Look At It This Way - September 6, 2013

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Two bombshells this week: £1.7m written off by Blackpool Council in defaulted business rates.

And the £327k (and rising) sum by which the local authority, ergo us, is out of pocket after the Lights Switch-On.

Correction. One bombshell, one damp squib.

I was the first journalist to break the news - several years ago – that Switch-On would become a charged for event. I expressed misgivings then and since.

The annual spectacle has been free at entry and exit – and opening ceremonies which started in 1934 – for 100 years.

This time last year colleague Craig Fleming and I wrote about each and every one of those years for our Centenary magazine.

Delving back into archives to assimilate and disseminate all that had gone before proved a Herculean task. It was also a labour of love.

We have both worked in this town for the better part of 4o years. Neither of us were born here. The resort gets you on a long hook.

The Lights help make Blackpool unique. I saw my first display at nine, watching the child stars from Mary Poppins on the stage and thinking how soppy they looked.

I was in trouble with the council 12 years later having broken the sacrosanct press embargo on celebrity switcher on.

I’d referred to the star hoofing in. It was Red Rum’s year. Not that I named him. Years later I saw the Bee Gees revel in the honour, mad for it Mancunians returning to their roots and filming the crowds to show the folks back in America. The picture speaks for itself.

As a spectacle the Lights have survived two world wars, Depression, recession - and criticism. There have been endless calls to make visitors shell out on more than a bag of chips or illuminated Mr Wriggleys.

But how? Turn the Prom into a six mile pay and “dismay” processional?

Impose the charge of the Lights Brigade upon traders by way of compulsory Illuminations levy – then watch the business rate defaults rise?

Do we throw in our lot with energy exploration corporates and sell our souls for big money sponsors bankrolling switch on night – as Norweb did in the old days?

One of the brightest ideas of recent years has been the founding of Friends of the Lights – locals willing to do more than just carp from the sidelines or from behind the crash barriers.

It pays – in the sense that really matters if we want the Lights to continue – to keep what happened in perspective. Last year Blackpool showed Team GB how to party. This year we had too many hurdles to overcome – Team Blackpool set the bar too high.

But in years to come, long after the light has gone out in my own life, I know this: some young journalist or elderly hack will sift through our archives and happen upon images of the Switch-On of 2013. And – much as I did with the records from 1934 to 2012 – they will see the smiles and the joy.

They won’t know how close the town came to that sense of shared experience being almost lost in the great divide.

It’s just another postscript to our social history. Not a punctuation point.

There’s nowt uniform about back to school

Rawcliffe’s. It used to be the first stop for our new school uniforms. Hearts sank as we neared the shop. For you, kiddies, the holiday is over.

It was a bit posh back then. It’s still the premier choice for official uniforms but there’s more competition from budget brands on the high street.

As a poor household we got togged out at jumble sales, Ma adapting second hand clothes, or making new outfits from other people’s cast- offs. But just as we got new jellies each summer we got a new school uniform, several sizes bigger to grow into.

In my case it came with a horrible floppy hat in Montgomery High maroon which went from object of ridicule in the first year to fashion accessory in the last.

Our mother put a lot of stock by getting our uniforms right. Her own parents had stopped her going to grammar school but kitted her out with a grammar school blouse - which saw her bullied through the first year.

The other kids thought she was putting on airs and graces. In reality her parents probably couldn’t afford the grammar school uniform. You live and learn...