North and South (apologies to Mrs G)

And apologies for random pix – problems transferring from phone to iPad mini that won’t get all my emails! There will be an updated version later (done 03.01.2020)

My word! It’s nearly a year since I last posted on my blog. It’s been a strange year – my first for ages without foreign travel until now, 20 December. Unless of course you count a trip to the Peoples’ Republic of Merseyside as foreign. That’s where this last week began meeting up with friends for a football match, a gig and food, drink and conversation. In fact it was the second trip in just over a month and previously I’d managed to get up to Crosby beach to marvel at the Gormleys following his recent show at the Royal Academy. And on the way back I managed to find a Japanese garden hidden away in Sale.

For this latest visit, I drove up uneventfully on Friday and met up with Richard and Alison for a couple of beers and a fine dinner in Bacaro. Our former favourite tapas bar La Vinya has closed and become something trendier and more expensive but Bacaro served Italian-tinged tapas with a great atmosphere and a good wine list so we had a fun evening. Watford v Liverpool was the 12.30 kick off on Saturday so we met up in Dr Duncan’s for a pint at 11.00 (they told me on the phone they would open as usual at 11 but in fact opened at 10 because of the early kick off), Some of us thought there was time for a second pint but this in fact meant that our bus ride to Anfield took ages and we only just got in to see kick off. Others – Fran and Matt – describe the game and although we lost we all left very encouraged by the improvement we had seen under our third manager of the season.

Many of our travelling Watford Hornets are also fans of Ian Prowse the singer-songwriter who leads the bands Pele and Amsterdam and our match coincided with his annual Liverpool Christmas concert – but that didn’t start until nine so what can you do for six hours in Liverpool? Visit the Tate? The Walker is a fine art gallery or there’s the Beatles Story. But hell no! Liverpool also has some of the finest pubs in the country many of which I was already familiar with and with assistance from Mr Prowse himself and artist Tony Brown, I was able to devise a ten venue pub crawl to occupy the waiting hours. I should say that Ian and Tony, and his wife Lorraine, have been friends since 2002 when Dee and I made a series of educational videos for Teaching Scouse as a Second Language for the publishers Macmillan. Tony provided the studio backdrop and was interviewed about his work. Ian was a studio guest who discussed the Merseyside music scene and played us out at the end of the show. We also filmed his gig at the Cavern for the programme. So nearly twenty years on we are all friends still and have met up at intervals during further filming or football trips to the great city.

Armed with their input we embarked on a walking tour of a varied selection of Liverpool’s boozers at the worst time possible. It’s Saturday afternoon, it’s nearly Christmas and all the pubs are full. However we divert to grab some food then take in the Victorian splendour of the Philharmonic, the bustling fun of Ye Crack and quirky layout of The Pilgrim, the mezzanine melee of Mackenzies whisky bar before descending on one of my favourites The Globe. One regular inquired why on earth I’d brought a pub crawling group to Liverpool’s smallest pub. Because it’s quirky, friendly, keeps its beer well, is close to the centre and has the steeply sloping floor that makes you think you’re half cut before you’ve started. Ah well alright, he said, that’s why I’m here. Tony and Lorraine joined us there and I’m afraid the second stage of the itinerary was abandoned for the next visit as we had at last found somewhere to sit, were with Liverpool friends and enjoying a great atmosphere. After a brief aberration on my part in the Phil, we restricted ourselves to halves and so were still able to stand and enjoy what was to follow.

Then it was a swift walk through Lime Street Station to the O2 Academy for Prowsey’s Christmas Party. After a slight hold up while some technical sound and lighting issues were resolved – well it is rock n roll – Ian and his superb fifteen piece band treated us to two hours of Pele and Amsterdam’s greatest hits with a few well aimed political comments and a joint version with Brian Nash of Frankie Goes to Hollywood fame of their smash hit The Power of Love. The talent on display was stunning, Ian’s writing is always pointed and his melodies so strong that I have had Pele/Amsterdam ear worms all week. Some of us were invited to the after party and lovely though it would have been to spend some time with Ian it was too hip and too loud for an oldie like me so we congratulated him and thanked him for a wonderful evening, group hugged and retired graciously.

Amsterdam gig 12.2019Sunday found four of us regulars meeting up for brunch. We met at Castle Street Coffee according to the menu but called something quite different on its main signage. This caused some confusion although I thought my description of corner of Castle Street and Dale Street was clear enough – not so when you’re looking for a sign that barely exists. The food and coffee were fine, the vibe laid-back Sunday morning. What it did have was a phenomenon in the loos’ hand-driers. Now you know how they usually emit a blue light along with the whoosh of warm air – well these had pools of red and blue light thus appealing to both halves of the city (for those not familiar with Liverpool football there are bitter rivals: Liverpool play in red; Everton in blue) Great marketing effort we thought.

