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Maybe it’s time that the inability to remember how places relate
to one another on a map was classified as a disability. I freely admit that I am useless at world geography and even on a more local scale I cannot pretend, that when people refer to things like “The M4 Corridor”, I have the a clue what it is, let alone where it is.

It’s always been this way. As I kid I remember being so pleased
that I lived near 2 airports, Yeadon and Leeds/Bradford. How was I to know that Leeds/Bradford Airport was actually in a place called Yeadon and they were one and the same?  
 
I can stare at a map and see where things sit but it doesn’t gel in my memory and dissolves away. Now some people might think that this would be a drawback given that my job requires me to drive all around the UK. It’s not. This is all thanks to technology. I have Google maps for planning and a Garmin Sat Nav for getting me there (Other Sat Navs are available but this one has been worth its weight in gold to me so it can have some free publicity).

I have been scorned for my lack of geographical knowledge but I can’t help it, it’s just a blind spot. I can ride a bike, manipulate a spreadsheet, put up shelves, fix plumbing and loads of other useful things but I can’t get my head around the physical location of places.

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I put it down to the 70s and, more precisely, to Public Information Films of the 70s. There is a huge chunk of my long term memory that is now unusable. It’s full of detailed information that was on TV during my youth. I am aware of The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water. I always Think Once, Think Twice, Think Bike. I know how to use a pelican crossing, call the coastguard (Cooee Petunia!) and dry my brakes after driving through a ford. I  could sing you songs about not parking on county roads (“Don’t go parking in that passing place, somebody needs that yard of space”) or about how to overtake when on a motorbike (“Lay back and ride wide) but I can’t tell you how to get from Nottingham to London.

Often when I am on my travels people make the mistake... No, let me correct that... Men ask me how I got here or which way I am headed next. They spill out numbers of roads or names of places. “Did you come through...”,“Did you come down the...”Usually I don’t have a clue and, to be frank, I don’t really care.  As a friend said to me recently it doesn’t matter as long I can get there and know what to do when you are there.

All I need is a postcode that I can punch in to my Sat Nav and then I follow a little line on the screen. It hasn’t failed me yet, so as long as we don’t get sun flares that kill the reception I will remain happily  ignorant as I drive around the country. Oh, and don’t forget, “Clunk Click, Every Trip”.

 
 
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The title of this posting is also the title of a song. You may know the track. It’s a Northern Soul classic by Tobi Legend and it’s really appropriate for this piece as it’s all about all about grabbing the opportunity and not letting things slip by. (You can check it out for yourself here). It’s appropriate because recently a unique opportunity came my way and seized upon it and I’m so glad that I did.

Yesterday I was able to bring together 2 of my joys in life, Northern Soul and Movies. I have always loved movies and I fell in love with Northern Soul in my late teens. A couple of years ago a film came out that promised to unite the two. That film was SoulBoy.  It’s a good Brit Flic but it got a lot of criticism from purists and, yes, it does have a few errors and a poor climax but overall it warms the heart and gives you a glimpse of the passion that surrounds this scene. Well, around the time of SoulBoy I became aware of the  development of another cinema project, Northern Soul the Film.

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This is a project that has been long in the planning from the
writer and director Elaine Constantine who believes that she can truly represent Northern Soul on the big screen with a meaning narrative. I have followed the development of the project through its website, FaceBook page and through Twitter. One of the most stunning things about the film's development is that a  group of young dancers have been schooled in Northern Soul over the last few years so that when filming began they would be perfect. Having seen them online and, yesterday, in the flesh I have to say that they were.

It was from Twitter that I saw the call for extras in the dance scenes. I filled in the form and was amazed to get an invite to go along to Blackburn’s King George’s Hall for the filming. I was unbelievably excited about the event, so much so that sleep evaded me like a kid going to Disneyland.

We had been asked to wear clothing to suit the era (1975) and although I owned nothing I found some passable gear online which wouldn’t make me look like a freak but would blend in OK. Arriving early I was asked to hang around an hour while they got the dancers from the agencies booked in. While I waited a queue formed outside and the soul bags (trousers) and vests were very much in evidence. I am always amazed at the old soulies who insist on sticking with the huge baggy trousers and vests or bowling shirts. I just don’t see why your choice in clothing should have stuck in the mid seventies, after all, the
music spans decades. They were there, all togged up but it has to be admitted that these styles, more than most, look better on amphetamine skinny kids than on 50 year olds with bald heads, paunches, fading tattoos and bad teeth.

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Once inside we were ushered to the balcony to wait. It turned out that, as well as the core of wonderfully trained dancers, other agencies had supplied dancers too and it was amusing to watch as they were shown the most simple of soul steps. We watched from the balcony knowing our time would soon come. A scene was shot 6ft to my left of the main female characters watching the boys out on the floor. This added more excitement as I recognised the lead as Antonia Thomas (Alisha from Misfits). We waited and watched. As the time ticked by I was absorbed by the set, by the instructions being given, by the information given with each take and the slight changes made before reshooting. 

