Thursday, 15 November 2018

The Wedding of The Painted Doll

Let me take you back to a time of glamour and social revolution. It is the end of WW1. Many young men have died on the battlefields of Europe: devastating conflict at The Somme and Ypres has claimed the lives of millions. Many aristocratic dynasties have lost the heir to their estates. The death rate among young officers is particularly high. They were an easy target for the enemy, their uniforms standing out among the regular troops.

After the armistice, social change was inevitable. Trade Unions campaigned for worker's rights and the General Strike in 1927 pushed the British Government to improve the lives of ordinary working people. At the same time, social change brought more leisure time and a boom in the music industry.

Enter Jack Hylton, English pianist, composer, band leader and impresario.
Hylton rose to prominence during the British dance band era, being referred as the "British King of Jazz" and "The Ambassador of British Dance Music" by the musical press, not only because of his popularity which extended throughout the world, but also for his use of unusually large ensembles for the time and his polished arrangements. 

Jack’s Early Life:

Jack was born John Greenhalgh Hilton in Bolton on 2nd July 1892. He started by providing piano accompaniment for his father touring clubs, and later had his own act as the “Singing Mill Boy”. He worked as a relief pianist for various bands before joining the Queens Dance Orchestra.  Here he arranged and recorded popular songs ‘Directed by Jack Hylton’ and went on to create his own band.

‌‌Jack Hylton and his Orchestra 1920’s – 1940’s:

In 1923, he started recording under his own name and was so popular, he had to provide surrogate bands for simultaneous performances.  These performances would include variety acts and soloists.  His band toured America and Europe and he was one of the directors of the Decca record label.  The band disbanded in the early 1940’s when many members were being called up for war service.

Jack Hylton is the reason that my family came to live here in Blackpool. My paternal grandfather, Fred Robinson played tenor saxophone in Jack Hylton's band and my father played many of his records when I was growing up. Dad also played Jack's tunes on the family piano. My favourite was The Wedding of The Painted Doll, a song that he taught me to sing. It was the love of this style of music that led me to become a dancer. You can link to the Hylton version of the tune here;

The Wedding of the painted Doll was used in the 1929 Hollywood musical The Broadway Melody. Hollywood actresses were super sophisticated and gloriously glamourous.  The 1920s and 30s were a time of revelry, a celebration of peacetime and an era of excess. The music of that period is timeless. There are many young people who now embrace vintage fashion and enjoy dancing to the music of that era. There are web sites and facebook pages dedicated to the Big Bands including The Golden Age of British Dance Bands  I have spent many a happy hour trawling through the photos posted on this site.

As for my grandfather - he met my grandmother Polly while he was performing with Jack Hylton's band at Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Eventually, when they had five children and Polly decided that he had to stay here and not keep touring with the band who had international acclaim. Fred continued to play in the resident bands at The Tower and The Winter Gardens and taught music at home.

There is a museum dedicated to Jack Hylton at the Lancaster University campus that is well worth a visit. Unfortunately I haven't been inspired to write a 'doll' poem this week but I hope that you have enjoyed this blast from the past.

Thanks for reading. Adele  

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


10:41:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , 6 comments

My first born was a little bundle of soft, pink joy.  She had a mass of curly blonde hair, a rather serious face and eyes that refused to close at bedtime despite my frequent efforts to lull her into that deep sleep I knew she needed.  She had two changes of clothes which was hardly adequate but I had plans to deal with that.  Grandma would come into play with her sewing and knitting skills. 

I was three and Suzy was my pride and joy.  

From the day that Suzy arrived in my Christmas stocking my life changed.  I was the mum I hadn’t realised I wanted to be. I had the baby I hadn’t realised I needed. 

Don’t get me wrong, Suzy wasn’t always the perfect child. She had her moments. The eyes were a prime example. Whilst my friends had babies whose eyelids drooped and quivered and finally closed as they were laid in their cots, Suzy stared at me, wide eyed and serious, some might say defiant.  She stayed like that as I covered her with the quilt my mum had made, stroked her Brillo pad hair and sung a little lullaby.  

