Something new and interesting

Thanks to reading Sharon’s blog over breakfast last Sunday morning I’ve recently discovered Postcrossing. I’d never heard of it before and it sounded so intriguing I checked out the website, and what I found interested me so much that I joined immediately. Basically it’s a way of sending and receiving postcards to and from different people all over the world – you create an account and profile, request to send a postcard and get a random name and address of someone somewhere else in the world. You send them a postcard, they register it on the website once they’ve got it and you then become eligible to receive a postcard from a random member somewhere else – and the more cards you send out the more you get back.
After reading through the website a couple of times I couldn’t wait to get started so while I was in Southport later that day I picked up half a dozen cards from a newsagent’s near the promenade, then when I got home I logged onto the website and requested to send four cards. You are only allowed to have a certain number ‘travelling’ in the system at any one time so I thought four was enough to start off with and I wrote them that night – to Galway in Ireland, New York, Germany and Moscow – then posted them on Monday morning.
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Tonight, just about an hour ago, I got an email from the Postcrossing website to say that my card to Ireland had been received and registered today, having travelled 273 miles, and the lady in question had even sent me a nice little message. It will obviously take a while longer for the other three people to get theirs but now I know the first one has been received I’m really looking forward to eventually getting some back – and not knowing who or where they’ll come from means I’ll have some nice surprises dropping through my letterbox before long.

An afternoon in Southport

Almost six weeks since I last saw him, Michael finally arrived home from Ireland early last Friday morning ; circumstances kept us both busy on Saturday but yesterday the weather was looking quite promising so we decided to have a ride out somewhere and Southport was the choice. We arrived there at lunch time and with four hours on the car park ticket we went our separate ways, agreeing to meet up again at 3pm to go for a meal somewhere – it had been several years since I was last there so I wanted to be off exploring and taking photos and I didn’t expect Michael to trail round with me.
Starting off near the pier I walked along one side of the Marine Lake then went up onto the bridge which crossed the lake and took me to Princes Park, then from there I wandered along to Pleasureland, the large amusement park. On my last visit to Southport the funfair had been a partially closed small shadow of its former self so this time I wasn’t expecting to see much, however I was quite surprised to find that it’s now grown into a large vibrant and colourful amusement place with rides and attractions everywhere I looked.
After wandering round there for a while I made my way back to the lake and headed through King’s Gardens towards the pier then went down to Lord Street, the long main shopping street. With many nice old buildings, monuments and gardens I could have taken several photos along there but unfortunately I ran out of space on my camera card ; having the dogs with me meant that I couldn’t really go in any of the shops and as it wasn’t far off 3pm anyway I just made my way back to the van and waited for Michael.
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Southport pier
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Marine Lake
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Pleasureland amusement park
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Hook A Duck stall
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Colourful artwork on the carousel canopy
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King’s Gardens
As Michael had been a frequent visitor to Southport over the last few years he said he knew a nice place to go for a meal so I settled the dogs in the back of the van and off we went back to Lord Street and to the Westminster Tea Rooms – and this place wasn’t just any old cafe. With wood panelled walls hung with old pictures and mirrors, ornate coving, chandeliers, white table linen and proper napkins, tea and coffee served in silver pots, afternoon tea served on 4-tier cake stands and the waitresses in black dresses with white collars and aprons, it had a very 1920s feel to it and I felt as if I’d stepped back in time. The meal was good too and once we’d finished we made our way back to the van and I took Sophie and Poppie for a short walk along the lakeside before we set off for home, arriving back just before I needed to put the van lights on. All in all it had been a really nice afternoon, and the old fashioned tea room experience had made a nice change – I don’t know when I’ll get to Southport again but at least now I know of a really nice place for a meal when I do go back.

Echoes of Homeward Bound

No doubt many people will be familiar with the Disney film Homeward Bound, in which two dogs and a cat trek across America to find their family; well this story is in my local paper today and though the journey is nothing like crossing America it’s still impressive for a little dog so I thought I’d share it.

