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A campaign by Age UK & Cadbury UK to showcase the life stories of older people had immediate appeal for 92-year-old Kathleen Jablonska

kathleen 2020 sharston house new

A campaign by Age UK and Cadbury UK to showcase the life stories of older people had immediate appeal for 92-year-old Kathleen Jablonska.

For the resident of Sharston House nursing home, in Knutsford, has sweet memories of her first job as a 14-year-old – working on a conveyor belt filling boxes of chocolates at Cadbury's factory in Birmingham.

Staff at the Kingsley Healthcare home in Manor Park South helped her piece together her story – which soon took a distinctly more glamorous turn! – for the DonateYourWords campaign.

The campaign aims to highlight the loneliness of many older people and to encourage everyone to have a conversation with an older person.

When she was 19, Kathleen decided to try something new and was given the opportunity to become a dancer with the famous Tiller Girls.

She started at Birmingham Hippodrome, and then the troupe danced at venues all over the country.

The training and rehearsals were strict as the girls were all required to stand in a straight line with one hand on their neighbour’s shoulder, performing lots of high kicks.

But it was an experience Kathleen remembers with a lot of affection.

Her dancing achievements were all the more surprising because she had suffered with heart problems as a young child and did not start school until she was seven.

She went on to work in the theatre in pantomime and that’s where she was to meet her future husband Ludwig, a Polish opera singer.

As soon as he saw her perform, he thought they would make a good double-act. Being adventurous, Kathleen decided to give it a go.

Under the stage name Caruna and Dodo, their act included singing and ballroom dancing.

They later refined it to include hilarious sketches involving lots of acrobatics.

She recalls their first performance did not go well, but she decided to experiment and the very next performance brought the house down!

Ludwig was an amazing tenor and as he started to sing, Kathleen came on stage pretending to be drunk. As she staggered towards Ludwig, he pushed her away fearing she would spoil his song.

When she fell to the floor with theatrical aplomb, the audience roared their approval.

For the next 20 years they travelled the country, playing at many large venues and often being asked to open the show.

Kathleen married her partner and they took their act to Paris and other cities on the continent, working with big bands and acts such as Tina Turner and Max Miller.

She likes to joke that she spent 20 years upside down doing acrobatics!

After a spell in hospital Kathleen moved into Sharston House in 2009; she had previously lived locally in Knutsford.

CAPTIONS: Kathleen at Sharston House. Pictured right in the Cadbury factory.

Author: Stephen Pullinger

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