When I had done my morning chores, which usually consisted of frying plastic sausages and making numerous cups of tea for my mum, I would return to the cot and find Suzy in the same catatonic state.  I’m not sure what happened with her finger but I’m guessing that one day the lack of sleep became too much for me and I bit into the squishy digit and spat out the tiny end.  Either that or the feeling of soft plastic between my teeth was impossible to resist - a bit like when you have a chewy sweet and try desperately not to bite into it.  

Suzy took the surprise amputation in her stride and continued to stare blankly at me as I sat miserably wondering how to explain away the missing finger to her grandma (who I guessed might not be too happy about it: ‘You bit her finger off?? What do you mean you bit her finger off??) I predicted a telling off unless I could dress Suzy in gloves for the rest of her life. 

I think I must have got away with the finger because sometime later Suzy suffered the loss of a couple of toes in a similar incident.  I told her it was frostbite, which my dad had recently explained to me, and she accepted it with her usual sangfroid. I did wonder much later, after one graphic RE lesson, whether I should have blamed leprosy. 

I think having Suzy must have sparked my interest in sewing and knitting, which remains with me to this day  As predicted, my mum made Suzy a few basic outfits - dresses, skirts, knickers and, strangely, an apron.  I’m guessing the apron was to prepare Suzy for a life of housewifery, and in the meantime to assist me with the cups of tea and plastic sausages.  Before long I was sitting with pieces of old fabric, scissors and a needle and thread, and cobbling together a rather bizarre wardrobe for Suzy.  Which, thinking about it, is probably how my love of weird clothing for myself developed.  

The best times with Suzy were undoubtedly when we visited our cousins in Margate.  Sue, a year older than I, had her own baby, Lindy, who was slightly smaller than Suzy.   I remember comparing the two babies and, just like a real mother, I felt quite smug that Suzy was obviously so much chubbier and prettier than poor Lindy.  Sue had a great Auntie Rosa, who was a whizz with a pair of knitting needles or a crochet hook, and was obviously at such a loose end that she had fashioned a huge wardrobe of outfits for the lucky Lindy.  I don’t know how I did it but I managed to persuade Sue that some of Suzy’s rather strange and ill-fitting outfits would be lovely on Lindy, and vice versa.  Soon Suzy was being squeezed into beautifully knitted jumpers and cardigans, and poor Lindy was looking like an orphan in huge hand me downs, falling apart at the seams.  I’m not sure what Suzy thought of the knitted knickers but she wore them without complaint for much longer than I’m sure was hygienic. 

As I got older, I have to admit I had less contact with Suzy. Life took over - art college, boyfriends, marriage and (more) children. Suzy ended up unceremoniously dumped head first, woolly knickers in the air, in a box in a cupboard at my parents’ house.  She might have been out of sight but my first born was never really out of mind for too long.  Grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews were all treated to the sight of Suzy’s poker face, as the toy box was brought out over the years. I must say, Suzy was usually discarded in favour of something far more exciting.  It looked like she’d had her day. Nobody loved Suzy like I loved Suzy. 

Just recently, knowing I was going to write this post I asked my son to take a picture of Suzy whilst he was visiting his grandparents. In an attempt to get Dan to find the right doll, I described her in as much detail as possible: she’s ugly, quite dirty and yellow, with missing fingers and hair like a Brillo pad. He sent the picture. 

Suzy, My Baby, With Her Missing Fingers

You might be 63 now Suzy - your fingers and toes have healed, your hair is still too stiff to brush and those eyes will never close, but you know what, Suzy, you’ll always be my baby. 

