So after the spending several weeks in Cardiff, I travelled North to the other British city that I’ve called home – Liverpool. Liverpool shares some similarities with Cardiff: both were thriving industrial towns that flourished as successful international ports; both have a reputation for good shopping and a plethora of nightlife; both have very strong accents that bare a faint – yet unmistakable- likeness to Donald Duck; both are a mecca for hen nights and stag dos… again I question how suitable it is to be walking through a shopping centre, crowded with families, at 11am on a Saturday carrying a giant inflatable penis, and wearing a glittery genital tiara. The stag parties tend to dress the groom up in awkward cutesy clothing such as fluffy, pink, bunny suits; Minnie Mouse costumes; baby bonnet, towelling nappy and over-sized dummy.. all of which seem a little more family friendly.
The other thing they both have in common is that Liverpool, like Cardiff, has undergone a major facelift, yet again I find myself lost in a city I was once able to navigate my way around expertly in the dark and walking in a zig-zag pattern. The Liverpool docks used to have the welcoming red brick walls of the Albert dock, in the middle of several kilometres of grey concrete causeway with a run of the mill, ticket office for the ferry across the Mersey. Today it is still grey concrete, but now it is fancy grey concrete, aesthetically-pleasing-with-an-architectural-vision grey concrete. Grey concrete that is sculpted into steps an ledges that invite one to lounge upon them with an office picnic lunch (a.k.a. the 3 quid meal deal from Tesco’s), or a heavy backpack and a guide book. The new Museum of Liverpool is located on the water (Liverpool already has a natural history museum so this one is specifically about the history of Liverpool, very good and quite surprising – I had no idea just how up-to-our-necks we were involved in the history of slavery), along with the obligatory chic restaurants and bars. I am confused by the chic restaurant/bar phenomenon. How can so many stay in business when they are so expensive and we as a nation are so poor. Is everyone going into debt purely so they can get gout?
Since I’ve mentioned the Natural history museum in Liverpool, I should also tell you that after regretting not making wiser use of my time in university and not going, I finally – after nearly two decades of regret – went inside. First impressions of the day … hmmn, it’s quite small. Last impressions of the day – not small at all, more like the bloody tardis! When you first go inside you’re in hallway with a large flight of stairs reaching five floors up. It looks functional and nice but not particularly exciting, but then each floor reveals a maze of cools stuff to look at (particularly the ancient and world cultures floor – that goes on forever). There’s an aquarium; an insect house (unexpectedly varied collection of living creatures, not for the squeamish, although I can now testify that there is a breed of cockroach that exceptionally pretty, it is black with yellow spots on its back); space exploration section; planetarium (I love planetariums – 10 minutes in the dark staring at the stars, lush); and one half of the museum is entirely devoted to things for kids to pick up and shake and rattle, and generally bounce all over the place. The cafe also does a wicked slice of carrot cake.
Ooh and right next door to the museum, is the central library, a simply stunning refuge for everyone who needs to forget their life for a moment. The entrance to the library opens straight into its heart. Walk forward until you’re in the centre of the room and you’ll find yourself at a 7ft tall wooden sculpture of an open book, inside of which is paper and pens for you to inscribe your favourite quote. I was please with my offering, an Albert Camus quote about finding strength, right up until I spotted one from Ron Weasley of Harry Potter fame: “Why did it have to be spiders, why couldn’t it have been … butterflies?”
Look up from the this vantage point and you can see all the way up to the glass ceiling on the fifth floor. The stairwell circumnavigates an enormous ellipse, the fixtures and fittings are glass and light wood so when you stair upwards you have the feeling of being inside a giant Faberge egg, if Faberge had been a Swedish interior designer.
The second floor holds a happy place for all bibliophiles and escapists. It is home to the Picton reading room, the Hornby library, and the Oak room. The latter two are grand Victorian rooms where one wanders in, stares in awe at the books under lock and key, and soon wanders out again weighed down by echoes of wealth, privilege and learning. The Picton reading room, is rather special, a vast circular room, with not one but two upper galleries running around the entire perimeter. Dark wooden shelves cascade over every square foot of wall. Heavy oak tables and chairs are spaciously placed across the floor, like sombre islands on a dignified carpet. The room is capped with an ornate, domed ceiling – alabaster plaster reflecting light to every reader. It is Nirvana for readers.
These treasures lurk in the older part of the city, but Liverpool’s centre is expanding and taking over territory previously designated a no-go area for any pedestrian who didn’t have their black belt in kung fu. Former warehouses are now kitschy music halls and art centres with rooftop gardens, serving craft beers and dishes overwhelmed by kale. (Fucking kale, it tastes foul, anyone who claims different is lying to themselves, and torturing their taste buds.)
Liverpool remains essentially scouse though. It has a unique identity which no amount of gentrification can water down. Perhaps one of the reasons for this, is that Liverpuddlians are very much attached to their city and tend not to move far away from it. They might dabble with a few years away, for work or exploration, but generally this only enables them to return, safe in the knowledge there’s no place like home.