Lost dog Patch’s incredible eight-mile expedition to find his mother

PATCH the Jack Russell has an extraordinary ‘tail’ to tell after he went missing and turned up eight miles away at his mum’s front door.
The little five-year-old was out walking in Hall i’th’ Wood on Sunday evening when he got lost in the woodland. His family desperately searched for him to no avail . . . but the next morning he was found sitting on the doorstep of his mum Bess’s home in Westhoughton.
Patch has lived with Lisa and John Hilton and their children Annabel, aged 15, Oscar, aged 12, and Millie, aged nine, since he was a puppy while Bess, aged 12, lives with Lisa’s father, Edward Horrocks, aged 90. The family, who live in Crompton Way, were shocked and delighted to discover he was safe and sound, but are completely amazed by the unusual journey.
Mrs Hilton, aged 47, said: “It has been a traumatic experience, but we are so glad it’s a happy ending to the story. We have always gone to my dad’s house in a car. Sometimes the windows are open and maybe that’s what led him there. I said to the kids, ‘when you are vulnerable who do you want? It’s your mum’.
“That little dog of ours, we can’t believe he made it all that way and what he might have gone through when you think about all the roads and roundabouts he would have had to cross without getting run over. We don’t know how many miles he ran – he’s absolutely exhausted now but he’s our little hero!”
Patch — who is microchipped — was walking in the woods off-lead with Mr Hilton, aged 53, when he disappeared at around 4pm. Panicked, the family gathered around to hunt for him, handing out numbers to passing dog walkers and posting Patch’s picture on Facebook. Meanwhile it’s believed the dog made his way to Crompton Way and started his journey west.
It is not known exactly what route Patch took, but his family believe he could have travelled along part of Moss Bank Way and through Johnson Fold before arriving at Landedmans in Westhoughton some time between midnight and 6am, when a neighbour spotted him sitting obediently outside Mr Horrocks’s front door.
That morning, after a sleepless night of worry, Mrs Hilton received a call from her dad. She said: “He asked if I was sitting down and I thought the worst, then he said ‘You’ll never guess who’s sitting next to me!’
“It went from tears to thinking what a clever dog we have got. He wasn’t hurt, just a little shocked and tired. We are thrilled he’s back home now though and just hope he doesn’t do it again!”
I know the place names won’t mean anything to anyone else but the Hall i’th’ Wood area isn’t far from where I live and I’m familiar with where little Patch ended up – I know it’s quite a trek from one place to the other so it beats me how on earth he managed to find his way. An in-built homing instinct maybe? A desire to find his mum driving him on? Who knows, but whatever it was it just shows that dogs aren’t as ‘dumb’ as many people think they are.

A night in the life of a ‘Hitman’ dancer

Following on from my previous post, where I mentioned having been on tv in the late night dance music show The Hitman And Her, I thought I would give you an insight into the making of the show and what it was like to be a Hitman dancer.
Rehearsals were held every week on Tuesday and Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon at a dance studio in central Manchester – I went to the Sunday sessions as I worked evenings during the week. The Sunday ‘dance mega-blast’ sessions were three hours long and consisted of an hour of high-powered aerobics, an hour learning a new routine and an hour of practise. Clive, the main dancer/choreographer/ instructor (the guy known as ‘Wiggie’ with the wild white wig who appeared in all the programmes,) was always there to teach/nag/bully everyone to get things right (he was a great guy really and a lot of fun) and in his words those sessions weren’t “a walk in the park but bloody hard graft as nothing else works!!” And that was true, Sunday afternoons were three hours of intense work but they were also fun and I enjoyed every minute.
Although the tv programmes were broadcast late on Saturday nights – well early Sunday mornings really as they were shown between 2am and 4am – they were actually recorded on Thursday evenings. They came from a different nightclub each week and all dancers had to be at the venue no later than 6pm. The evening would kick off with an hour of high powered aerobics to get warmed up then 7pm to 7.45 was a practise session and run-through of dance routines. This was followed by an hour of relaxing and getting something to eat and drink from the free buffet which was laid on for us and at 8.45 we would have a final quick briefing and take to the stage/floor/podiums/balcony etc, then at 9pm the music would start, the doors would be opened to let the crowd in and the night started.
The first hour was just like it would be on any club night with the resident dj (though probably with a lot more clubbers) then at ten o’clock the Hitman theme tune heralded the start of the actual tv programme being recorded. There were really only two ‘rules’ which had to be adhered to – (a) that no space should be without a dancer so any dancer seeing an empty space had to take over, which meant that I often moved round from stage to podium/balcony/front line crowd control etc and back to stage again, and (b) that no-one was allowed to go to the bar – anyone wanting a drink had to ask one of the production crew to get it. Programme recording finished at midnight though we would usually carry on dancing until the end of the night to music played by the resident dj.
The whole evening would be very hot and thirsty work – I could quite easily drink three or four pints of orange cordial during the four hours I was dancing – but it was also very very enjoyable and I loved every minute. It was a very sad time when the Hitman programmes finally ended in December 1992, and although Pete and Michaela have appeared separately in other programmes in the years since then I’ve sometimes wondered what became of Wiggie and the other dancers. My own love of dancing has stayed with me throughout though – a couple of years after Hitman finished I got a job in a local nightclub working weekends as a dancer – and even though I’m older now I would be the first to apply if that show was ever brought back again.

