Get On With It 20/01/2010Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: albert dock, british rail, conservation centre, england, international slavery museum, liverpool, maritime museum, mersey river, philharmonic pub, stephen shakeshaft, travel, urban, walks, wandering
Pete and Megan warned me of orange ladies, the artificially tanned commercial foundation of shopping malls and cell phone companies blighting England’s north. John and Jen were concerned with the prospect of my carrying the Swiss Army knife adorning a spare set of keys. They decided it was a bad idea.
Cosmopolitan Chorley does not lay on the Liverpool line, which led me ambling along the ice-covered sidewalk of Southport concentrating on slipping and falling away from traffic. The Euxton platform does not benefit from a station, electronic schedule board, or a roof. This wasn’t the sort of place an express line would bother with and the westbound passengers could have carpooled if we’d planned ahead.
Wigan and similar towns populated by streets of identical housing. Coaches filled with exhausted looking commuters pale as the florescent lighting. Going to Manchester, a ride to Liverpool was a chore. The grey skies threatened rain over snow, the landscape bleak at its worse and rugged at its best. As we hit the outskirts of the city the train sank into the earth, towering brick and concrete walls swallowing us as we rocked and rattled along the rails through dark tunnels to Lime Street Station.
The station was ripped up for renovation, streets a mess of traffic blockades and broken concrete. The entire city seemed to be under construction, yellow cranes climbing above the grimy concrete all along the water front. The collision of tightly packed classical architectural styles were scarred by glass and steel saplings, lending the twisting streets a nightmarish pastiche of a grand shantytown. I wandered through the neo-classical tombs of St. George’s Hall, The Tate and Walker museums and the central library. Statues shivered in a grey plaza as a line of excited schoolchildren were corralled past. It was too cold and damp for sitting on benches or strolling through the frost-bitten grass.
I wanted the ocean, and meandered downhill. Narrow streets with backwards traffic, confused angles, menacing pedestrian islands became walkways littered with bargain hunters. The center of downtown had become one long promenade of chain stores, fast food and glazed faces. Escape from the retail ghetto was found on broad avenues with blank walled buildings, passing automobiles and windswept sidewalks empty of people.
When I found the locks lining Wapping I thought it was the ocean, then realized my excitement was premature. When I found the Mersey I thought it was the ocean, until I realized the river emptied out far to the west. Rain was coming down and I watched other tourists shivering in inappropriate clothes, walking along the shoreline. I had expected docks, cranes, roustabouts, ships. It looked like all of the industry was lurking in the drizzle across the river. The Albert Dock, once a revolutionary development in maritime construction, now a collection of overpriced shops, tourists traps and museums. I did not venture inside The Beatles Story.
The Maritime Museum was a claustrophobic maze of facts and figures and dates and names would have taken me a week to fully absorb. Unable to learn I lived off impressions, how integral the waterfront was for the city of Liverpool, how devastating the war was on its people. There was a pink-themed corner dedicated to gays on ships, as garish and subtle as a Tenderloin drag show, which trapped confused looking men who quickly scurried away. The top floor is dedicated to the International Slavery Museum, a sparse collection of artifacts and informational placards struggling to compensate for a lack of material. I learned how Liverpool’s maritime wealth was mined from Africa.
Leaving the construction cranes and wretched convention center behind I stopped in at the Conservation Centre, which was hosting an exhibition of Stephen Shakeshaft photographs. The video conversation focused on his brushes with fame but the best portraits were from the slum clearing of Edge Hill and Everton, people living in squalor but shining like angels. The lighting was bad, the selection skint, but it was warm and dry inside.
Night had arrived and the rain was worsening. North of downtown the streets were barren, storefronts shuttered and vacant. Liverpool’s economy never recovered from the War, the blitz which rivaled London’s bombardment. The 80’s saw the population shrink from almost a million to under 500,000, and unemployment was rife. People kept to themselves, cautiously hurrying by.
Walked through the abandoned university grounds, trying to keep the Catholic cathedral in view. It stood above the surrounding darkness, a modernist sculpture more reminiscent of technology than something as archaic as God. Thought about stopping in the official church café/bookshop/meeting hall but I wasn’t sure I really wanted to sit in the empty space on a slightly uncomfortable chair.
Searching for the Liverpool Cathedral I passed The Philharmonic Pub– renowned for their Victorian tile. The innards were a collection of ornately furnished warrens, molded finishing, hanging bulbs of light. There may have been a fireplace nestled in the baroque atmosphere. I ordered a half-pint of a clearly denoted beer and was served a full which I drank standing off to one side, clearly annoying a woman waiting for friends. Beer purchased I felt entitled to investigate the famed tiling. It’s in the toilet, which smells.
Through the rain I followed Hope Street and found the cathedral drowned in darkness. I turned my attention towards eating, something I hadn’t managed to do yet. Chinatown lurked nearby– Liverpool is supposedly home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe. The brightly lit archway and accompanying sign celebrating a cultural exchange with Shanghai promised greatness. Eying every restaurant’s menu I slowly picked my way down the block, only to find Chinatown’s abrupt end. I doubled back to a curry shop.
Two overweight and unhealthy scousers clogged the line by not understanding how to order. I chose something off the chef’s specials which required actual cooking with a pan, but the guy running the place seemed pleased. The guy working the kitchen didn’t seem to speak English, or at least it was decent cover when the obscenely drunk Irish guy staggered in yelling friendly obscenities. I sat at the window watching rain run down the glass, pleased with the portions and quality of my breakfast/lunch/dinner. The guy behind the counter asked me how it was, and I took that simple exchange as a promising sign.
Where do you go when monuments aren’t lit and the museums have all closed? Looking for coffee up and down the narrow streets of the Rope Walks— a name I’m not particularly clear on. Crossed the tracks in a boxed metal, graffiti scrawled bridge between blackened factories and stopped in a place called Brew for an espresso. The barrista didn’t like me waiting at the counter for the shot, but then again I don’t like table service. Sat browsing through a book about France written by some annoying Brit, my coat pooling water on the bench .
Heading back towards Lime Street someone asked me for a light in such a heavy accent I had to ask him to repeat himself. In the freezing rain this guy was wearing a tight t-shirt, muttering a profane soliloquy while stamping around in a circle. I thought this would result in trouble but he thanked me and I continued walking. Into the freezing terminal, up to the wall of ticket windows and schedule boards. The guy behind the window told me that the next train was in half an hour when I asked to buy a ticket. Can I buy the ticket then? It cost £14, more than the roundtrip ticket I was supposed to buy on the train that morning except no one was there to sell me the ticket.
Standing at the taxi queue frustrating the drivers and someone passed me saying something. Sorry? Oh, just sayin’ you’re alright mate. Okay. But this turned into a conversation with Frankie who has family in Connecticut who he hasn’t seen for ages. It quickly became an appeal for a pound, something I really couldn’t spare as I just got taken for a small fortune at the ticket window. He offered me cigarettes, he offered me a spliff. These things seemed more valuable than a pound. You’re not going to give me a pound? Can’t do it. Frankie walked away in a huff and I went to wait for the train on the freezing but empty platform.
No one asked to see my ticket at the gate. I walked through twice just in case but no one seemed interested.