We were thanked for our patience on numerous occasions and although I heard grumbles they were minimal. We were advised that at 3.00pm, 4 hours after we were taken in, they were opening up the dance floor for us to have a dance session while the crew took lunch. There was little surprise when the time passed and we were invited to take up floor space in a wide shot of “Wigan Casino”.  I realised I was mentally noting where I was in relation to the action so I might be able to locate myself when the film comes out. Here is the weird thing: we filmed the shot 3 times but we danced to imaginary music. They wanted to record the characters’ dialogue and you can’t do that with the music pumping so they played a track in to get things started and then it cut. We danced on and all that could be heard was the
rhythmic pad and slide of feet.

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Once they completed that scene the cast and crew went for a well  deserved break, a DJ came on and we hit the floor. Classics boomed out, the hall was sweltering and we give it everything. A couple of records into the set and I realised that some of the trained dancers were in amongst us oldies and they moved and sung like they had been going to nighters for years. The more I looked the more of the cast I saw. Antonia Thompson was just a few feet away dancing opposite me and later I turned to find James Lance spinning  effortlessly to my left. Sweat ran. Legs ached. We danced. It was magical. 

After the break a track mounted camera on a crane was set up and the set prepared for the 3 main male characters to enter Wigan Casino for the first time. Watching this build up was fantastic. The first couple of times through they walked in to an empty space, dropped their bags as a song kicked in, continued walking to the centre of the floor and then danced with elegance and passion. When the music cut one of them was still singing along, showing how caught up in the moment these actors are. Young soul dancers were arranged around the area where the action would take place, then other young dancers around them, and lastly, us oldies were poured around the edges to fill up the floor The floor was packed, absolutely rammed. No room for big moves. It would be a case of doing your best without stepping on other people’s toes. 

Crew members wandered through the crowd and began moving some of the older dancers further away. A group of black vested baldies grumbled as they were pushed back to the fringes. I resigned myself to the fact that this was a movie about young people so if I was asked to move I would. I was asked to move, but they moved me toward the action. I had calculated, based on the rehearsal, that the actors would be about 8 foot away from me at about a ten-o’clock position. Imagine my surprise when during the first take they came in at one-o’clock and were just 5 foot away. With each take they got closer. Between takes I shared jokes and concerns with a similar aged woman next to me as we waited to be moved out of shot. Crew members came through and shifted people. We were left  alone.

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Then we were told that a couple of tracks would be played and we should all enjoy ourselves while they took lots of footage for filling in during the dance scenes. The cast spread themselves across the floor and before I knew it Antonia Thompson was dancing right next to me. Between tracks my friend and I looked around. There were young dancers and us. Behind us there were older dancers but somehow we were allowed to stay put. No one said a thing. The next track played, action was called and we danced. This time the male actors and dancers were right there in front of us doing amazing acrobatics. The action was being filmed right in front of me. A ragged ring formed around them as they kicked, spun and dropped and I was part of that ring. It felt too good to be true but it was.

That was it for us. They had more scenes to shoot but we were done and we could have the dance floor back when they were through. What a fantastic day! Now I just have to wait and see. It will no doubt be a long time before the film is completed and released. I can’t wait to see it. I may be left on the cutting room floor, I may only be glimpsed in passing, I may appear clearly and look a complete pillock but whatever happen, when that film comes out I can say “I was there!”

 
 
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I’m back from Japan where I had hoped to blog lots but there was so much to see and do I spent my time doing and not writing about it. Home now  and looking back on the holiday of a lifetime. I suppose the first thing to mention are the people. They were so nice. 

I suppose it’s easy to be impressed with customer service when you come from England where you are lucky if a shop assistant registers your presence and stops talking to her colleague. It’s a little like going to the states and being hit with “Have a nice day” but the Japanese turn it up to eleven. From the minute you step foot in a shop you hear someone wail the equivalent of “Can I help you?”. This is usually accompanied by a beaming smile and a bow.

My language abilities in Japan were negligible. I pretty much survived on “Arigatou gozaimas” which is simply how you say “Thank You”. You heard it a lot, no you heard it loads. It seemed to begin being said at
the start of a transaction but then it was repeated throughout, said at the end and followed you as you left the shop. In the way that we often cut “Thank you” down to “Thanks” and “Ta” Japanese people also shorten theirs too. You would often just get a “Gozaimas” and sometimes it would be just an odd, whining, stretched out “Maaassssss” that followed you out.

One of the most unusual things about communication arose in the shopping areas. It would seem that the staff are encouraged to call out sales pitches in a higher than normal voice. Usually it would be the girls doing this and it would be a strange, high keening sound. It wasn’t just the pitch either but the pace of what they said was odd too, starting fast and ending on a long, slow, high whine. The first time I encountered it I was bemused but when the shopping day gets busier then more and more girls step to the front of their shops with big smiles and begin this strange keening, usually holding signs, products and, on the odd occasion, a megaphone. It can be quite overwhelming. It became so in Tokyo where it was accompanied by booming music and amplification.

While I am waffling about shopping I should mention the 100 Yen shops. They are like the Pound shops over here but given the current exchange rate they are currently 84p shops. If you have been into a pound shop (You have. We saw you although you tried to move off quickly and you hid your pound shop carrier
in Tesco bag to spare your blushes) you will have noticed that many of the items there are made in Japan or by one of its close neighbours. Just imagine then what the range of creative rubbish is in a 100 Yen shop. They were Aladdin’s caves of cheap and tacky wonder.

Sitting in a damp, grey England and reminiscing makes me wish I wish I was back there. This won’t be the last time I visit Japan in real life or a in a blog.