Last time I was in Liverpool it was 1996 and I was there for a final interview with the Health and Safety Executive. Success was admission as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Health and Safety.
I had an overnight in a nasty, fowsty, run-down, rent-by-the-hour 'hotel' just beyond what I think is now an impressive Chinatown. I didn't sleep. For a place with only fifteen rooms there were a lot of doors banging and a lot of comings and goings... (pun intended). My door was tried at least twice. In the end I wedged a chair under the handle and scratched at the red lumps that were appearing on my legs.
I couldn't have given a shit what happened at that interview.
That's probably why I got the job.
Anyway. Liverpool was a derelict frightening dump of a place. The Liver Building was covered in mesh - presumably to prevent loosening masonry from braining some innocent passerby. The Liver birds were miserable looking craturs - tethered (as they are today) and scaffolded (as they are not).
It looked like what I thought a war zone might resemble.The aftermath of the ideological war was ugly. Liverpool was defeated - and there were only faint traces of rebirth. Some scaffolding here and there and development at the old Albert Dock area from where a popular morning tv show was broadcast- but I could only see this as a manifestation of contempt for what the old City had been.
Now it's transformed. It's been middle-class-ified. In that sense I suppose it's no different from any other Northern ex-industrial behemoth. Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle. All regenerated. All to varying success.
We managed to avoid the Beatles and mostly everything Beatle-related (who were the Beatles, Mum? They've spelt the name wrong. Shouldn't it be Beetles?). But we bored the kids with museum overload. The Tate Modern (Jamie enjoyed a binary art/not art trip around it - deciding he definitely didn't think spots or splashes or anything installation-y was 'art'). The Maritime Museum. The Museum of Slavery. The Museum of Liverpool Life. We took a Citysightseeing bus and short-circuited city knowledge. The Cathedrals are astonishing buildings - even for this non-religious family. The City Wheel went up too high for me. The Mersey was vast and chill - an astonishing river for one used to the Clyde.
The people, though - the people. They were funny and warm and acerbic. Certain in their sense of self. They wanted to talk and smile and show you things. They wanted to engage. The humour - self-deprecating, taking the piss - was one that I recognised from Glasgow. I felt at home. There was the same edge to things - a sense that someone might pull a knife as quickly as a laugh. But that was familiar, the known. And it's been years since I saw anything violent in Glasgow - or felt afraid walking through its streets - so I was not afraid.
I'm glad we went. Really glad.
|Liverpool Wheel - Ana and Robert in foreground|
|Albert Dock - view from the hotel room. Grey overcast and cold. It's now a World Heritage Site.|
|Robert and Jamie freezing their balls off looking out over the Mersey vastness...|