particular evening the restaurant was almost empty. “Where’s the blonde?” Margaret was intrigued to get a glimpse of the glamorous creature I had described. I immediately recognised the back view despite the jeans and tee shirt and pointed her out.

“It’s a bloke. You need your eyes testing!” She burst out laughing.

All right, but what with all that steam AND I wasn’t wearing my spectacles at the time…

The young man and his companion turned out to be German cyclists on a touring holiday. The long blonde hair was not what I would have expected.

The following day the hostel filled up. I observed a young man putting up notices publicising various activities: hill walking, cycling, canoeing and climbing. One particular event caught my eye, “Saturday night, Line Dancing, Come and have fun with the Midnight Cowboys, bus leaves at 7.30.” Being enthusiasts of the recent craze, the possibility of a sociable night out appealed to us and I made further enquiries.

I discovered that apart from the German cyclists and ourselves, almost everyone else staying at the Hostel were members of a private organisation, the GOC, who were having their annual get together. The planned activities were for their benefit. Surely the two of us could perhaps join in the Line Dancing? Well, we had better see the Secretary.

“Mmm, not sure. It’s for Club members only. Do you know what the GOC. is?”

Duly enlightened I informed my wife.

“What, the Gay Outdoor Club?” She saw the funny side.

Joining the crowded dining room we would never have known. Our table companions were very friendly, introduced themselves and despite our predicament made us feel at ease.

“Are those puppies under the table?” My wife was mistaken. In fact they were baby seals and the young coloured man at the next table was wearing a bizarre line in carpet slippers.

Next morning one of our new friends - a lay preacher - escorted my wife to the local shops. Finding they had similar backgrounds he vowed he would put her in his next sermon.

Over the next few days we enjoyed the company of all the club members we met. Our holiday had been a memorable one and we finally said our farewells to our newfound friends.

We had enjoyed walking in the hills and resolved to make further bookings with the YHA. The fifty-year return journey had been well worth it despite not having fun with the Midnight Cowboys.



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