Thursday, 27 June 2013

Fact? Stranger than Fiction? Adventures in Blackpool

Last weekend I headed North again, this time to Blackpool to find out if the people and places I've been writing about do exist (call it research) and add final edits to the first daft of 'Girl In The Box' the Y.A. novel I've been writing as part of my MA, which is now evolving into N.A. (New Adult, publishing speak for an emerging market they haven't drained yet)

I went with a friend, who left Blackpool behind some years back, she didn't see it through my eyes - The fantasy nudging at the edge of reality. For her, it's bleak and deprived, I could see what it once was, its faded glamour and its potential to shine again.

Up at Bispham we walked alongside grey concrete sea defences over the churning brown sea, lashed by rain and wind, admiring the glistening light from split clouds and staring up the long, empty tram lines that stretch into the distance. The next day we boarded one and headed for south of Pleasurebeach. These swish, shiny green trams with automatic doors are a far cry from the wooden floored carriages I remember. The driver sat in a chair like the bridge of the starship enterprise, three screens and a flask of coffee in front of him. Ding Ding and we were off past tidy front gardens, the Norbreck Hotel and a further string of improbably named establishments promising to be 'The Talk of The Coast'or 'All parties catered for'

Next to The Big One and South Pier there were white caps on the sea and incessant wind on the front that whipped my hair into my mouth or stood it on end, I couldn't see a thing as it was also in my eyes, which are watering too. The mile long sweep of concrete along the front abutting the golden sands looks good, continental even, and it's clean, the whole front was. I visited the fortune teller in her red and yellow booth on South Pier, she read my palm and told me great success was in the future. How far in the future? I wondered, I have bills to pay. I tried to keep a poker face and reveal nothing, but she was spot on about my back problems, and my children. Generalisations, my friend said, she looked at you and thought, "Middle aged woman, must have health issues",
"Thanks," I said, rolling up my jeans and sprinting across the big sands to dip my toe in the Atlantic, it was surprisingly warm.
Here's a short extract from the novel. Alice has just experienced her first full blown disappearance on Blackpool front, after seeing her dad on a team, Summer doesn't quite believe her, but Lily does. They go to the ballroom (just as we did) for afternoon tea:

The Ballroom

Summer pushed open the heavy door and led me in to the ballroom, I caught my breath, It was huge, I felt like we had stepped into the yawn of a giant whale, the columns and arches its gaping jaws, balconies and boxes its teeth, the vast dance floor its tongue. It was elegance and opulence on a grand scale, far away from the cocktail of noise and grime outside. Summer grinned at my open mouth,
“Yeah, I know, impressive, isn’t it?” I swiveled my head up to the painted ceiling, a powder blue sky scattered with healthy cherubs having a party in the heavens, much grander than the tacky angels that stared at me when I was getting my hair cut in Ned’s Salon. The balconies were piped with gold and cream, frosted in gilt and topped with blood red velvet and gold rails, a couple were leaning over watching the dancers below, like puppeteers.

We made our way through the round tables to a space by the dance floor and sat next to a couple with year round tans, the elderly gent with a neat white goatee, smartly dressed in a waistcoat, his jacket slung over the back of his chair, flapped at his face with a pink paper fan. His partner pulled him up for a waltz. The polished dance floor was scattered with a few couples that looked lost in the space, faces set in serious mode, they moved perfectly in graceful time, all shapes and sizes, the women in swishing skirts and gold shoes, sometimes surprising us with a flick of the ankle or a little kick. Lily nudged me,
“I can kick higher than that, just you wait and see, they’ll all sit down when the quickstep comes on, they can’t keep up.” Strips of red lights ran up steps to the stage, hung with a backdrop of the Italian lakes, painted with misty mountains. The giant white Wurlitzer rose in its centre, A tiny figure bounced on his stool and danced fingers across the stacked keyboards, his music trumpeted loud chords, booming notes and strangled waltzes. Summer looped her arm through mine,
“Personally, I think it sounds like a bag of cats, but the old folks love it. Music’s much better when they have Northern Soul weekenders mind, place is really heaving then.” I nodded.