Another Day with Mother by Jill Reidy

At night
In the nursery
The baby dolls stir
Peep over their quilts 
And call to each other
Suzy never sleeps
Her eyes all seeing
She’s the leader 
Keeps the secrets

They help each other
Out of cots
Play games they’ve never 
Had a chance to play
They giggle
Drink the juice left on the side
Hold hands, dance round
And wait 
For the early signs of dawn

As the light 
Seeps through the curtains
And the room begins to warm
Suzy picks up toys 
Pulls back covers
Does a roll call 
Prodding and poking 
Sends the babies
Back to bed

I find her in the morning
Suzy, my first born
Eyes wide
Hair wild
I lift her up
Inhale the familiar rubbery smell
Gently touch the broken fingers
She stares right back at me
And resigns herself to another day with mother

Thanks for reading,    Jill

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Dolls - Meet Janice

My lovely big doll, Janice lives in the attic. Propped up between an old filing cabinet and boxes of Christmas stuff, she manages to stay upright and fix her blue-eyed gaze through the Velux to the tops of the houses opposite, or the night sky. She is nearly sixty years old, in reasonably good shape and dressed smartly in a pale blue summer dress that used to be my daughter’s. Janice’s original dress of shiny white and royal blue has not survived the test of time.

She was given to me on my fifth birthday and we’ve always been together except for the time a few years ago when I lent her out to take part in a themed window display somewhere in Knott End.

We almost had a tragedy on Sunday. I carefully brought her down to the landing for a photo-shoot during which, our eldest grandson, being inquisitive, came looking for me. Of course, I had to introduce them to each other, grandson not quite sure if Janice, nearly the same height, was real or not, kept a safe distance. Seconds later, we took her downstairs to meet the others. I kept hold of her while our granddaughter and younger grandson looked at her. A few remarks from the so called adults of the family, like,

‘Oh that creepy doll, what’s she doing down here?’ As if she’d escaped the attic on her own.

 ‘That Janice, she’s so bleeping scary!’ There’s absolutely nothing scary about my Janice.

‘You always kept her at the end of my bed. She gave me bleeping nightmares.’ Huh? My daughter didn’t complain at the time and I’d say she comes across as a well-adjusted young mother.

I was trying not to laugh too much as I defended my beautiful doll. I explained that the poor thing has to live right upstairs in the attic room because someone who shall remain anonymous is easily spooked by her. Everyone knows who it is, so there’s much family laughter and witty banter going on when suddenly, as I altered the way I was holding Janice, both her arms dropped off and fell to the floor. What was happy laughter became an uproar, squeals, tears, aching sides and literally rolling on the floor. It was the funniest thing ever, just hilarious. The stuff that linked the arms together looked like perished rubber and it probably was. Luckily, she was soon mended with some elastic from my sewing cupboard and the expertise from ‘he who will not be spooked by a doll while he’s mending it’ who did a first class job and I am very grateful.

If our new neighbours think they’ve moved next door to a madhouse, I hope they know it’s a happy one and they are welcome to join in. Janice is back in the attic, until next time.

I found this poem by William Butler Yeats

The Dolls
A doll in the doll-maker's house
Looks at the cradle and bawls:
'That is an insult to us.’
But the oldest of all the dolls,
Who had seen, being kept for show,
Generations of his sort,
Out-screams the whole shelf: 'Although
There's not a man can report
Evil of this place,
The man and the woman bring
Hither, to our disgrace,
A noisy and filthy thing.’
Hearing him groan and stretch
The doll-maker's wife is aware
Her husband has heard the wretch,
And crouched by the arm of his chair,
She murmurs into his ear,
Head upon shoulder leant:
'My dear, my dear, O dear,
It was an accident.

W.B.Yeats  1865 - 1939

Monday, 12 November 2018


I was 33 when I acquired my first house. It was built in the 1950’s and in a 1930’s Art Deco style. It had three bedrooms, a bathroom, a drawing room, dining room and a small kitchen.

Ready furnished with period pieces, all it needed was redecorating and a little refurbishing. It went on to become a traditional family home, complete with dad, mum and three children.

