Proms aint what they used to be...

THERE may have been a school leavers' disco in my day. I expect we bopped a couple of sweaty hours away in a darkened school hall to the latest singles played on a steam-driven record player.

THERE may have been a school leavers' disco in my day.

I expect we bopped a couple of sweaty hours away in a darkened school hall to the latest singles played on a steam-driven record player.

If food was on offer, it would have consisted of a few bags-worth of cheesy Wotsits bouncing about on half a dozen paper plates, and squash, poured from the battered dinnertime metal jugs by teachers with chalk-covered hands who hadn't bothered to change out of their day clothes.

How times change. Just feast your eyes on this beautiful bunch in their tiaras and tuxes. The photo shows North Walsham High School students and staff at their leavers' prom, held in the Sprowston Manor Hotel.

It was taken by arts technician Emma Cooper, who gathered up her own long gown and elegantly legged it up on to the hotel roof to get a bird's-eye view.

If anyone in England had mentioned a “prom” in my school days it would have conjured up images of strolling along the front at the seaside - or possibly the vehicle in which Irish parents pushed their babies.

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Nowadays the school prom is big business. I spotted an ad in the window of a North Walsham newsagent last week offering girls the opportunity to get their “Prom Nails” done for £25 (good grief! Jamie Oliver could feed a family of four for five days on that). Posh frock shops all advertise “prom dresses” in their windows at this time of year.

And owners of unusual methods of transport must be planning their exotic foreign holidays as they tot up the pennies from hiring them out to prom-goers - North Walsham students arrived in everything from stretch limos and Hummers to an American Peterbilt truck, an old-fashioned double-decker bus, and even a helicopter.

North Walsham's event was impressively masterminded by the school's finance assistant Emma Bullen. She organised a fashion show earlier in the year to give the girls some ideas and to raise cash for an “unlimited” chocolate fountain at the prom, into which everyone dipped strawberries, marshmallows and mini doughnuts.

It was quite a night for the Wall family too. PE teacher Carol Wall had baked a three-and-a-half-foot long cake decorated as a stretch-limo for all to share. And her ex-pupil sons Chris, Tim and Mike played for prom-goers with their band the Woolly Mammoths.

Recession may be just around the corner but I'm not sure that the squash and cheesy Wotsits will be making a re-appearance any time soon.

“KEEP smiling through, just like you always do, 'til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away,” crooned the singer as “dark clouds” hurled stair rods at Aylsham's Fabulous '40s carnival-goers on Sunday.

And the crowds took her advice - everyone seemed to be having a good time despite the downpours.

It was a lovely event with real atmosphere, plenty to do and loads to look at.

Dotted among the costumed wartime soldiers and Rita Hayworth lookalikes were a few true veterans of those days, including former Bevin Boy Russell Craske.

He is pictured with his badge, presented only last month to surviving Boys in belated recognition of their vital contribution to the war effort.

Russell was just 18 when he was ordered off to Rotherham where he spent nearly four years down the mines, hewing coal.

Of all the wonderful '40s memorabilia on show at the carnival, I think Russell's little badge was the thing I found most moving.

That 18-year-old Aylsham lad has had to wait an awfully long time for his nation's thanks - happy 83rd birthday next month Russell.

SHOPPERS couldn't fail to notice the fluorescent vest-wearing gangs of workers weeding, scrubbing and litter-picking all over North Walsham on Friday, as part of the town's Clean-Up campaign.

Among them were town councillors Sheila and Ted Gadsden. It was particularly noble of the couple to turn out and help for a second year after their eyebrow-raising experience at last year's inaugural event.

Sheila, this year's deputy mayor, was telling me that as they had bent, hard at work, by the Market Cross, someone came out of a shop and asked, quite seriously: “Are you doing community service?”

Ted is not only a retired Met police officer, at the time he was also town mayor.

Mind you, I suppose they were all doing “community service” of sorts…