You never know what to expect from a Warm and Toasty Club memory afternoon. A good starting point is in the name: warm, toasty and memories.
But beyond the warm friendships and the shared memories, the rest can be a little random. This is what makes Warm and Toasty so special.
Johnno and the team are continuing with the Coast to Coast project as we enter into the spring months. A Walton-on-the-Naze return is taking place with the team working with residents at Warde Chase.
The aim remains familiar: invite a gathering of some of the more mature members from our community and see where the conversation takes us. The conversation can be quite random. This is all part of the Warm and Toasty experience.
The Warde Chase residents presented a new element to Johnno and the team. The residents are the youngest of baby boomers that Warm and Toasty has worked with. This means that the memories are still fresh.
But has our society changed significantly in the past four or five decades?
Some friendly introductions started a recent Warde Chase session. Not all the residents knew one another, such is the size of the Warde Chase.
Johnno spoke about the power of stories. You can’t deny this attraction. We can look at art, listen to music or even watch TV together. But a shared conversation allows others to consider, and then comment.
The end result is a unique oral experience where we try to make sense of the past. It helps to have some wise heads around.
Joining this Warm and Toasty session were three of the volunteers – Vivian, Michael and Howard. This trio are also experienced swing dancers. This led to the topic of dancing.
Residents were asked to recount their days of going out dancing and what it meant to them.
Warm and Toasty GOLD was struck within the first few minutes. Warde Chase resident Roger delivered what seemed like one hundred stories in five minutes:
“My aunt Millie was a champion ballroom dancer. They took me out and taught me how to dance. From an early age I learnt how to do it the right way. I was then a stage hand at Covent Garden Opera House and so I saw all the greats dance. I even sang with Pavarotti!
I was singing some Elvis. He came over to me. I asked him if he liked Elvis. His manager and the Director of the Opera House were going mad! He gave me a hug. He said your voice is an instrument and you must use it every day. He sang Nesun Dorma. I said you teach me how to sing that, and I’ll teach you Hound Dog.
I’ve always been able to sing, and my mate Stuart could dance. We always got the girls, one way or the other. I look at kids dancing now and I don’t know where they get it from – spinning on their heads. We use to do that but we were drunk.”
Roger then went on to deliver a brilliant Beatles story that involved blagging it with the band whilst entertaining the ladies. A similar Tom Jones yarn followed.
The Pavarotti story was so powerful that we’re leading with this and saving up the Beatles and Tom Jones for a Warm and Toasty rainy day.
Follow that, Sue!
“We use to go to Illford Palais on a Saturday night. I don’t think it was to dance but to drink. I was a teenager. We shouldn’t have been in there. We also went to Barking Town Hall. Brian Poole and the Tremoloes use to be there. They were becoming famous.”
Brian Poole isn’t en par with The Maestro, but it seems that access to the stars was something of a recurring theme.
Warde Chase resident Wendy was a little more reserved with her dance of choice:
“I was more of a ballet fan. It’s graceful, it’s artistic and beautiful. I always wanted to learn to jive though. Because we were poor as I was sent to ballroom dancing. Someone gave me a pair of white plastic boots. I left – I couldn’t stand the embarrassment!
I did get the chance to do a solo spot at the Royal Albert Hall but I bottled it. I still enjoy watching it. Every muscle is used. It is amazing what ballerinas go through.”
But what happens if you have two left feet when it comes to dancing? Sue spoke of her own dancing anti-climax:
“I couldn’t wait to the age where I could get out and dance. But I can’t dance! I can’t jive. People tried to teach me but I couldn’t. But about 15 years ago I joined a modern jive class. I did this until recently. We do a bit of line dancing. But I’ve got two left feet. I was a wall flower. I’d rather put on a pair of roller skates and go to Ally Pally.”
Roger’s lifelong pal Stuart was next up to share his dancing memories. The stage was set as Roger let slip Stuart’s nickname of ‘Snake Hips.’
“We were 15 when we first went out. We were told that we had to be careful in these clubs. A gun was pulled on us. We use to dance in The Bell pub. I do line dancing now. I’m too old to do it now. We did have some laughs. We saw the Yardbirds and the Byrds at Walthamstow Baths.”
The memory afternoon went full circle with some Warm and Toasty volunteers sharing their experiences. Michael and Vivian were trailed to put on a first class dancing masterclass. Expectations were high for their dancing memories.
Michael’s story shows that if at first you don’t succeed…
“There was nothing when I was younger. I couldn’t do dance. I was terrible. It wasn’t until about 17 years ago that I met a girl. She said I can’t see you because I’m going to a dance class. I asked if I could come along. Twenty years earlier I saw jiving for the first time. I said I want to do that! My wife at the time said you will never do it as there was no teachers. But I’ve learnt it now.”
Sylvia is a Warde Chase resident who admitted to being a little nervous. The warmth of the group led her to adding a little more detail about her dancing memories. It was wonderful to hear how dancing can be seen as an alternative form of expression:
“I lived in Barnet. There was the M20 dance studios. I was 13 when I first went there. It made me feel free. I wasn’t that confident. When you express yourselves through your body, it gives you confidence.”
The generation game kept on being played. Jill is a younger sister of one of the other residents. She found that the decade or so gap led to a very different expectation when it came to dancing:
“I didn’t go to any dances. I just went to the pub until 2am! My daughter dances though. I spent most of my life taking her around. The Eagle in Tottenham is where I use to drink. I worked in the City and then came home in the morning.”
The dancing genes may have skipped a generation, but they are continuing with Jill’s daughter – who just so happened to pop her head around the door to check up on the Warm and Toasty session. They are a VERY friendly lot over at Warde Chase.
All of this dancing talk was exhausting. A tea break was called for.
You can take Warm and Toasty on a Coast to Coast Essex tour, but you can’t lose the biscuits. Or the conversations.
It was great to hear the tea break chat continue with the dancing theme in smaller groups. This is where more detail can be shared. Similar connections are made as we realise that dancing is one of the art forms that can still unite us.
That was theory anyway.
How about the practical?
Step forward the twinkle toes of Vivian, Michael and Howard – three resplendent Warm and Toasty volunteers who are also a bit nifty on their feet.
A demonstration of dancing from the 40s and 50s followed. You could see some of the residents shuffling their feet as their memories of how to jive came back to them.
But Warm and Toasty is about participation, not observation. Soon most of the residents were on the makeshift dance floor and joining in with what Vivian called a ‘stroll.’ It was more like a mild afternoon hike to be honest.
Johnno and the Warm and Toasty team will be continuing to work with the Warde Chase residents over the coming weeks. Other volunteers will be attending and helping out with the skills that they can offer. There is talk of a commissioned song about the Warde Chase memories being composed.
If you want to experience the glamour of a Warm and Tasty full on show then you are in luck. The next Warm and Toasty Club will be taking place on the afternoon of Sunday 28 May at Colchester Arts Centre.
Some of the memories from the Coast to Coast sessions will be shared. Tickets are priced at a bargain £5 – a price worth paying alone for Biscuit of the Month.