It was three feet high and two feet wide and I was only allowed (at last) to play with a dolls house because we had just had a baby girl and we were getting it ready for her. 

I have always loved small and miniature things; books, dolls, furniture, everything small scale. Being a boy, I never had the opportunity to ‘play’ with such things. I didn’t even have a sister, whose dolls I could have played with. Also, I was brought up in a very rough part of Liverpool and it wasn’t something to mention out loud. 

But now, I had a daughter and she was going to like dolls and dolls houses. We were given this first one as it was a family piece (made by my wife’s grandfather for his daughter). I got it ready and bought another two, all complete with miniature interiors and dolls to inhabit them. 

As soon as my daughter could play, we would sit and play for hours with these houses. We would make up stories and imagine what the dolls were saying to each other, what they were doing in the kitchen and in the drawing room. 

We would buy extra furniture and even more dolls as friends and neighbours. 

It developed into a garden, with sunbathing dolls and plants and animals. We had a gardener, cook and butler. A house with staff!
My daughter developed a great imagination and her stories were so much more vivid than mine. She is now twenty- three and still loves all things miniature and her/my dolls houses live with us as she doesn’t yet have her own place. She reckons dolls hold in secrets and as I pass them on the landing each day, I smile because they know all mine. 

The art of  small things

As the doll turns the page,
don't offend the book, or its age
by saying it could be opened faster
if it were bigger, vaster

than the whole library he’s sitting with.
This is all part of the myth
that bigger is better – or another,
that life is ruled by Big Brother

watching you. Mass media’s laced
with this hype and it can be traced
back to ‘size matters’ – it’s implicit
you don’t have to listen for it.

 A strong magnifying- glass
will show the miniature’s class.
When you fix it in your view,
the truth that hides becomes visible to you.

Thanks for reading,
David Wilkinson

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Unleafing Stanley Park

In a properly ordered universe I would have been at St. James' Park (home of Exeter City) this afternoon supporting Blackpool in the FA Cup, but this is not a properly ordered universe, not while the Oyston family is still in control at Bloomfield Road. The supporter boycott continues.

As an alternative, I took a walk in the park with Adele - that's Blackpool's award-winning Stanley Park (created in 1928). It was an overcast day, not untypical of the north-west in November, but at least the rain held off. I thought I'd look for inspiration for a poem, maybe even write it al fresco. Well, that last part didn't happen, but it was a relaxing hour's walk and sufficiently inspiring, I think.

We were pursued for quite some while by a tribe of tufty grey squirrels who are so tame they expect to be hand-fed; alas we'd gone without provisions, so eventually they scampered off in disgust shaking their tails at us. There wasn't much interesting bird life in evidence; a few maggies (one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a pie...), some rather sorry-looking cormorants and a couple of sweet green parakeets - plus the usual suspects (gulls and pigeons aplenty). Of course there isn't anything in flower at this time of year, not in the ornamental beds nor the rose garden - so the stars of the park were the trees, rapidly unleafing, having gone a spectacular array of reds, yellows and browns.

The walk to Cocker Tower in Stanley Park
There were various commemorative artefacts to see as well - a newly unveiled remembrance bench and displays of  artificial poppies. As we walked the woodland paths I was thinking about November 1918 on this 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, of fallen men and falling leaves and the sheer magnitude of big numbers, like the ten million soldiers who lost their lives in that conflict.

Have you ever wondered how many leaves there are on a mature tree? I looked it up on the internet when I got home, for inevitably someone has calculated this. Depending on the type and  size of tree, naturally, the number is anywhere between 20,000 and 80,000. Taking an average of 50,000, that would mean in an avenue comprised of a hundred pairs of trees, each falling leaf would represent the loss of one small but infinitely precious life during that war-to-end-all-wars, ten million hopes scattered to the winds -staggering to contemplate.

At the going down of the sun, the park's Cocker Tower (below) was illuminated with a series of images of remembrance, a moving tribute from the town to those who served and died in order that we could live free.