Summer ordered afternoon tea at the bar and brought over plates stacked with scones, cream and jam. I was starving, but still shaky from my funny turn so I picked the cucumber out of my sandwiches and nibbled at the edges. A little girl wobbled past our table, topless and wearing wellies. She smiled at me and waved, so I waved back before I turned to watch the grey haired couples waltzing in the dappled light of the huge glitter ball. The ladies all seemed to have the same shampoo and set and the men had trimmed their nose hair for the occasion. Women swished past in big dresses, stepping out in strides and spinning before us. A roar of laughter came from the table behind, screeching ladies with perms crowded around their afternoon tea with their half pints alongside their cups and saucers. The dancers bent backwards, doll like, stretching their upper bodies a far away from each other as they could. I giggled and leaned towards Summer,
“Its like they’ve all got bad breath.” I was steadier now, almost normal, although my hands were still trembling, she smiled at me, I felt much better then, I wondered if we would get a chance to dance together. The pink monstrosity that was Edith swept past us, she’d added pink streaks to her hair too. Moosh smiled at as they spun past, he winked over Edith’s shoulder. It seemed like anyone could dance if they wanted. A waitress stepped out from behind the long bar and placed her towel over the pumps before taking the hand of an old drinker, she turned him a few times under the glitter ball before returning him to his stool. In the far corner a middle aged bloke in a tight t-shirt and jogging bottoms danced with his dad, they both had Kiss Me Quick hats balanced on the back of their bald heads. The dance floor was filling up now and when the music paused as the organist launched into another waltz I grabbed Summer’s hand and tugged her towards the dance floor. She looked as surprised as I felt, I was still frightened of disappearing in the middle of everyone but I thought that having her near might help somehow. I stood in front of her, tipping my arms up and down like a broken teapot, I didn’t know how to waltz, but she did. She laughed and looped one arm around my waist, resting her stump on my shoulder,
“Just follow my lead,” she said. I followed her round the dance floor, staring at my feet and stumbling over her toes, “Look up,” she ordered, and pulled me closer. We turned and turned until I was dizzy, until all the others blurred into sparkles and sequins and it felt like it was just the two of us in the magic light. We moved faster until I was out of breath, but Summer kept stepping confidently and counting,
“One, two three, one, two, three, mind my toes, ouch that’s it, one, two three.” I laughed and relaxed a little, leaning against her, I was just getting the hang of it when the music stopped. We moved back to our table, Moosh and Edith had sat down with fresh pots of tea and a rack of cakes waiting. I took a seat, watching Lily nibble a sticky slice of chocolate cake and wipe the crumbs off her plate with a bent finger. She smiled at me, chocolate stuck to her teeth,
“Feeling better love?”
“Yes thanks, much.” I took one of the cakes she offered, a small French fancy with yellow icing and a blob of cream escaping from the side, Lily leaned forward and whispered,
“Your mum used to say she felt a bit shaky afterwards, she soon got used to it mind, sugar helps. She learned to control it, you will too.” I stared at her, my mouth full of cake, stunned, but before I had chance to ask what she meant she was pulled up to dance by a tall, thin man in a shiny polyester suit. She was off in a flash, shaking her sequins as the organ player announced a rumba. Edith pursed her lips and sipped at her tea,
“That’s Terry Greene, his third wife died last month, she ought to watch out there, he’s a real goldigger” Lily swung under Terry’s arm, kicked her leg at armpit height and waved at us, Moosh waved back,
“He’ll have no joy there Edith, she’s as broke as the rest of us, widows and widowers all.”

I sat back in my chair and watched them, what had Lily meant? ‘Mum could control it’ control what? I nibbled on a dry egg sandwich, watching the dancers and trying to pick out the best notes as the organ pounded. Mum loved Blackpool, dad hated it, right now, I agreed with both of them. I squinted up at the curled writing above the stage, reading aloud,
“’Bid me Discourse and I will enchant thine ear’, what’s that meant to mean?”
“It’s Shakespeare,” said Summer, I looked at her surprised, she grinned back, “I used to work in The Shakespeare pub, collecting glasses, they had his quotes all over the bloody place.”
“Now don’t be modest Summer,” Moosh said, “Bet she hasn’t told you she played Titania, queen of the fairies, in Midsummer Night Dream at the Grand the other year,”
“It was just a school thing, for kids really,” Summer explained with a hint of colour in her cheeks,
“But I bet you could still tell Alice which play that quotes from” Moosh said, waving his arm towards the scroll, Summer blew air between her teeth,
“It’s a poem, not a play, and it’s Venus and Adonis,” she answered. Moosh flexed a weak bicep under his suit,
“Edith and I then!” Edith laughed and kissed him,
“The music’s been the same since the war Alice, lovely isn’t it? Makes you feel like you’re the belle of the ball” I nodded politely, the whole place was magical, but I was still thinking about dad and my invisible body. I glanced nervously at the door. The music stopped and the organist turned to the audience, taking a deep bow, as he left the stage, one of the permed ladies screamed and threw something large and white up towards him, he caught it easily in one hand and kept walking.
“What d’you think that was?” I asked,
“Probably her bloomers.” Summer replied. An announcer strode on stage and grabbed the mike, his voice echoed around the hall,