Oliver Cross: Getting jiggy with it

THIS Wednesday afternoon was, admittedly from very a limited field, about the most interesting Wednesday afternoon I can remember.

It was a tea dance at Woodhouse Community Centre, a joint production between the Woodhouse Culture Festival and the very lively charity for oldies, Caring Together in Woodhouse and Little London.

I have watched, through the window because dancing makes me nervous, a tea dance before, on a dull afternoon at the Spa Pavilion in Whitby about six years ago. This was a sedate affair, immaculate costumes, immaculate steps, and it looked then like something I should have started practising years ago if I wanted to brighten up my later years.

The Woodhouse tea dance was more informal than that and didn't require any special training beyond the ability to jig around to people-friendly DJs playing Boney M, Abba and other favourites, even if you have to use your stick and even if your technique hasn't improved one bit over the last 30 or 40 years.

What's more, this, in the spirit of the Woodhouse Culture Festival, was an inclusive event, so some young people, children and babies turned up, which was to everybody's delight because babies and elderly people are natural allies, particularly when there's some bouncing around and making funny expressions to be done.

The 'tea' part of the tea-dance combo was also interesting; white-capped waitresses (actually the Caring Together crowd dressed up), flowers on the table, a free raffle, home-made cakes and sandwiches of all sorts and locally-sourced, appellation controle, elderflower cordial, made from elderflowers from my friend Kim's neighbour's garden – remember this is a local festival for local people.

Novel idea from Beryl

I WAS sad when Beryl Bainbridge died aged 77 last week, not just because I've enjoyed her books for years or because (like the late Keith Waterhouse) I took her to be a good advert for the health benefits of excessive drinking (until she wasn't), but because I was looking forward to her new, not quite finished, book.

This, she explained in a very entertaining talk to the Headingley Literary Festival last year, was called The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress and involved a road trip across the United States with a strange man and the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

She read long extracts from the work in progress – and, to interrupt myself for a minute, why would she do that since it's unlikely she needed the money? Because of a residual love of her first profession, acting, or because she just enjoyed telling stories? Either way, it would make her a compulsive communicator, which is a good thing if you are a brilliant writer but not if you're a pub bore or my old geography teacher.

Anyway, I didn't really get a firm idea of what The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress was about and I would have liked to have seen it finished because then, as in all Beryl Bainbridge novels, everything would have become crystal-clear and hugely enjoyable. (This may happen anyway – apparently she left an outline of the very small uncompleted part of the novel for others to finish).

I'm also grateful to Beryl Bainbridge for (on the radio decades ago) giving me the best piece of gardening advice I've never had the nerve to follow – always plant plastic daffodils because they look very colourful and the real ones tend to die or get attacked by pests.

Heinz means punditry

THIS week I went to the opening evening of an art exhibition, remembering to wear my tartan spectacles from the pound shop, which I think make me look very artistic and would have been cheap at half the price.

This was an exhibition at Leeds Central Library by my very talented and modest friend Chris Hall, who does figurative painting, abstract painting and short films and videos (reasonable rates and discounts for pensioners, although these weren't actually for sale).

One of his interests is the, er, thingy (useful observation: tartan glasses don't increase your word power) between analogue and digital representations.

So there is a touching series of paintings recreating the sort of unmourned snaps from processed films which often get thrown away or stuck in forgotten corners for reasons familiar to anybody born before about 1990 – over-exposure, a thumb print in the corner, a stupid expression from Auntie Gladys.

Now of course all those quirky photographs are wiped out at source with a flick of a digital button, but Chris's view is that this is a loss, meaning moments of history and spontaneity are gone for good.

Incidentally, I felt rather miffed when I noticed that one of the exhibition-opening people was wearing a proper bowtie, which certainly trumps, in terms of artistic credibility, tartan glasses from the pound shop.

But then I worked out that he was German, because the first-floor exhibition space at the library is shared between Chris's work and some rather frightening (but equally interesting) stuff by German artists.

I think it a good thing that I have no idea what a bowtie signifies in Germany – whether it's a way of satirising the artistic set (which it would be if I wore it) or just someone's idea of a fine neckwear style –because Europe would be a much duller place if we could understand foreigners.

A very fine sight would be a German World Cup pundit panel – the equivalent of Hanson, Lineker etc – all wearing bowties and talking like the unforgettable Professor Heinz Wolff from The Great Egg Race on TV.

Barry McGrath.

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