We recently took a week off and went on a tour of the northwest of England and Scotland. Our primary intention was to go to Galloway in Scotland to look at the dark skies but since that’s a long trip it was decided – an executive decision by me, the driver – to break it up by going to Liverpool on the way up and Blackpool on the way back. Now, if the title doesn’t make things obvious let me clarify: this is part one and it’s about Liverpool.
The Albert Dock. It’s a dock. Named Albert.
In the early 1990s I went to university at Liverpool and studied computer science. Part of the reason for going back was to check out a few of the old haunts and show them off to the wife who had suffered enough tales of my far-distant youth and deserved some visual aid to the vivid, crisp descriptions I had painted from my photographic memory of the city and its denizens.
The main reason, however, was to show her fishcakes.
Liverpool: Quest For Fishcakes
Fishcakes – such as those you might buy in a fish and chips shop when asking for "two fishcakes and a portion of chips please" or such as those you might buy in a supermarket in a packet in the freezer section marked "Fishcakes" – down here in the mighty south of the country are universally disc-shaped, about two-thirds of an inch deep, and coated in orange breadcrumbs.
Fishcakes in Liverpool – such as those I recall buying in Liverpool in the early 1990s when entering a fish and chips shop and asking for "two fishcakes and a portion of chips please" – were also disc-shaped but were thicker (an inch and a quarter or even more) and battered. They also tasted lighter, fluffier, different. In a good way.
My wife… well, I’m not convinced she ever believed me about the fishcakes. I had to show her the fishcakes.
The Cavern Club. You don’t want to use the toilets. Trust me.
When I lived in Liverpool during my second year at university I shared a house with three other students in the Kensington area of Liverpool. There’s a Kensington in London that is rather up-market, appealing to the well-off. The people dress well. The people smell well (I imagine (assuming the all-pervasive atmospheric tar of London hasn’t clogged your nasal passages with its gunk)). It all just feels a little bit better than you. The Kensington in Liverpool is just like the one in London except for everything.
We drove through Kensington on the way into Liverpool. "Look!," I told my wife. "All these shells of buildings and all this crap that has been half-bulldozed was roughly where I stayed. And look! I remember that boarded-up building with the illegible scrawl and profane doodles and urine stains and intense feeling of dread when you stare at it!"
We decided that we wouldn’t stop in Kensington and that we wouldn’t seek it out once we had booked into our hotel on the waterfront because neither of us wanted to be killed to death by post-apocalyptic scousers. I resolved to only take my wife there in the early 1990s when it seemed a little less ominous with the aid of a time machine (construction pending).
Liverpool: The Time Machine
It was raining (a light but persistent drizzle) while we waited for the Wheel Of Liverpool to open so we wandered around the Albert Dock to shelter and then discovered the Maritime Museum. Museums – as I’m sure you know – are time machines for your mind and we entered for warmth and interest’s sake.
A shameless plug for the Liverpool Maritime Museum will commence in three words time. Right. About. Now. Visit the Liverpool Maritime Museum. It’s great. I mean it. The ground floor – Titanic, Lusitania, Empress Of Ireland, wartime shipping, global trade, and much more – was very interesting, but the first floor’s special Shackleton Exhibition (photographs and diary entries) was utterly superb. I’ve never wanted to board an icebreaker and try to sail to the south pole and now I still don’t. Thank you exhibition!
Exhibition Hot Tip: don’t ask what happened to the dogs.
Another way to avoid the drizzle that the almighty weather toad throws at you is to shelter in pubs. Living in Portsmouth has given me a fine appreciation for pubs and alcohol. Let me tell you this: Liverpool’s all right by me. Thomas Rigby’s, Olde Hall In Ye Wall, and The Dispensary dispensed (do you see what I did there?) a plethora of real ale novelties my way (the second of those pubs even gave us a free drink, bless their generous hearts). My slightly euphoric feelings at the ends of the evenings will attest to the good quality of the beers or – possibly – the ever-present subtle aroma of the Mersey that wafts through the city and entices unwary visitors to brown, semi-solid watery graves.
Chinatown. Built on the site of a crashed Space Invader.
Liverpool has a Chinatown. If you’ve been to a Chinatown in another city (I have) then the one in Liverpool is just like that. If you’ve been to a town in China (I have) then the one in Liverpool bears not one iota of a hint of a rumour of a resemblance. Such is the way of the global Chinatown menace.
Liverpool: Seismic Terror
Liverpool sits at the meeting point of three tectonic plates which have become entangled in a geological waltz that serves to slowly rotate the buildings and streets of the city over the passage of decades. Such a gradual shifting is accepted without question by the Merseyside locals and integrated seamlessly into their daily routes to and from Anfield, hair perming salons, and the dole offices (disclaimer: despite living in Liverpool for a number of years most of my information about Liverpool comes from 1980s sitcoms).
This can be the only explanation for the way in which many of the landmarks I remembered with my photographic memory – The Cavern, Lime Street Station, the Adelphi, and that rock club down that alley and up those stairs whose name escapes me – had shifted location and orientation in the eighteen years since my previous visit.
Fortunately, Liverpool is an easy city to navigate. Downwards will take you to the docks. Upwards will take you towards Kensington. You do not want to go too far towards Kensington lest you actually end up in Kensington.
Liverpool is – overall – a lovely city. I managed to convince my wife of this fact too after many years of telling her it was my spiritual second home. We left and headed north towards Scotland.
Liverpool: Quest For Fishcakes: Epilogue
I forgot to look for fishcakes.