The timeless magic of the English seaside town of Blackpool.
On Blackpool promenade, not long after you've passed under the welcome archway to England's most famous seaside resort, there's a giant disco ball. Like a frocked-up lighthouse, this six-metre-wide sequin beacon shimmers out to the Irish Sea, 4700 facets reflecting little shards of sand, sun, sky; winking, glinting, hinting at what lies just ahead. This crystal ball sees only fun in your future.
For kids the promise starts earlier, out on the motorway, when the sharpest-eyed shouts: "There's Blackpool Tower!"
I was eight when I first sighted Blackpool's 158-metre faux-Eiffel landmark looming on the flat Lancashire landscape - an unearthly vision for newcomers from the far north of Scotland, two days' journey and a galaxy far, far away.
It was the 1970s, before cheap European package holidays. Back then, Brits were still in love with our own coastline and Blackpool was its jewel. The town where the fun always shines had embodied seaside holiday happiness for nearly two centuries; a paradise for workers who escaped Victorian factories, mills and mines for its voluminous sands, pleasure palaces and big, blowsy welcome.
By the time I first stepped through its looking glass, Blackpool was "the Vegas of the North", with 11 kilometres of amusements, shows, rollercoasters, bauble-crammed souvenir stores, and three grand piers reaching into the sea like Liberace's blinging fingers.
At first my little brother and I could only stare. Then our parents watched with mild alarm as their kids, accustomed to camping and tiny towns, descended into delirium.
We were drunk on salty air, hot dogs and doughnuts; dizzy with a kaleidoscope of carnivalesque colours.
We were drunk on salty air, hot dogs and doughnuts; dizzy with a kaleidoscope of carnivalesque colours, dazzled by the dreamscape of lights that painted new worlds at night. Every sound was a siren song: carousel tunes, jangling slot machines and always, somewhere, a bingo caller: "clickety-click, sixty-six."
I marvelled at bouffant candy floss, rainbow ice creams and princess carriages drawn by plumed, high-stepping horses. There were stripes on deckchairs and ribbons on donkeys; a parade of clowns, fortune tellers, magicians. Through this fairyland, double-decker trams glided like stately dowagers and, above it all, the Tower's coronets reached for the clouds.
Blackpool embraced everyone. You could spin and hurtle on white-knuckle rides until you were queasy with adrenalin and churned-up sugar. Sensible grown-ups wore silly hats and daft smiles and screamed as loudly as us on the Big Dipper.
Blackpool's treasures were strange and wonderful: fake dog poos, huge foam Stetsons, a full English breakfast rendered in rock candy. A multicoloured, multilayered Knickerbocker Glory sundae in a towering glass as tall as my torso.
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And the splendid Victorian ballroom beneath the Tower, where the mighty Wurlitzer and its organist have risen operatically out of the stage daily since 1899, more than 1000 pipes sending forth a spine-tingling, symphonic tidal wave.
I gazed, spellbound, at the giddying opulence, the velvet, gold and marble, the chandeliers and tiers of galleries, and the glamorous couples twirling in perfect time on a polished lake of dancefloor, and I felt my spirit soar up, up, up on that musical wave to waltz with the painted angels on the golden ceiling and then higher still and heavenwards, to the very pinnacle of the impossible tower above.
In that moment I discovered a bottomless well of wonder.
Mum and Dad live near Blackpool now, and every summer I travel back, all the way from Sydney. On my morning run along the seafront, I pause at the big disco ball. My reflection in its thousands of twinkling eyes is child-sized.
We roam the globe for novelty, discovery, expanded horizons. But sometimes, too, as time travellers in our own lives, reaching back to where awe was new and paint was fresh and the glitter untarnished.
I've explored extraordinary places and marvelled at unforgettable spectacles. But through a little girl's wide eyes, this town by the English seaside will always be the most exotic of them all.