Thursday, 12 March 2015

Blackpool Part One - Friday

It’s been a really long time since I last went to Blackpool. More than five years. Possibly 10. This blog recounts tales of all sorts of far more exotic trips. Las Vegas, Florida, New York, Barcelona….er……Bath. Blackpool all seems a bit retro. A place you’d go years ago before you could hop on a plane to some sunny European hotspot for the price of a night out in town. It took Sheffield Wednesday’s recent trip to Bloomfield Road to play Blackpool in a crunch mid-to-lower table Championship clash to bring an end to this barren spell of Blackpool-lessness. I don’t think it will be so long before we go back again.

It was a bloody nice place to be. Even for the time of year. This might have something to do with the fact that had I not been in Blackpool I would have been stuck in the office laboriously bashing a keyboard or sifting through the debris on my desk. But a very good time was had by all (well, me and Emma) even if not everything went absolutely 100% according to plan. If everything went 100% according to plan it just wouldn’t be us and it almost certainly would not be a story that had any chance of finding its way on to these pages.

We stayed at the Ibis Styles hotel on the seafront which as it turns out is right opposite the north pier. After setting off on Friday lunchtime and finding ourselves in Blackpool in not much more than an hour, we then proceeded to waste another 45 minutes driving around in state of bafflement as we tried to find the place. The satnav continually led us to a dead end that had been pedestrianized, which it would do considering it was programmed somewhere in between the Falklands War and Italia 90. Eventually we pulled up outside of a large multi-storey car park and Emma phoned the hotel to ask for directions. They told us to park in the car park that we were at that very moment sat outside. Which we thought was great at the time but didn't turn out to be great advice. Yes it involved a discount in partnership with the hotel but it was a good 10 minute walk down the hill to the hotel from there. Which meant it would be uphill on the way back.

Check-in was supposed to be from 12.00. By 2.15 we were at reception being politely informed that the room was not quite ready and that we were invited to sit in the bar/restaurant area and have a drink while we waited. At that point it registered how unrealistic a 12.00 check-in had been. Not only because we were never going to make it to the hotel by then, but also because check-out is also 12.00. There has to be some time in between for the maids to go in and pee in your wardrobe or whatever it is they do. One small orange juice (with bits in) later we were ushered back towards reception and given our room key.

Only the bathroom was too small. Emma hadn’t asked for a disabled room which, while you might think a slight oversight, is not ordinarily a problem. Most hotels have bathrooms big enough for me to get my chair into. As wheelchair users go I’m not in the big league when it comes to wheelchair width. Even those who are usually don’t have this problem in my experience. Whenever we spent the night at a hotel on an away trip with the basketball team I cannot recall too many people complaining that they couldn’t fit their wheelchair into the bathroom. You book a disabled room if you have to have a shower seat or a toilet handrail or if you are really lucky and are living the luxury hotel dream, a set of windows which open from a height of less than eight feet. I can get by for a weekend without any of these things, and a bathroom door the width of one you might find on an aeroplane was not something we had considered. We headed back to reception and, after another wait in the bar/restaurant area, were moved to an accessible room. Naturally, it had twin beds because we all know by now the rule about how The Undateables don’t sleep with other human beings. Not in the same bed. Don’t be revolting, darling. When I flagged up this potential problem I was assured by the receptionist that some kind of jiggery pokery could be performed on the bed while we were out that afternoon to make it become one. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the trickery and cunning behind that. I’m just a little troubled at the assumption that you make an accessible room a twin room first and then a double on request.

After all that we went for a walk on the prom and happened upon the tourist information centre. Normally these are the kind of tat emporiums that would make Mike Ashley blush and you would expect that to be especially the case in one of England’s most famous seaside resorts. Yet Blackpool’s selection of souvenirs and trip reminders is fairly minimalist. Emma couldn’t even find a Christmas tree bauble. It has somehow become customary for us to buy a Christmas tree bauble whenever we find ourselves in a tourist information centre or gift shop. Our Christmas tree had an array of interesting baubles with representations of everything from New York to the Houses Of Parliament. We’d have been able to show these off over the festive season had we had any visitors, or had we been remotely inclined to answer the front door if we’d had any visitors. I was involved in a discussion about this recently and was pleasantly surprised to find that there are many other people who do not answer their front doors. When I was a kid ignoring the front door was the last word in rudeness, but now it appears that nobody wants to open their homes even for a few minutes just in case those looking in are religious freaks or bloody cold caller salesmen. As the culture of authorised harassment has developed, so we have responded by locking our doors and refusing to hear anything but whatever is playing on our Sky+ boxes. We’re all the better for it, I think.

