“All passengers waiting for… this train is cancelled.”
The announcement drowned a resigned chorus of hacked off voices. Chairs groaned, as travellers collapsed, all-journeyed out. Staff shortages, trains in wrong places, chaos? Not a case of the train taking the strain. A glance at the departure boards, there were other cancellations, others disgruntled, me, resigned, and shoulder shrugging acceptance. Bag on floor, book flicked open, coffee sipped, at least it’s not Greggs pastry and coffee.
Shuffling feet, echoing corridors, bright spring sun, sharp shadows, “the next train at platform is ...” mine, mine, mine and it was, my train. Wheels squealed, pained old coaches, cast offs from another age. I’d seen these trains, 45 years ago, and used them as well. Tired, clapped out, recently painted, newly covered seats, springs broken. Send the trash trains to the land of the poor.
Suburbs, burnt out factories, windows smashed, tagged, and sprayed, lines of homes from 150 years ago, another time, another place, but the same people, same souls, same lives, different age. Swathes of land flattened, homes gone, neighbourhoods destroyed, aerial bombing, regeneration, urban change. Whatever the reason, the damage is there in our faces, memories, memories, some mine, some others. Perhaps myths and rumours, it’s all there for us all, memories, pictures, photos. Significant? some are, some not.
Rolling past old factories, cars, and chemical, food and toys, once made here, now as John Entwhistle sang
“Nothing here in the world anymore,
it’s all now made in Japan,
Hong Kong, or Singapore”
Coulda been sang here 40 years ago.
Railway yards, abandoned, weed strewn, floodlit, wagons, rusted, wrecked, a tunnel, darkness, cutting walls, darkness, flashes of sky highlights, street bridges, arched roofs. Horn’s blast, spring light, sepia shadows, a juddering shudder. People swaying, jabbering voices, hugs and calls, friends and families greeted.
“God this train’s packed ”,
“What a journey,”
“No Toilet working on the train!”
The station, the city’s old heart of grandeur, cheek by jowl, Civic Pride, how this survived the war, I’ll never know, wondering who sold, whose soul, for that legacy gain.
Hotel, check-in, card touch, seen the room tons of times. Chains love or loathe ‘em, you know what you’re getting, bog room, service, standards. Bag down, and out. Grasp the city, its life, loves, passions and legacy. These sights and senses… A vibrant, exuberant city delight. Despite the whims of planners, and ideological fashions, Brutalism, Corbusierian, Eco developments, old buildings - just memories, lucky ones repurposed, rebuilt, converted, this place thrives and grows.
It’s the pubs and bars, the city’s life blood, that’s part of the draw, a history that stretches into pre-history. Like all the nations’ ups and downs, too many downs in recent decades. Alleyways and bye-ways, pubs and clubs, bars and cafes, hidden places and secret spaces. French, Spanish, ubiquitous Indian spaces, established Chinese places, Mandarin Palace, Lotus Leaves. Streets of Cherry buds, Spring’s first unwound sprung. Alfresco dining, sipping, chatting, laughing and lazing on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Chinatown and curry mile, Pink Quarter, side by side, intermingled, and open hearted, Museum and Merchant Quarter. Banks to Bars, offices to apartments, all testaments to the City’s still changing face. There’s the usual Ozzie bars, rock, champagne bars, full, glasses filled and overflowing street spillage. Gaggles and gangs from the countryside, last sips before trains, coaches, planes home.
Away from the frantic beery mouths, and exuberance of youth, wandered darkening streets, buildings aged, some unloved, (several careless owners), one war, and a regeneration.The heart may have been failing in the past, but the spirit still burned bright, laughter, yelps delights and scream bounced off the ally walls.
The Excelsior bar, Tamla playing, soft voices, beer collected, bar stool seated. Serendipity, ‘where have I known you before’, relaxed in the City’s gentle caress. It was, it was, it was, “The Moon under the Water”, not the ‘Spoons’ parody, but the original, Orwell original, his embodiment of a perfect pub… Except it wasn’t, I know he’d never been to the City, but George’d loved this place, beer and chat and calm, light and warmth. The perfect night’s nightcap.
Monday, Culture, Culture, Culture, and the place has loads, icons, histories sad, and hopeful, proud and shameful, and perhaps more extremes of each, memories, TV images, papers and plays, it’s got the lot from Modern to classics, curated by the self made city fathers. Responsible, legacies, good and bad, black and white, green and orange, the place’s roots.
The City museum tells these stories warts and all, Victorian words in today’s voices, from prehistory to futures' steps. It’s the people’s story, the rich traders made their money, pissed off, and left the place in a slow downward spiral. It's these poignant victim’s, survivors’ voices, that’s the city’s story. The rich did leave a fabulous Merchant City that’s a revelation considering the war’s damage, when you’re here, walk slowly, look up above first floor wonders revealed, displayed, Victorian , self-confidence and avarice, ostentatious wealth, built by, and on the backs and lives of the long great, great grandparents of the bar trippers and booze suppers of yesterday night.
Of course the city covers its roots, a migrant city, more than most, both incoming and outgoing, some voluntary, some forced. The street histories tell spinning tales of change, rise and fall, all too little rise again, and all around the city, faded grandeur, forgotten civic pride, trades halls - outmoded - sometimes abandoned to a desperate fate. Dotted around statues of the great and if truth be told, as with Colston in Bristol, not so good, same roots, same legacy, but none of the money stayed.
That said, the city’s tourists, that’s for me, see culture well celebrated, well commemorated, street names, statues, bus tours, mugs for mugs, hats for twats (yes I’m a snob), and looks to the past. Here in the present, Three Graces, Philharmonic Hall, Galleries, Rep Theatre, city sons and daughters across the arts. Warehouse living, high rise views, city and seascapes, but there’s a real pride in its heroes, well-known, remembered and some almost forgotten. Here in the City Museum, faces, places, races, games, love and passions. They’re there in the bars, and the songs of its famous sons, but two cultural icons, so much a part of the city and its self-manufactured image dominate - Anfield and the Cavern club. The latter a fake copy, the original one smashed through in a train tunnel, not that it matters, it’s the sound that bounced off the bricks, not the bricks that were a city’s soundtrack. As for the football, it’s hard to stand alone here in a pub, never mind walk alone, these are its twin icons but so, so, much more. An Open ‘Open Eye’ that’s a focused, focal, snapped, shot, sense of times and places here and there, then and now windows on the other.
Weekend ended hotel check out, station waiting, destinations flashing. The station busy, scurrying folks, kisses and departure hugs, glancing around, yeah I can see where the departure scene in “A Hard Day’s Night” was shot, some things haven’t changed in Liverpool, and I hope they never do.
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