When did you last see smiles like these?
When it comes to Strictly Come Dancing there’s only one place to be – Blackpool.
But I’ve not been mingling with the stars at the Tower Ballroom, or with the global dance champs at the Empress at the Winter Gardens.
These are Strictly locals.
At the Art Deco Café in Blackpool’s Stanley Park. No celebs but plenty of dash and glamour, sequins and sparkle. And that’s just Harry (the Styles) Eley … the Santa lookalike pictured.
I had no idea how popular these regular afternoon tea dances are until I joined the Tuesday session organised by Carers Trust Fylde Coast.
It whisked me back to my old dance classes in the late 60s, falling over my feet at my first bra ping by the boy with whom I was dancing, swooning to Bassey’s Something, quickstepping to Bert Kaempfert’s Bye Bye Blues, watching Bill and Bobby Irvine on the box back home.
I’m 58. The dancers I joined were in their 70s, 80s, even 90s... and could still show me a clean pair of heels. It was murder on that dancefloor. It’s hard to seat 90-plus people when you have booked little more than 70 – but to see them dancing is poetry in motion.
Once sat, at a table with nice napery, lovely fine china, and the promise of a three-tier afternoon tea to come, the years melted away and up they sprang when the music struck up. The Fleetwood-based Bill Barrow quartet is a great dance band.
And, take it from me, those who can – do dance. And quite a few who can’t give it a go, too.
It made for a gloriously life enhancing afternoon.
Who couldn’t fail but smile at Nellie Pearson, 81, having a twirl in her wheelchair with her volunteer sitter Bob Weston – from whom she’s virtually inseparable?
Or step out with Harry Eley, 82, a dandified off-duty Santa with his neat clipped beard, twinkly blue eyes … and inexhaustible supply of hats and party wigs pressed into the occasion along with an immaculate waistcoat.
Harry met his wife at a dance when he was 14. He hasn’t stopped dancing since – although came close when his wife died. His season ticket for the Tower Ballroom kept him going. He lives for those tea dances, stepping out in style with different ladies.
Essentially it’s a public service, and the more the merrier. There were folk in from Hope residential care, the Stroke Association, British Heart Foundation , and even the Alzheimer’s Association – for such is the enduring power of music and dance.
Much of the chat was about Strictly, the resort’s dance renaissance proving a turning point for Blackpool’s regeneration, as discussed by a generation who remember the heyday and the definitive dance years.
And when the music stops there’s real delight in each other’s company, and concern at no-shows in what’s become an extended clan.
When one lady showed up from the outer reaches of Fylde, a ragged cheer went up from her seven mates.
“Her family’s moved her into a lovely annexe near them– but we’re her social life,” explained one of her friends.
When I finally retreated, in best journalistic fashion, to the bar, I found myself right by the Carlsberg pump.
Ah, I mused, if Carlsberg did tea dances they would probably look a lot like this…
Toy Story that has a happy ending
I like penguins.
I learned to type to Russ Conway’s Pixillated Penguin, visit the real thing at Blackpool Zoo, once yomped miles to see a gentoo penguin colony in the Falklands – and brought back a cuddly toy version of the real thing.
But the John Lewis Monty advert on telly is more about the power of a child’s imagination to animate childhood toys as friends – which is why Toy Story 4 will also have me blubbing like a baby in 2017.
Earlier this month, I found my very first teddy bear at the bottom of a very big storage bag.
He’s lived in France with my niece for 13 years, but became passé when cuddling boys became more important than toys.
Cloe never really warmed to his last facelift – after grandma stitched on new fur to reinforce his neck, arm and legs. He looked like something out of Flashdance.
News of his fall from grace reached us in Britain.
He was incarcerated with other unloved cuddly toys. I went in, like the Resistance, to hide him in my case and airlift him out via Ryanair – for R&R in his native North West.
For this was my bear, 58 years ago, before my brother nicked him.
And, like Paddington, he’s due another makeover – and a new lease of life.
There’s life in that old bear yet.