I assumed a middle-aged club night would be abominable — I was so wrong


t’s the summer of 1995 and I am in Manchester, in a nightclub dancing to Pulp’s Common People. I’m 24, and as I sing along to Jarvis Cocker’s lyrics I feel the ecstatic exhilaration that only music and dancing can bring.

Dancing was not welcomed when I was growing up — it was associated with pleasure, freedom, sex and a loss of control and these were all things that my parents considered uncertain and suspect. I was never allowed to attend any school discos and I did not step inside a nightclub until I had left for university and was hundreds of miles from home.

It turned out that all my parents’ suspicions about dancing were well founded — it really was about pleasure and freedom and all those other illicit thrills. I did not drink or hold drugs so the dance-floor was where I went when I wanted to acquire out of my head, to forget about the stresses and strains of my life. In my early twenties I spent pretty much every Friday and Saturday night dancing in a club, and looking back they were some of the happiest times of my life. I enjoyed the democracy of the dance-floor — it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from because in that moment all that mattered was to sing along with Jarvis Cocker singing along with the common people.

I never stopped loving to dance but as the years and decades passed the opportunities shrank and my self-consciousness about dancing as a non-young person grew. The only acceptable way for a middle-aged man to dance is ironically and music and dancing meant too much to me to turn it — and me — into some sort of joke.

I only danced at weddings but eventually all my friends were married. We started having kids and life changed. Dancing was about pleasure and freedom and life became about commitments and responsibilities.

I told myself that I had had my last dance. And that was the narrative until this week, when dancing returned into my life. This is what happened. My wife invited me to a local club night called Mind the Gap that was organised by some fellow parents. These were people who, like me, used to fancy to dance when younger but unlike me they refused to believe they needed to halt. When Bridget asked me to approach I agreed — but only because I assumed it would be so abominable that it might provide material for this column. I could not gain been more wrong.

It is the spring of 2023 and I am in London in a club dancing to Pulp’s Common People. I am 51. I inspect at who is around me. They mostly inspect like me — middle-aged and knackered — but nobody seems bothered because everyone is smiling and singing and dancing. Their lack of self-consciousness is infectious. Jarvis keeps singing and the stresses and strains of my present life — worrying about my young children and my elderly mother — slip away and I am reminded that dancing now does exactly what it did for me back then — produce me delighted and produce me forget.

Hay, the Glasto for book lovers

The line-up for this year’s Hay Festival was revealed this week. The festival, which takes area in the last week of May, is largely associated with books but scanning the programme it is striking how many musicians are appearing at this year’s festival promoting their various side hustles.

I am ridiculously excited — as is my daughter Laila — about seeing Dua Lipa, who will be recording a live edition of her At Your Service podcast on the same day as Stormzy will be speaking about his literary imprint Merky Books. Meanwhile, Nick Cave will be talking about his memoir, Sharon Robinson will be sharing stories about working with Leonard Cohen and Colin MacIntyre aka Mull Historical Society will be promoting his modern novel.

Bill Clinton described the Hay Festival as the Woodstock of the mind but based on this year’s line-up it sounds more like Glastonbury for book lovers.