The end of an era and some local history

It was the end of an era a few days ago when a local dance hall and nightclub was finally demolished after plans and campaigns to save the iconic building were unsuccessful.
The Astoria Palais de Danse, referred to by generations of locals as just The Palais, was opened in 1928 at the time when dance band music was all the rage. Created by a local builder who was a staunch teetotaller, it was somewhere where parents could safely let their daughters go, and it was the manager’s job to watch from the balcony all evening to make sure that girls weren’t being pestered by young men; any young man who tried was taken outside by ‘two strong-arm men’ and sent on his way. Even throughout World War 2 The Palais remained open, often visited by American servicemen who arrived by truck from their base, and some of them visited so often that they were eventually able to speak with a local accent.
People didn’t go to The Palais just to dance though, they could go for coffee on the balcony and for sixpence they got not only a cup of coffee but sugar as well, which at that time was strictly rationed, and in the 1940s the Bolton Palais de Danse company bought the local Greenhalgh’s Bakery shop, owned by James Greenhalgh, purposely to supply the dance hall with bakery products. The 1950s saw a boom in ballroom dancing and many young people would have lessons so they could dance properly and impress any prospective partners; The Palais was the epicentre of local social life and many relationships and marriages started off there.
Mecca Dancing Ltd took over The Palais in 1956 and the Phil Moss Band became the featured entertainers; in October 1958 the BBC’s popular Come Dancing programme was broadcast from there and a local couple reached the semi-final of the Inter-town Novice Quickstep Contest, but sadly they were eclipsed by a couple from Sheffield. As society changed over the following years the new Palais management brought in plans to replace the youngsters’ Tuesday night jiving sessions with Bingo, moving the jiving nights to Mondays, and in 1963 more than 500 teenagers signed a petition objecting to the new plans as hardly any of them could go on Monday nights. In 1965, after four previously unsuccessful applications, Mecca Dancing was finally granted a licence to sell ‘intoxicants’ on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which were the ‘older age’ nights.
Slowly but surely, as pop music became the rage, discotheques took over from dance halls and dancing changed completely. In 1979 The Palais finally lost the original dance hall look and became Cinderellas Rockerfellers disco, usually referred to as just Rockerfellas. It operated successfully until 1987, then after a short period of closure and another revamp it became Ritzy; unfortunately a fire in 1990 caused a substantial amount of internal damage but after months of refurbishment the club reopened in 1991 and continued as Ritzy until 1996. The club then operated for a while as Central Park with a smaller venue, Jumpin’ Jacks, in the basement, then another change saw it renamed Ikon with Jaxx in the basement, and it remained successful for a number of years until a drastic downturn in trade finally forced its closure in January 2012.
Since then the building has been up for sale twice with various plans, including a 300-seat world buffet restaurant, being put forward, but after suffering a suspected arson attack in 2014 it was left empty and unloved. It was finally purchased by the owners of the nearby Market Place Shopping Centre and enjoyed a brief revival in 2016, reopening in its former dance hall glory, and with a live band, for one night only as part of the BBC2 series You Make Me Feel Like Dancing. But in spite of a long-running petition signed by many locals who wanted the building restored and reopened properly its fate was sealed – demolition started on the inside several weeks ago and the outer shell finally gave up the ghost a few days ago.
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The Palais, late 1940s/early 1950s
Inside Palais
A busy dance night in the ’50s
Ritzy nightclub, early 1990s
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Just a pile of rubble – October 2nd 2017
Strangely, even in my later clubbing days, I never went in that particular nightclub until 1991 when Ritzy reopened after months of major refurbishment following the fire the previous year  – and that’s why the place holds particular memories for me. The 14th of September that year was the first time I appeared on tv as one of the dancers on the late night ITV club/dance music show The Hitman And Her, with Pete Waterman and Michaela Strachan, although the programme had been recorded two days previously. It was actually broadcast between 2am and 4am and my parents, at the age of just over 70 bless them, stayed up all night to watch it.
Quite coincidentally, while I was searching for the details to write this post, I came across a recently posted Youtube clip of the first half of that programme – it’s almost an hour long but if anyone fancies having a look you can find me here. I’m wearing black cycling shorts with a fluorescent yellow stripe down the sides and a crop top, fluorescent yellow with a white front and ‘Body Power’ in black writing. There are several brief shots of me throughout the programme but the best ones are between 24mins 38sec and 27min 26secs (the people they got up singing were excrutiatingly bad but that’s when you see more of me) then at 31mins 28secs where I’m directly behind Pete and Michaela, 38mins 39secs where I’m picked out in the ’10 out of 10′ section, and 53mins 59secs and 54mins 20secs where you see me on one of the podiums. It was a brilliant night, the first of many, and though The Palais is now just a heap of rubble I still have my memories.
**None of the above photos are mine by the way – certainly not the first one as I wasn’t even around then! – so I’ve sourced them from various online articles originally published in the local evening paper.

