Friday, 8 September 2017

Blackpool to London Housesitting – September 2017

Blackpool Tower at night
We arrived at Judith and grandma’s house in Blackpool at about 4:30 in dry weather after our very wet journey from Scotland, but with rain never far away and making an appearance from time to time. 

Judith is the mother of Simon, who we met, along with his wife Cassie on our first ski season trip to St Jean d’Aulps, near Avoriaz in France. 

Judith, grandma and Jackie outside the Grand Theatre, Blackpool
We now know Si and Cassie well after two ski seasons of helping them on their chalet change-overs and airport transfers and met Judith and her mother (Si’s grandma) on the few occasions they visited while we were there. The name ‘grandma’ has stuck with us since we only recently found out her name, but somehow, with her being 92 (or is it 96?), it seems appropriate. We had always promised to call in to Blackpool to see them and all go to dance at the world famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom and, as we were on our way down from Scotland to a housesit in London it made a natural break on the way.

Illuminated trams on the front at Blackpool
They were both looking well, although grandma is not so mobile these days and getting a little confused, causing Judith some exasperation. However they greeted us very well with hugs from both and after a cup of tea we walked only 5 minutes from their house to the promenade on the sea front and Blackpool Tower. It’s about 25 years since I’ve been there and Jackie didn’t think she’d ever been, so we were keen to see the annual illuminations, billed as the ‘greatest free light show on earth’ and covering 7 miles of seafront with an estimated one million lights, after we learnt the big switch on was on 1st September.

Judith and Jackie outside Blackpool Tower
I remember being wowed by the lights as a child on a trip up with my family and I have to confess I was a little disappointed. We only saw about a mile section from the Tower up towards the north shore and maybe we walked the wrong way as the Pleasure Beach amusement park and other major attractions were in the other direction, but at least it wasn’t raining. The Tower was brightly lit and we could see the lights snaking away in both directions and, in the darkness the sea pounding in to the promenade as the tide was fully in.

Grandma, Judith and Jackie in the Tower Ballroom
We booked tickets on-line for the Tower Ballroom for the following day as it’s a bit cheaper than on-the-door and caught a black cab as it was raining and we didn’t want grandma getting wet in her wheelchair. The Tower complex is on three floors with a copy of the upper part of the Eiffel tower on top and is a huge entertainment building. It was built and opened in 1894 and still retains its Victorian architecture. On the first floor (second if you’re American) is the magnificent ballroom that is the most spectacular I have seen, very ornate and very big. The sprung wooden dance floor measures 120 feet by 102 feet (36.5m x 31m) and here’s a few facts taken from their website:

  •  Opened in 1894 as a much smaller ballroom, but upgraded to its present design in 1899
  • Badly damaged by fire in December 1956 during which the dance floor and restaurant below were completely destroyed, rebuilding taking two years and a cost of £500,000

  • Phil Kelsall has played the famous Wurlitzer organ, that rises up from below the stage several times each day, since 1975

  • Reginald Dixon is the most well-known Wurlitzer organ player in the ballroom, playing from 1930 until his retirement in 1969 (excluding a period in the RAF in WWII), plus one final performance in 1970 to mark 40 years at the Tower Ballroom

The Tower Ballroom
Even on a wet Tuesday morning there were quite a few other dancers warming up, we got a table a couple of rows back from the many reserved tables at the front (they remained empty for the two hours we were there), put on our dance shoes and hit the floor. Although there were several rows on tables encroaching onto the floor it is still huge and a circuit of dancing round it takes quite a while and leaves you a little out of breath and quite hot. The organist played all the ballroom dancing favourites I remember, plenty of modern Waltzes, Quicksteps, Foxtrots, Tangos, Cha-cha-chas, Rumbas, Sambas and a Viennese waltz (but no Jives, Rock ‘n roll or Paso Doble) and quite a sprinkling of the well-known sequence dances: Mayfair Quickstep, Square Tango, Saunter Together, plus a few Old-Tyme such as the Veleta and the Boston two step.

The Ballroom
I danced for a good portion of the time we were there, sometimes struggling to remember some of the old sequence dances hidden away somewhere in my mind, but managing to follow others on the floor, but always enjoying it. It all came flooding back to Jackie too, struggling sometimes, but getting better all the time. Judith had her dance shoes with her so I took her several times round the floor too. She only had to say she learnt the Veleta at school and we were up, both struggling to remember the steps, but actually doing pretty well. 
That's Jackie and me on the floor
Brian with grandma
The Waltz and a Foxtrot we did together also flowed well and were great fun. Grandma was itching to get up as it obviously stirred some great memories in her mind, so I walked her slowly onto the dance floor and we had a gentle sway to a rumba rhythm for as long as she wanted, which turned out to be several minutes. The huge smile on her face said all we wanted to know! All the people there were very friendly and there were several quite good dancers among them, all of whom were keen to chat about dancing.

