The Bakewell Incident: dance teachers are not aliens.

It’s been many years since the famous Roswell Incident, where it is claimed that a UFO landed in New Mexico, only to be covered up by the American government. I’m always a little suspicious of such claims, as conspiracy theorists are always aware of the easy exploitation of the human mind’s lack of ability to rationalise when it comes to something that they “want” to believe. I really want to believe that aliens landed – or, at the very least, that they exist – but I’m also aware of how easy it is deceive your own mind with wishful thinking. The belief in such things lends itself to the even more exciting claims of alien abduction. I would never dismiss anything like this as impossible. However, I know firsthand the convincing effects of hallucination whilst in a semi-conscious state, and that many people are unable, or unwilling, to rationalise when they have experienced such illusions. I’ll keep an open mind.

Last year, I had my very own taste of abduction. My wife, Sarah, and I were at a dancing event organised by our teachers, Izzy and Colin. It’s an annual weekend lindy hop workshop called Dance Blitz (or the DB Weekender), in Worcester, where teachers from the UK and worldwide give dance lessons over the course of two days, with a dance each evening. The teachers that Izzy and Colin bring in for the event are amongst the best in the world. As well as the lessons, they give us a dazzling display of their talents, and the whole weekend is a real treat for us lindy hoppers in so many ways.

The problem with being a beginner is that you can feel that the teachers are untouchable god/goddess-like beings, and that to dance with them would end in utter humiliation as you are “out of their league”. But it doesn’t work like that, as I found out to my delight last year when I first attended Dance Blitz. Bic and Simone are two highly regarded dancers and teachers from the south of England. They gave us a lesson on the Saturday and the Sunday, teaching us some lovely moves that we still use on the dance floor today. However, the thought of dancing with Simone filled me with terror. Why? Well, she certainly hadn’t come across as being anything other than a warm, friendly and approachable person.

But when you are new to this, there are two fears. Firstly, that the teacher will be SO good on the dance floor that it will make you look stupidly inadequate. Secondly, you have seen them dance some spectacular moves with some highly-proficient dancers, and that you will be giving them such a dull experience that you may as well just accept your station in life and leave them well alone so that they can be at the disposal of someone better who can give them a run for their money. But NOTHING could be further from the truth.

It happened on the Sunday afternoon, as the weekend event was coming to an end with a tea dance. Sitting at a table with my back to the dance floor, I was in the process of sinking my teeth into a Bakewell Tart when I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Would you like to dance?” asked Simone, as I turned around in horror. My words didn’t reflect my thoughts. “Yes, I’d LOVE to!”

So there I was on the dance floor, feeling as if my stabilisers had just been removed from my bike for the first time ever, wondering if I was about to make a complete mess of the whole thing. I felt almost as if I had been abducted by some alien and that some terrible fate were about to befall me. What I didn’t fully realise is that dance teachers just adapt to whoever they are dancing with, whatever their level. Every move I led she responded to with ease; any weaknesses in my lead were counteracted to make it look as if there was actually nothing amiss. It was the easiest dance I’d ever had in my 18 months of lessons and dances. A penny dropped in my mind. So this is what real dancers are all about! It was a little like driving a car with power steering for the first time ever.

The Bakewell Tart Incident

 Simone and me during a re-enactment of The Bakewell Incident 

Ever since that moment, I have often joked that Bakewell Tarts have magical powers. It has become a standing joke amongst my dancing friends. I have since become more acquainted with Simone, and we laugh about it (she’s in on the joke, too). I no longer have any fear in asking her to dance. At the end of the day, she is a teacher and it is part of her role to dance with people of all levels. What beginners often don’t realise is that everything about our dancing community is light-hearted fun. Nothing matters. Mistakes are par for the course. We see new beginners from time to time (I think that Sarah and I are at an intermediate level now), and we try to do the same for them as Simone did for me during the Bakewell Tart Incident. We have just come back from another fantastic Dance Blitz weekend with the amazingly talented Gordon Webster band playing live at the evening dances. They are probably the number one band in the Lindy Hop world. I’ll need to do another blog about that. Bic and Simone were there again, with some other top class dancers/teachers, including Jenny Thomas who is a choreographer on TV’s Strictly Come Dancing.

Bic and Simone at Dance Blitz 2016

Last year, during the Dance Blitz weekend itself, I was talking to Colin about how much work they must have put in to make the event what it is. I asked him when would he and Izzy start working on next year’s. He said, “I already have.” That just about sums up Dance Blitz, and the quality of the event reflects their hard work and dedication.

There is a moral to this. Bakewell Tarts do have magical powers, but dance teachers are not aliens.

Sarah and I also have an incredible story to share. Please visit our website www.markdpritchard.com to find out more.

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My Paranormal Experience as a Child.