What the tourist information lacked in Christmas tat it made up for in tickets for local attractions. They have probably reasoned that there are endless other places on the Golden Mile where you might be able to buy a Christmas tree bauble or a key-ring or a hat with a cringeworthy slogan on it. One with fake limbs sticking out of the top of it perhaps, or some sort of representation of a bloody weapon to give the impression that the wearer has had their head sliced open. Ho, ho, ho, put it with that fake turd you put on your grandma’s seat during last year’s Christmas lunch. All that is freely available elsewhere so the tourist information centre has decided to instead offer tickets to the local attractions at slightly reduced prices. We bought tickets to go up to the top of Blackpool Tower, and for an indoor illuminations experience called Illuminasia. I was surprised for some reason to learn that the outdoor illuminations for which Blackpool is so famous only run for nine or 10 weeks in the autumn. Apparently the purpose of that is to make people feel better about the end of summer, or at least it was originally. Now it is to clog up the M6. In its stead they have built an indoor illuminations ‘experience’ at the Winter Gardens. We were reminded of this every time we looked outside of our hotel room window as it was plastered all over a large screen next to the north pier.

By this time we had been in Blackpool for a good couple of hours without visiting a pub. It was time to put that right. There’s a Whetherspoons on the prom called The Albert And The Lion which seemed like a good spot for a Friday afternoon beverage. As you enter from the front you are immediately greeted by a large step or three to the main bar area, so if stairs are not your thing (and they are really not mine) you have to whizz around to the left hand side and use the small lift. It carries just one person (maybe two if someone stands on it with you) and is one of those with a button that you have to keep your finger on to keep the thing moving. At the top is a small gate which wouldn’t shut on the way out. If the gate doesn’t shut, the lift doesn’t move. At least five people saw my comical efforts to shut the gate and seemed to take it in turns to make the situation worse and more embarrassing. Finally a member of staff came over and, after what seemed like a fair degree of reckless walloping, finally managed to get the gate shut and therefore get me out of the place.

The plan for the evening was to find a pub where we could watch Saints’ Super League match at Wakefield on Sky. The Albert And The Lion was out because Wetherspoons don’t really do live sport, and a quick glance around Walkabout yielded no success. They had some small screens which might have been useful but there was no accessible seating. Everyone seemed to be stood up, in fact. And there was loud dance music playing. The kind that I thought had been banished to oblivion in about 1991 but which, apparently, is still allowed in public. We moved on to The Litten Tree just around the corner. Kick-off was only half an hour away so before buying anything I asked the barman if he would be able to put the game on. It wasn’t a given. This was not rugby league country. He was quite agreeable about it and told me that all of the televisions currently showing the snooker would have the rugby league on by kick off. As we took our drinks and found a corner by a snooker-showing screen a besuited man of staggering self importance asked me if I could see the screen. I explained to him that I had asked the barman to put the rugby on in a minute, and he looked at me like I had asked if we could watch a litter of puppies being executed live.

“Really?” his friend asked me dismissively. A friend who it has to be said looked suspiciously like the absolutely not in any way real paedophile and murderer Joe Miller from Broadchurch.

“Really.” I said. Thankfully there was a couple on the table next to us who seemed more interested. One of them asked me if I had happened to see Leeds Rhinos’ game the previous night. I had an ally in my quest to get the game on, none of which helped the barman to put the thing on the screen that he said he would. Instead he put it on the screen which had been showing Sky Sports News, meaning I had to turn around completely from where I had been sitting and was now directly next to Emma, with no access to our table if I wanted to see the screen. At a certain point during the first half we were turfed out of our position completely as the staff wanted to move the tables to create dancing space. Dancing should be outlawed, especially among men. But to interrupt a Saints game for it is well….it’s just heinous. In the 30 seconds or so it too for us to locate another table in front of another rugby league-showing screen Wakefield had scored a try to cancel out the one that Saints had crossed for earlier. The next hour was spent in various states of distress as an injury-plagued Saints crawled over the line by a score of 20-16. All the while, a balding man with a southern accent was barfing on to me about how he had ‘seen the one that England play…but never rugby league’. The one that England play? Bugger me sideways. The RFL’s marketing department take an awful lot of stick but sometimes you have to take a look at what they are up against. By the end the balding man with the southern accent was expressing his surprise about how entertaining rugby league is, which is not a secret at all to sensible people and is in fact the default reaction of any union-loving ignoramus who watches league for the first time without any biased input from John Fucking Inverdale or Jeremy Fucking Guscott.