Pete and Graham departed for Bradford but since Fran was booked on the 18:45 train she kindly agreed to accompany me to Sefton Park for a nostalgic walk and to admire the Palm House newly restored since I was last there. It also featured a ukulele band playing a mixture of carols and standards in an idiosyncratic setlist.

Since Frances had never seen the famous Liverpool waterfront from the opposite bank of the Mersey we whizzed through the tunnel and climbed to the top of the Birkenhead Priory Tower – just about made it that’s a lot of steps up – and while damp, grey and drizzly by now, the view across the river was well worth the trip. We then repaired to what had been my local when I spent six months in Liverpool on the aforementioned English language video shoot and edit, The Excelsior, which remains a proper good old fashioned pub, much to my delight. Next stop so as to be close to the station was another of my personal favourites The Crown Hotel. I was a bit worried because Lorraine had said last night that it had recently been refurbed, but she also added that they’d done it really well. And she was right. It’s cleaner, the panelling looks brighter and the ornate plaster ceiling is still a great place to hunt for the designer’s signature cigar butt trademarks – six of them apparently but Dee and I only ever found five. Fran departed for London and I walked back down Dale Street to sample a new-to-me tapas bar as a possible replacement for La Vinya. However it closed at seven for some strange reason. An alternative presented itself nearby in Mowgli a chic modern Indian restaurant with an exciting menu and dishes served in snazzy stainless steel round tiffin canisters and which are eaten from a metal plate. All very different, very tasty and from the queues as I left, very popular.

Before driving back down on Monday I had arranged to meet Tony and Lorraine for breakfast in The Quarter on Faulkner Street in the elegant Georgian Quarter of the city which is so full of architectural surprises. I retrieved my car from the car park where it had been overnight at the hotel’s discounted rate and proceeded through the centre and up Mount Pleasant to Hope and Faulkner Streets. Now some of these are cobbled, others are potholed but nonetheless I was a bit perturbed by the volume of road noise I was generating. As I parked I saw that the rear offside tyre was as flat as the proverbial. Like a fool I asked the staff if they knew of a local tyre place – which they did – but also suggested that as I was a member I call the AA – doh! At this point Tony and Lorraine arrived and I explained my predicament which slightly dominated our breakfast conversation

But we did manage to have a good catch up before the friendly patrolman arrived. So with farewell hugs and them insisting on picking up the bill, I went out to the car. The AA man told me he used to live round here and that where I had breakfast used to be McCall’s grocery store in his day and he remembered being sent from home to buy a quarter of spam for tea. I love this kind of verbal history and the fact that everybody in the city seem to be so friendly and chatty, examples of which we had in spades during the pub crawl as I had a Watford badge on my polo shirt which was a frequent conversation starter.

The tyre was inflated sufficiently for me to follow the yellow van to a discount tyre yard in Wavertree where he assured me I would get quality tyres at the best price in the city. That may well have been the case but for the fact that when I produced that box labelled “Locking wheel nut” from the glovebox it was empty. We turfed everything out of the car and couldn’t find it anywhere. So I phoned the nearest Toyota main dealer to check whether they had a master key that would resolve the issue. They did, so my kindly tyre folk gave me a further top up blast of air and I set off for Bootle. It took a while to sort out by very efficient Toyota folk but eventually I was on the road back south with a new tyre and a new key on order. I had hoped to do most of the drive in the small amount of daylight mid-December offers but it was already dark by the time I reached the M6 to head south. The rest of the journey was uneventful I’m pleased to say and I was home in time to do some last minute online Christmas shopping, wrap some presents and then make something to eat as breakfast, delicious though it was, had been eight and a half hours ago with only a few mints to keep up the blood sugar during the drive.

The rest of the week has screamed by rather like most of this mad year. I spent a great day at Tate Modern with my friend Jadwiga on Wednesday with a little exhibition viewing in the form of Dora Marr (better photographer than painter in our view since you ask, but good that this showed her to be her own person not just consigned to history as one of Picasso’s women) and lots of tea and coffee drinking (well a little champagne) and conversation before and after. Thursday saw Grandad Santa deliver to the grandchildren who will be in Manchester for Christmas while I’ll be in Malaga and Cadiz. As the flight is at 07:20 I drove up to the Holiday Inn Express at Stansted for the night and a week’s parking.

Standing in pouring rain waiting to climb the steps into the plane I’m quite pleased to be heading off to the south of Spain where the temperature was 21 degrees yesterday so fingers crossed.

I’ve now arrived and it is 21 degrees but grey and drizzly so while I have a balcony with a great view over Malaga I won’t be sipping cava on it today I fear. Also I’ve just had an email ping in with some work for my Dutch agents so I’d better get on with it – holidays have to be paid for after all.

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