I’m always wary of things such as claims of paranormal activities. There is a part of the mind that persuades you to believe what you want to believe, whilst bypassing logic and reason. This is one reason why conspiracy theories can be so popular. We all want to believe that there are things such as extraterrestrial life and a life beyond our own natural passing, and given an opportunity to convince ourselves with a new evidence or theory, if we want to believe it badly enough, we’ll walk blinkered, and deeper into our convictions and wishful thoughts. But I’m not one for blind faith, and it takes an awful lot to convince me of things that have not been proved. Much of what people believe about paranormal activities is based upon events or occurrences which have, in fact, more to do with coincidence and misunderstanding than upon basis in fact. The likelihood of coincidences to occur on a regular basis during our lifetimes is 100%. Everybody will experience bad luck on Friday 13th. Everybody will also experience good luck on Friday 13th. It is impossible to live in a world with no coincidences. If, for every coincidence, however unlikely it may seem, we believed that there was a deeper, underlying meaning, then we’d be talking ourselves into all kinds of nonsense. Such stuff is the basis of superstition and religion, and where has any of that got us?

With this is mind, I reflect upon a recurring experience that I had as a child with as open a mind as I possibly can. My first recollection of it was when I was six years old. I know this to be the case, as I was awake with excitement for most of the night before going away on a family holiday in 1966. My bedroom was an 8 ft square “box room” as we used to call them. My single bed was in a corner with a wall behind my head and to my left. In the corner to my right, almost within touching distance was an old dressing table with a large three-way mirror built into it. It had been given to us secondhand by a family friend. A sound came from the area of the dressing table. Slow, deep breathing, as if a man were right next to me, sleeping. Imagine a slow inhalation of about five seconds, followed by an exhalation of the same length. It would continue for an indeterminate period of time, terrifying me. I used to keep a little red torch under my pillow – I liked the excitement of being able to flash it around my room when I should really have been sleeping.

When I heard this noise, I can remember, on occasions, getting out of bed to investigate with my torch. Why on earth I didn’t get up and switch the light on, I don’t know. I think I used to open the drawers to check what it might be, but I can’t really remember. We lived in a terraced house on a council estate. The wall directly behind my head was next door’s bathroom, and to my left was my two older sisters’ shared bedroom. There was no place from outside the room that could have caused the impression of deep breathing so close to my bed. My parents’ room was across the landing and out of earshot. The noise was in my room.

It happened on a regular basis, but I don’t know how often. I kept it a secret but I don’t know why. I would dread going to bed and hearing it. Sometimes, my mum would change the furniture around and the dressing table would be to my left. I would still hear the breathing from the direction of the dressing table.

When I went to high school, aged 11 or perhaps when I was a year or two older, my parents bought me new, modern furniture with a proper desk for studying. Although I have no recollection of exactly when it stopped, I never experienced it after the old dressing table was gone. As the years passed and I eventually grew up, I gradually began to think that maybe my child’s mind had created this experience, even though I was certainly never convinced. It had been so real and clear.

When I was in my twenties, I was discussing childhood experiences with my eldest sister. It transpired that she, too, had heard the same sounds when she used to sleep there before I did. But until then, neither of us had ever discussed it with anyone.

I will offer no explanation as to what it could have been. I know little about paranormal activity. What I do believe is that the paranormal is merely undiscovered science, with a physics that we do not yet (or possibly never could) understand. If there is a spiritual world, it is simply something with its own physics that we (or, at least, most of us) cannot touch or perceive. When people see a ghost, they automatically assume that it is the spirit of someone deceased, because we all want to believe that there is a life after. Maybe it is just the result of an image of an event being stored like a tape recording, and circumstances beyond our understanding could trigger its replay. Maybe, in my experience when I was a child, the old dressing table had some event stored within it. Maybe it actually was my imagination. Maybe it was real. I’ll never know.

I have, on occasions, experienced all kinds of ghostly hallucinations during that semi-sleep while waking. I occasionally suffer from sleep paralysis which is usually accompanied by some terrifying, seemingly supernatural experience. I can rationalise this and not convince myself, as some would, that they have been haunted by some ghost or spirit. I have been close to death in a coma, but had no out-of-body experience and I saw no tunnel of white light. I have never had an utterly convincing supernatural experience. However, I cannot rationalise the breathing noises that I used to hear as a child right next to my bed. All I know is my own recollection of my experiences. I don’t seek to prove anything one way or another as that would be impossible now.

 

My wife, Sarah, and I have a more extraordinary story which really did happen. In 2009 I survived a brain haemorrhage. Four years later she beat breast cancer. To celebrate our lives, we have become US road trippers and 1950s-style dancers. If you want to read about our story, please visit our website:

http://www.markdpritchard.com

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How reading Tony Buzan’s books improved my memory.

As a young adult I remember being intrigued by adverts in the national papers for improving your memory. I dismissed them though, as I did other adverts for things like hair-restoring, improved sex drive and how to win friends etc., as just money-making schemes or scams. In my early 20s (I estimate around 1982), my sister, Karen, showed me a book she had been reading about improving your memory. It was written by Tony Buzan. I was impressed by her quick demonstration of how his memory systems worked involving a very useful memory trick. Even as a young man, I have always had the reputation of being extremely forgetful, but within weeks I was able to perform all kinds of memory tasks, including the unlikely feat of being able to memorise a complete deck of 52 playing cards in order.

