Thursday, 9 February 2017

If I knew then...things may not have worked out so well.

This weeks' blog will be a blog of many parts. This morning I am heading to The Lake District for two days of unadulterated luxury.  I have got through another Winter and that is cause for celebration. The cold, wet and windy weather that usually knocks me flat during October and November has stayed away (at least for most of the time) and the weather in January was very kind. February is the month of my birth and is always the month of my emergence from the depths of despair into the light.

Last weekend was The Winter Gardens Film Festival. This event is cementing itself firmly into my social calendar. Spending an evening in the company of people who love to dress up and dance to swing and jive music is a great way to shake off the Winter blues. The Art Deco surroundings lift my spirit and make me feel decadent and pampered. I love the Billionaires who play two very energetic sets after the movie.  Watching Fred Astaire on the big screen again, takes me back to afternoons with my Dad, the bar was closed, everyone else at work and me, standing on his feet was he taught me to Slow Fox. If I knew then ...

Anyway, my Birthday falls bang smack in the middle of February, on the day that many people send each other anonymous, flirtatious notes, hoping perhaps to surprise a partner or begin a relationship. My birthday is the day when many chocolate companies sell their biggest boxes by the millions.  Three years ago, Thornton's had a special offer at a local outlet: A large luxurious box, labelled in beautiful red metallic letters, "..And then there was you". The offer caught my eye and my imagination: It said 'buy one, get one half price!' Was that one for his wife, one for his lover? Or even worse, one for the girlfriend and one for his mother?  I won't admit to being cynical about Valentine's Day but I resent the fact that prices in restaurants are hiked, flowers cost a fortune and I have to share my birthday with every cow-eyed dreamer on the planet.  Every year until he died, my Dad sent me a Valentine card. If I knew then ...

Anyway, the Showzam Carnival Ball falls this year on the Saturday before my birthday. It promises to another evening of circus performance, raucous music and maniacal dancing that typifies my home town. Blackpool Tower Ballroom will ooze party people, decked out in outrageous costumes, determined to burst into Spring with a bang. I love it and have made many wonderful, lasting friendships at the carnival ball. People lose their starch, let their hair down and just dance. It is a revitalising experience and definitely not to be missed.

The Tower Ballroom is my second home. I probably took my first walking steps on the wonderful sprung, maple floor while my sister Lesley rehearsed for the Tower Children's Ballet in the late 1950's. Mum tells me that as a toddler, I danced every routine and sang all the songs. My sister's ballet mistress Elsie Bradley told Mum that as soon as I was five she wanted me at her school. Dad took his first pub in 1962 and we moved away from Blackpool for a while. Ballet was not to be my destiny. If I knew then...

When I was six, I was invited to attend a Ballroom Dancing class in 1963 by the father of a little girl called Lynne Jones. Her family lived across the road from my father's second pub in Maghull. We danced together at The Alex Thompson School of Dance in Aintree, every Saturday morning. My teacher Muriel was great, she also trained young deaf people how to dance and often asked me to dance with them. I loved dancing but was not content to dance with another girl. There was a young teacher called George and a brother and sister who danced together, just like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. That was my dream. Dad danced with me at a parent and child Cha Cha competition at The Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool when I was seven.  Muriel gave him a couple of private lessons before the event. We won the trophy and it still sits in pride of place in my cabinet at home. I liked winning and although I didn't know it then, that trophy was to be the first of many. But often in life, a disaster has to happen before things change...

One minute, I was cycling around the pub car park with my brother, then a whole day disappeared. I remember waking up but still dreaming. There was a long skipping rope, stretched down the length of a long room and it was beating, steadily as it turned. As I began to recover, faces would appear at the side of the bed, lots of people came. When I felt a little better, I got up from bed and went to say hello to a boy in pyjamas with a plaster cast on his leg, in a bed on the opposite side of the ward.  When I approached he screamed. I was shocked by his outburst. A little while later, I went to the loo and then, seeing my face in a small mirror for the first tine, I understood. With my front teeth shorn across, my whole face covered in scabs, eyes both black and swollen, I was like a character from a horror movie. 

Lynne Jones and her parents came to visit me in Ormskirk General. They sat beside the bed, full of sympathy until Lynne suddenly looked at me, pointed at my face and pronounced, "That's what you get for telling lies." I had been concussed for three days, my face was scarred forever, my second set of teeth all broken and I had no idea what she meant.  I never spoke to her or her family again. At eight years old, I learnt my most valuable life lesson. Jealousy is terrible thing. I didn't think I would ever be brave enough to dance again and I was desperately unhappy for what seemed an endless time. Despite visits from Everton FC football players armed with expensive boxes of chocolates, I was really down in the dumps.

During the Easter holidays, Dad and Mum brought me to Blackpool and we came to The Tower Ballroom. The place was packed with young couples dancing in a competition to a live band. It was the British Junior Dance Festival: still held here every Easter week. Eventually a man came to speak to my father and he asked me to dance. He took me in his arms and danced me around the floor. It felt amazing. At the end of the dance, he took me back to my parents and said, "I will be in touch."

My father dedicated every Saturday to taking me across the Mersey to Seacombe for lessons with his friend and former World Ballroom Champion, Eric Lashbrooke.  I danced with an eleven year old boy called David Hogan and within 6 months we were winning trophies all over the country and in Europe. Oh I still encountered jealousy but most of the time, I was incredibly happy. I forgot the scars on my face, the too short caps on the tips of my teeth and my crooked smile. When I danced I was invincible. I still feel it too, whenever I put on a sparkly dress, a pair of dance shoes and step into the centre of the floor. Play the music bandmaster. I don't need to look back, what will be will be  and I am ready for whatever life may bring.

The Sandgrown’un  

The name Blackpool runs through me
Like lettering running through rock.
I toddled out of the of the windswept sea,
On the vernal equinox
With a bucket and spade held tight in my hand
Wearing a sun-suit of deckchair stripes,
And pockets filled with sand. 

I took my first steps on the ballroom
Under the mighty Tower,
While Cairoli chased Paul with a broom,
I would giggle and chuckle then sleep for an hour
In a seat on the balcony
Dancing in my dreams
While gilded cherubs watched over me.

High in the roof garden menagerie,
Tiger and lions and chimpanzee
Prowled while we ate afternoon tea.
As darkness fell to the big band sound
Daddy took me onto the floor  

I stood on his feet while he twirled around.

Up in the lift to the very top
To gaze at the wonderful sight
Of fairy lights that never stop.
And in swirling aquarium light
To Debussy's haunting tune
We’d say goodnight to the turtles
And tell them we’d be back soon.

So I’m what they call a ‘sandgrown’un’.
True Blackpool to this day from that.
I’ve a golden mile of secrets
Kept under my ‘kiss me quick’ hat.
Have a great week.  Hope to see some you at The Carnival Ball.  Adele