Animal sanctuary open day

Today I took my friend Lin and her daughter Dee to the autumn open day at Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary about ten miles from home. It’s a place we visit regularly and it’s open daily from 10am to 4pm, with the special open days being held four times a year. As well as the normal gift shop and book shop they have stalls in the courtyard and one of the barns, a bouncy castle and other attractions, and in dry weather they have fun dog agility classes which anyone can join in for free. These events are always well attended and they make a good couple of hours out. The place seems to be very well named though as it’s close to the moors and in winter it really is bleak, although it’s lovely there in summer.Bleakholt open day
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Views from the picnic area
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Nudging the balls to get the treats out
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A resident in ‘Old Woofs’ block
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Waiting for a forever home
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Archie, now reserved
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Part of the remembrance garden
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A resident in the kitten block
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Two ‘oldies’ residents
Although the morning had been cloudy and grey it did brighten up at lunch time and the sun came out, but unfortunately it was very brief and it soon clouded over again. While I was in the cat block, sitting in with the oldies, it started raining and when I came out it was pouring down, so I found my friends and we took shelter in the cafe where we had a meal and a brew so none of us had to cook anything when we got home. We were in there for quite a while but it was still raining when we came out so we just had one more look round the stalls in the barn then called it a day and set off for home. It was such a shame that it started raining as it literally put a dampener on the afternoon for everyone, but it won’t be long before the pre-Christmas open day which is always a really good event, so hopefully the weather will be kind and the sanctuary will have lots more visitors then.


The holiday from hell?