I've not written a new poem for this week's blog, but you're welcome to revisit the Winter Ghost blog I wrote a year ago about the Christmas 1914 football game in No Man's Land, linked here:

Thanks for reading. Until next week, S :-)

Friday, 9 November 2018


So just to confuse everyone: when I moved back to Scotland after a 20 year absence, I gradually got used to rehearing phrases long forgotten and when I lived in Buckie I learned that a "park" was not how you might know it, but it was in fact a FIELD! So people would say things like "See the coos in the park ".  Now we'd be appalled to see any cows in our local parks! But there you are. Such terms completely threw my husband, who was born and bred in Oxford, and it's a good job he had me to interpret things for him.

However, to return to parks as we know them. Places of leisure, nostalgia, fun, enjoyment, swings, slides, flowers, birds, Lakes etc. Oases of calm and peace in busy towns and cities. What a grand idea they are too, and very thoughtful of planners of the past to include them. Sometimes they are just a small area of grass and flowers in a square surrounded by houses. More than often though they are many acres of land set aside for a multitude of interests. Often including greenhouses, such as the large one I recall in Duthie Park, Aberdeen, where we could view exotic plants (and butterflies) from far off countries. Fountains played a part too , a place to paddle perhaps? Lakes of various depths and sizes giving a home to mallard ducks and other species...just like the one in Grange over Sands. Parks provide entertainment, a place to ride a scooter, push a pram, kick a ball or get on a miniature railway and experience the thrill of going round and round a track waving to all as you pass... you know, we've all done it !

Often it's a child's first introduction to a green open space where they can play freely and safely. So we need to preserve our parks. I've noticed that many parks are updating themselves and providing facilities in keeping with our modern lifestyles, as well as refurbishing firm favourites from the past. In the summer I visited "Happy Mount Park" in Morecambe and they have successfully integrated the older style amusements with more modern ones. The park successfully caters for many tastes allowing grandparents, parents and children to enjoy a day out together.

Locally, a nearby park has been 'adopted' by 'friends' and has proven to be a successful venture for the community. This seems to be a way forward as many authorities are cash-strapped and find the
upkeep of these green spaces prohibitive. Volunteers have stepped in giving of their time and expertise with good results in winning accolade in the "Britain in Bloom" competition.

I am lucky as I have access to travel and find my "green spaces" out in the countryside, but not all
are so fortunate , therefore parks and open green areas within our urban communities are important to provide a place of exercise, relaxation and enjoyment...and not forgetting the benefit of providing havens for wildlife, flowers and improving our "carbon footprint".

photo taken in the Japanese Garden in Happy Mount Park, Morecambe
Parks I've Known
I skated in Duthie Park, on the frozen boating pond.
So very long ago.

I had my first date in Seaton Park.
So very long ago.

Did cross country running in Hazelhead park.
So very long ago.

I scooted in Happy Mount Park, by Morecambe Bay.
This July past.

Thanks for reading my few lines and enjoy your local park! Kath.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

There’s Something About a Park

20:07:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , 3 comments
Broomfield Park circa 1988
There’s something about a park.

When I was very little, the local park captured a tiny corner of my heart without me even knowing.  Now I realise the love of parks has been there ever since. 

In the suburban area of London where I was born there were several memorable parks, all quite different in their appearance and function. I have a rather fuzzy memory of a small triangle of flowerbeds and concrete paths on my way to primary school - and was there some sort of shelter or pavilion? I can’t remember.  This wasn’t really a park to play in, just a means to an end: to school; back home. The only reason we ran zig zag around the flower beds was if our mum stopped to chat to someone.  Then it could be a pretty long game of tig. 