For people who watch the BBC show Strictly Come Dancing the Tower holds a special place as it is the location of one of the shows each series, so we were dancing in their footsteps. It’s not easy getting tickets to see the show though, Judith who lives there has never succeeded in getting any and one couple we spoke to who also live in Blackpool and have an annual pass to the Ballroom, visiting two or three times every week also can’t get any. They told us that they even asked the organist, who they know well, if he could get them any and he told then that even he can’t get any!

Have a look at our Youtube video of our visit by clicking on this link:

Phil Kelsall playing the Wurlitzer
Brian and Jackie with grandma
Inside the Winter Gardens
We left the Tower at about 12:45 to get some local fish and chips at Judith’s favourite chip shop, to take back to their house to eat. On the way we passed the historic Grand Theatre and also the Winter Gardens, another huge entertainment and theatre complex. Apparently every British Prime Minister since WWII has addressed an audience here. We could walk inside the entrance area of the Winter Gardens to see its marvellous Victorian architecture and, in the entrance a bronze statue of the famous UK comedian duo Morecambe and Wise (did you know Eric Morecambe was originally John Eric Bartholomew and changed his name to Morecambe, after the seaside town just up the coast from Blackpool where he was born).

The bronze statue of Morecambe and Wise
So finally we left Blackpool at about 2:30, hoping to see Judith again on the ski slopes in France this coming winter. After another very wet journey down the M6 motorway we arrived in our home town of Alvechurch in Worcestershire to stay a night with Jackie’s mum, Pauline, have an Indian curry dinner with her in the New Dilshad in town and swap a few things we didn’t need with things we did need from our storage area in her loft.

On Wednesday afternoon we left Alvechurch and drove to Hackney in London for the latest of our UK housesits. This one is for a border-terrier dog called Kasper and a free-flying cockatiel named Benjie and is for almost two weeks. Home owner Fenella was here to meet us and show us the routine for the house, Kasper and Benjie and the normal walking/exercise route for Kasper. She cooked for us, and we had a good chat over wine and dinner and on Thursday morning she left for her holiday in Athens, Greece for a bit of sunshine and to catch up with her daughter. The only other person in the house was lodger Dawn, a very busy person who rents a room while in London for work. We did meet her, but she keeps herself to herself and spends most time in her room. Today (Friday) is the start of her holiday and, this morning after finishing a few work emails she said goodbye and has headed off to Turkey.

Jackie with Kasper on his walk
So we are now alone with Kasper and Benjie in a nice old house in this very interesting neighbourhood, which has a heavy Turkish influence. We’ve already visited the market and shops and, yesterday went to the afternoon showing of the film Detroit (which was a bit depressing, but quite good) at the Rio Cinema, an old Grade II listed Art-Deco cinema just round the corner from us. On Thursday next we are going to the Hackney Empire for the recording of the BBC 50th anniversary show of ‘Friday Night is Music Night’, hosted by Ken Bruce. Jackie spotted that we could apply for free tickets to the show and we got accepted. However they over allocate seats as many people don’t turn up, so we have to be there early to ensure a seat.

Running at top speed with his ball
Kasper likes his walk along the roads to the local park where he runs round like a mad thing chasing his two balls. Fenella explained that he likes one thrown so it bounces to allow him to leap and catch it in mid-air, dashes back with it, drops it and immediately likes his other ball thrown in a similar way. This goes on for 10 to 15 minutes or so until he can hardly keep up with his panting, where he likes a bowl of water poured for him to slurp down. He is such an energetic thing and, although Fenella only takes him for a road walk on his second walk of the day we make take him more often to the park as he seems to so enjoy it.From the first night here Kasper decided we were OK as he spent the night on our bed and, it looks like it will be a regular occurence.

Benjie on one of his pictures
Benjie spends most of his time either on top of the lounge door preening himself, or on top of the fridge where his food is, often chirping loudly. He sleeps on top of one of the pictures hanging on the wall in the lounge and we have to put a cloth on the back of the chair under where he sleeps to catch his morning poo! He apparently likes to sit on peoples shoulder, he did that a lot to Fenella but, so far he hasn’t sat on our shoulders, except briefly on mine. I’m hoping he gets used to us soon and I really want him to sit on mine.

It’s really good to be finally relaxing here, although we’ve enjoyed catching up with people, it has been frenetic and the chance to relax is lovely. Kasper is asleep somewhere, Benjie is on top of the door preening himself and chirping, Jackie’s reading and occasionally dozing, I’m writing this, domestic bliss. Time for a cup of tea….
Will he catch it?
Still trying...

Yes, got it!


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