Thankful for the win we moved on to Soul Suite. If you like a bar to have character and a little something different then this is the place for you. So many bars you go in now are dull and featureless affairs playing a mixture of X-Factor filth and dance durges. Soul Suite plays nothing but soul as the name suggests, and usually has live singers. The live acts are of varying degrees of quality, admittedly. But even the crap ones are entertaining when you compare them to some dullard DJ flirting with the only two girls on the dance floor in Chicago Fecking Rock. It’s certainly preferable to standing around in a Walkabout which is too loud to even entertain the notion of conversation and which is playing the sort of music you can only enjoy if you have taken a sizeable amount of crystal meth.

We weren’t the only people to prefer a bit of soul in our lives. The balding man who watches The One England Play had made his way over from the Litten Tree also and was continuing our discussion at the bar. It turns out he was a Charlton Athletic football fan, and he was bewildered and seemingly slightly annoyed when I told him that I had been to The Valley watching Saints against London Broncos. So not The One England Play, then. Despite my clear memory of sitting on the sideline at The Valley with former Saints coach Ian Millward sat on the other side of Emma, the balding man who watches The One England Play wasn’t having it. Rugby league does not exist within earshot of a tally-ho of Twickers.

Having left him we just about managed to find a seat in the bar and spent the next couple of hours watching people clown it up on the dance floor. One man stood tall above everyone, a greying figure who must have been close to six feet ten in height. No matter what track was playing he applied the same shoulder thrusting, demented duck dance moves to it. He was completely indefatigable too. He never had a breather. Quite boundless energy for a man who must have been pushing 60. Ian from Burnley was well over that age by the looks of him, and a good two feet shorter than the dancing duck. He wore a smart jacket and hat combo and spent large parts of his evening dancing away and trying to ignore the legions of knobheads attempting to patronise him to death as he did so. I’ve been in that boat, by the way. Anyone reading this who is both a wheelchair user and who has had the misfortune to find themselves in my vicinity on a dance floor in our younger days will know the feeling all too well. Some attractive lady comes up and starts talking to you and then she wants to dance. You hate dancing but you know this is how the game is played and so you tolerate it for a while and you dance and then…..

She wants to dance with your mate aswell….

Which would be ok. People are free to choose who they dance with after all. But if you do want to dance with someone other than my teenage self then please make sure you do so at a different time than the one at which you intend to dance with me. Otherwise you are likely to be on the receiving end of a fearful volley of abuse which serves no purpose other than to get me all worked up and to present the disabled in yet another bad light. The old chip on your shoulder light. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder because I am not prepared to tolerate the notion of sitting around with my best friend, each of us holding on to one hand of some dim tart we wouldn’t ordinarily waste our time on if we hadn’t just inhaled 20 pints of Stella. Now fuck off.

One of Ian from Burnley’s tormentors was a young man clad ludicrously in the sort of Ellesse tracksuit top that would have been de rigeur when Pat Cash won Wimbledon but is now useful only as a subject of parody and ridicule. Like the tall greying man he refused to consider that any differences in the music might influence his choice of dance moves, only his choreography was even further out of place, laced as it was with Ian Brown/Stone Roses type shuffles and arm waving, with perhaps half a soupcon of an attempt at some mad for it head movements. He repeatedly tried to grab hold of Ian from Burnley’s hand and raise it above both of their heads as if he were a boxing referee declaring the old man middleweight champion of the world. Straw-weight perhaps. Ian from Burnley was about six stone even if he had waded into the sea.

The live singer was Lance and to be honest, he was pretty average. He could carry a tune and he wore a sharp suit, but he’d never have made it into any of the 436 versions of The Drifters currently doing the rounds. None of which stopped any of our favourite dancing doofuses from lapping up every note and every word he sang with great delight. We left at around midnight I would guess with the tall dancing duck, Ian from Burnley and Not Ian from The Stone Roses still going strong like relentless Duracell Soul Bunnies.

But our day was done. The plan for tomorrow was to hit the top of the tower before a pre-game beverage and a post-game chippy dinner. It sort of worked out…….

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