Now, the Rec was a different matter, quite the opposite of the neat little flower bedded triangle.  The Rec was the place to play.  After all, this was the ‘50s where kids went out after breakfast and came home at teatime.  No computers, Nintendo’s, Switches or mobiles. Playing out was what we did. My elder brother and I used to cycle to the Rec, meet the gang and amuse ourselves all day: floating lollysticks in the filthy pond; watching the model boats; hide and seek; races; climbing the mounds of foul smelling soil (I never did find out what was in them or why they were there - the smell was awful, and I’m sure they were crawling with something disgusting).  

There are two incidents I remember vividly: one was when a man called me into the bushes and my friend and I ran home giggling, leaving my newly knitted cardigan on a bench. My mum, the knitter, marched me straight back to get the cardigan.  The man was nowhere to be seen. The other incident was when a young boy cut himself on a piece of glass as he cockily rolled up his trousers and waded across the pond. An ambulance appeared, we all watched, open mouthed, then got back on our bikes and cycled home for tea.  Things seemed so simple then, certainly for us kids. 

But the best park of all was the one that had a whole traffic system set up, complete with roads, roundabouts, traffic lights and zebra crossings.  Lordship Lane park was too far away for us to go on our own but our excitement knew no bounds when our mum told us to get out our bikes and we’d set off on the twenty minute journey.  That same park was the source of even more thrills due to its long, stepped paddling pool. If we were really lucky, on a hot sunny day we’d take not only our bikes but a picnic, towels and a change of clothes.  Those days were sixty years ago now but I can remember that simple happiness as if it were yesterday. 

We moved a little further into suburban London when I was eleven, and were spoilt for choice. Our new house was positioned between two beautiful areas of green.  Arnos Park has everything: a stream, wooden bridges, children’s play grounds, a vast amount of grass, huge old trees and the London Underground line (which isn’t underground at all at this point) running across its horizon. The path through the park is a short cut to the tube station, which is a lovely walk on a sunny day, but slightly daunting on a dark winter’s evening. We kids were always told not to walk across the park if it was going dark, a warning we generally heeded unless we were in a tearing hurry.  Good advice, but probably unnecessary for my mum to warn my husband and his three burly police mates not to take that short cut when they were on their way to stay a few years ago. 

Broomfield Park in the opposite direction, was and is, equally appealing. It’s the place I first collected conkers, fed the ducks, slid down the giant slide, watched the tennis, and visited the strange little museum to stare at the small stuffed animals behind the glass with a mixture of horror and fascination. The museum burnt down a good twenty years ago. Each time I visit I hope to see the charred remains and scaffolding gone and something beautiful in its place.  Now I go to take photographs, and check out the tree and the bench dedicated to both sets of grandparents. My mum, now ninety, has just stopped driving but has got a new lease of life walking to the park most days with my dad’s unused walking frame.  She tells me she sits on a bench and makes conversation with anyone who sits next to her.  

Stanley Park in Blackpool holds so many memories for me: Sundays when the children were little, bundled up in warm clothes, braving the cold and spending hours on the children’s playground, my fingers like ice. Pushing swings, running with the roundabout until I felt dizzy, counterbalancing the seesaw and catching slithering toddlers as they shot off the bottom of freezing slides. The days seemed interminable. Now I’m doing it all again with the grandchildren. 

Yes, there’s something about a park. 

Stanley Park

There’s Something About A Park by Jill Reidy

I’ve toddled along a concrete path
Avoiding cracks and stones and dogs
I’ve raced at speed past flowers and shrubs
Hidden in bushes and climbed the trees
I’ve cycled round and stopped at lights 
Paddled in pools and splashed and laughed  
I’ve strolled with friends, our arms tight linked
Summer nights with boys I liked 
I’ve smoked that one and only time  
Cried at the bench and my grandma’s tree 
I’ve pushed a buggy, held chubby hands
Carried dolls and cars and dripping lollies
I’ve swung the swings and climbed the slide 
Rescued cryers and soothed cut knees

I’ve taken a moment, sat and thought 
Of all the parks along the way - the people, the colours, the smells, the sounds
The energy and the peace......

There's something about a park

Thanks for reading    Jill