I finally arrived home yesterday evening from my ten days in California, Norfolk, and I have to say that of the 35 years I’ve been holidaying in that area – 20 of them camping at the same site – this is the first time I’ve ever truly felt like giving up and coming home early. In fact if I could have got a refund on my pitch fee I would have been back within three days, however I stayed, and now I am  back I’m wondering if it was really worth all the hassle as it’s been a holiday fraught with disasters and problems from start to finish.
Day 1, and just over an hour into the journey from home I stopped at a roadside truck stop and got a takeaway coffee, but I only managed to drink a mouthful of it before I accidentally knocked the rest of it all over the floor of the van between the two front seats – and that one minor mishap seemed to set the tone for the rest of the holiday. Arriving at the camp site I found that the pitch fees had increased substantially since last year and are now beyond my personal budget; finding somewhere cheaper at such short notice would have been almost impossible without internet access so I paid up – well I suppose someone has to pay for the demolition of the toilet block and the brand new statics and tarmac road which have appeared since last year. Finally on my pitch on the camping field I found that it was too windy to put the tent up so I spent the rest of the day and the evening in the van.
Day 2, and with more wind and on/off rain showers it was a morning spent in the van, though the afternoon was sunny and by 7pm the wind had dropped so I finally managed to put the tent up and get everything set out inside it, although I was actually sleeping in the van.
Day 3 arrived gloriously sunny and I planned a good day out to get some photos, but when it came to actually leaving my pitch I found I wasn’t going anywhere – after a short drive to the local late shop the previous afternoon I’d unthinkingly left the ignition on and the battery was flatter than flat. A quick call to the AA soon sorted that though and less than an hour later a very nice man arrived and soon got the van going again, and I went on to have what was probably the best day of the whole holiday.
Day 4 was nothing short of diabolical. The wind had come back during the night, worse than it had been previously, coupled with several prolonged heavy downpours, and when I unzipped the tent door that morning I was greeted by a scene of total devastation. Everything in there had been up-ended by the wind and was scattered all over, and one of the bedrooms had a huge puddle in the middle of the floor though fortunately the bag with my clothes and personal stuff hadn’t been affected. With dark grey skies, on/off rain and high wind it was another day spent in the van, although during the afternoon I did attempt to walk to the local shop but didn’t get far before I got caught in another downpour and got soaked to the skin.
Day 5 was another day of on/off heavy downpours though it did come reasonably nice for a while during the late afternoon so after a shopping trip to Asda I drove the few miles to Gorleston and took the dogs for a good walk along the promenade and gardens.
Day 6 started out beautifully and I had a lovely morning walk up to Hemsby along the cliff top and back along the beach. I’d planned to visit a large garden that afternoon and actually drove out to it but by the time I got there the sky had clouded over and the rain hammered down again, so that put paid to that idea and I drove back to the site and spent another afternoon in the van.
Day 7 brought yet more rain so my garden visit was put on hold once again and I went into town to do some shopping instead, though it did make an attempt at brightening up during the afternoon. That evening I went to visit some friends who live a mile or so from the site, however I’d forgotten that I’d left the half full kettle on the floor in the middle of the van and as I went round a corner it up-ended, though fortunately most of the water went down onto the side step rather than onto the carpet.
Day 8 turned out to be beautiful all day and I finally managed to do the garden visit, though I’d initially thought I wouldn’t be going anywhere unless I walked. Several lengthy bouts of heavy overnight rain, added to what had fallen over the previous few days, had softened the ground so much that when I tried to reverse off my pitch the back wheels got stuck in the mud and I couldn’t get out; luckily the site owner’s son had a 4 x 4 and a big chain so he dragged the van off for me. The garden visit was followed by a drive down to Redwings Horse Sanctuary to see my adopted pony Cauli then the day was finished off with visits to my friends Ady and Jane.
Day 9 was grey and showery in the morning though it did brighten up at lunch time and the afternoon turned out to be fairly pleasant, though not really sunny enough for long enough to go anywhere proper so I paid a second visit to my friends Eileen and Ron – it was Eileen’s birthday, and although she’s now lost much of her sight I still took a card for her.
Day 10 arrived gloriously sunny after several bouts of heavy rain overnight – it was also going home day so I abandoned the morning dog walk in favour of getting everything packed away and the tent taken down while it was nice. Packing up the van was no problem but I had a lot of mopping up to do before I could sort out the tent. On my shopping trip into town I’d got a cheap mop and bucket from Asda, knowing I would have some mopping up to do, but I didn’t realise just how much. It took ages, and I had several inches of water in that bucket by the time I’d finished.
After a good dog walk along the beach I finally left the site at 12.30pm though my problems still weren’t over; twice I hit queues of very slow moving traffic, the first lot caused by a broken down farm vehicle meaning two lanes were going into one, though there didn’t seem to be any reason for the second lot. Those delays meant that by the time I was heading west the sun was getting low and in my eyes and unfortunately I missed the correct exit off a roundabout, meaning I was heading for somewhere I didn’t want to be so I had to find somewhere to turn round and go back. I got it right eventually though and finally arrived home at 7.45pm.
So there you have it, a potted account of my holiday – or maybe I should say nightmare? Whatever it was, I certainly don’t want another one like it, in fact I feel like I now need a holiday to get over the holiday. I suppose there was one good thing about it though – with all that rain stopping me from getting out and about like I wanted to I had plenty of time for relaxing, and I didn’t spend much money either. Now that’s a bonus!
** A full account of the holiday, with photos, can be found starting here for anyone who wants to read it  🙂