Ironically, I’m unable to remember the name of the book, and as he has written so many, I am only able to narrow it down to two or three of the books on his website. I would imagine, though, that it was one of the first (if not THE first) of his books. Although I’d use the memory systems mostly for fun and the occasional party trick, I would sometimes use it for going shopping without having to write a shopping list. In later years, I bought one of his Mind-Mapping books. A local business man invited me to do a talk to some of his colleagues about something completely unrelated. As I only had about two weeks to prepare, I decided to give this mind-mapping a test. The result was phenomenal. I was able to do a forty-minute talk with no notes whatsoever, not forgetting a single thing that I had planned.

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The biggest barrier between people and learning the memory systems is that it all seems to be too good to be true. It is something that should be taught as a part of the national curriculum in schools at a young age throughout the world. The concept is actually quite simple to both understand and to implement. I would certainly have achieved more academically if I had been introduced to the brain powers that we all have unknowingly harnessed within us.

Somebody on Twitter asked me about these memory systems just recently. In my own book, I refer to memory systems and how I was teaching them to some nurses while I was in hospital after my brain haemorrhage. She had read my book and recommended it to others on Twitter. When I thanked her for it, she asked me if I could tell her more about the memory systems. So I explained a little to her. It is this that has inspired me to write this blog about Tony Buzan’s books. I have since had the privilege of communicating with the great man himself on Twitter. It seems that we both have so much to share with the world.

In recent years, my wife, Sarah, and I have taken up 1950s-style swing dancing and lindy hop. It is a form of social dancing involving “leads” and “follows”. The lead traditionally, though not always, is the male, while the female follows. It is the lead’s responsibility to think of a move and to guide the follower into the correct position, step and whatever the move entails. The problem that leads have is that when they are on the dance floor their minds may go blank and they cannot think of anything other than a few moves. It is common to return to your seat and think, “Oh, why didn’t I do that move,” but it’s now too late. It can be frustrating or boring for the follower to be led the same moves over and over again with no variety. However, I have been able to adapt Tony Buzan’s memory systems to enable a constant stream of different moves to come into my head. More than 30 years on after my sister introduced me to it, I am still finding uses for it. It has had a very significant impact on my life.

Click on the link below to visit his website. He has written books for adults and for children. If you have just half an interest, go into it with an open mind and prepare to be amazed.
http://www.tonybuzan.com/books/

Please also visit our website http://www.markdpritchard.com for details of my own book I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…) which tells the story of how Sarah and I survived breast cancer and a brain haemorrhage respectively. You can download the ebook for only £1.99 UK or the equivalent in any major currency. It is also available in paperback for £7.99.

Don’t forget.

 

 

 

The Talent of Rob Redman

The first time I ever heard Rob Redman sing was in the shower in about 1994. I was blown away by his talent even though it wasn’t a pretty sight. Having known each other at school for many years, we hadn’t seen each other since about 1976. We were now both members at the Country Court Hotel gym and spa complex. It exists under a different name now and is just golf swing away from the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, recently the home of the Ryder Cup. The Celtic Manor didn’t exist as it does now, and the Country Court Hotel was one of the better venues for prestigious guests in the area. We’d find ourselves working out with the likes of the Chippendales (they’re still going, but I doubt that they have the original members!) and the Welsh football team during the days of Ian Rush.

Rob told me that he was starting a karaoke business and, as I’d been a semi-pro vocal/guitarist in the early 80s, he asked me if I’d like to come along and help him out. We used to fill in from time to time when no one was getting up to sing, and we’d do the odd duet. But there was never any doubt that Rob was the main man. He could turn his vocals to anything and it was well worth it for the customers just to hear his voice. When we did duets, Rob would do the main vocals and I’d do the harmonies – it made more sense that way. I can’t remember exactly how it stopped and how we parted company, but it was many years before we were to see each other again. It wasn’t for the lack of trying on my part. A few times I’d unsuccessfully tried to track him down on social media.

About a month ago, Sarah and I were at a restaurant. We were talking to the waitress and during the conversation it transpired that Rob is her brother-in-law. When she next saw him she asked if he knew me. I suppose he reluctantly had to admit that he did. He then tracked me down on Facebook. Now, this is where things become interesting – almost spooky. In recent years, Sarah and I have learned lindy hop and swing dance, going to many dancing events with big bands and the like. In the meantime, Rob had been singing at dancing events with big bands, although our paths have never crossed on the dancing circuit.

He sent me a link to his website. On it are samples of his immense talent. I’d actually forgotten just how top class a singer he was. Or maybe he’s just got better.

Check it out here. I couldn’t open the music player on my iPad, but it plays perfectly on my laptop. Here’s the link:

http://robredman.co.uk/music.html