The North is Not a Shithole: Liverpool

Please don’t kill me for the title, Northerners. We’ll get to that in a minute.

I love running this blog, but I never seem to be able to write out entries when they need to be written. Part of the problem is that when I travel, I rarely take a laptop, and I’m not modern enough to own a tablet or netbook. I usually only have my phone, which has been dropped in a toilet more times than I care to admit, so it’s not the best for writing lengthy blogs.

Anyway, it means I only write things when I get round to it, which in some cases is months and months after the event. Not good for someone that wants to make a success of this blog, but hey, I’m only human. And besides, working full time in a ruthless capitalist society is bloody exhausting. #JC4PM.

My last adventure was a big one – not in the sense that it was really far away, just that it was a (pathetic) milestone in my life. I haven’t ventured north of Oxford in 15 years, but last December I ended up going twice in one week. First, me and my colleagues went to Wolverhampton to see our magazine being printed. It’s a manufacturing town, and I can’t say I saw much of it, but I see what people mean when they complain about it being a dump.

The most entertaining bit of that day was when I donned a hi vis jacket, steel toecaps and hard hat to safely walk around the industrial machinery. I suddenly became a different person – someone who walks around with their hands in their pockets, sniffs loudly and asks questions about mechanics. I essentially acted how I thought workmen would act, as I didn’t want to be jeered at for being an airy-fairy journo type. But the printers probably laughed more at me trying to be a hard man than if I’d just been myself, however.

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Look Dad, are you proud?

Later that week, I took the train up past the Midlands and into the proper North. I’d been sent to interview the lovely people at the Liverpool World Museum in anticipation of the Terracotta Warriors exhibition, which opens next month. It’s actually very exciting – ten of the ancient Chinese warriors will be coming to the UK for the first time in a decade. I’ll have to go back to Liverpool when it opens, but sadly I don’t think work will pay for that.

Once I’d finished my interview – you’ll be able to read it in the February issue of History Revealed magazine – I headed out to explore the city. Bearing in mind I’ve basically never been to the North (I went to Blackpool once when I was a kid, but that was it, and I was asleep most of the time), I didn’t know what to expect. Perennial Southerner that I am, I was raised to believe that the North was pretty much just one massive shithole.

How wrong I was.

It seems Liverpool has done a Bristol, and in the past 20 years, it’s reinvented (or in other words, gentrified) itself. Gone were the working class dock districts, with communities of locals and people of colour living right in the heart of the city. In their place were shiny glass high rises and a new shopping quarter. True, I felt safer wandering round than I would have done otherwise, but it’s bad for a city’s character when poor people get pushed out of their traditional stomping grounds.

Anyway, it’s a couple of decades too late to lament that now. My first port of call was the iconic Liver building, which I’d only ever seen on TV or Willy Russell musicals. The crisp, winter sunshine was perfectly in my favour when I arrived.

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If it wasn’t for the crazy BNP flags, it could almost be Manhattan.

It’s basically a super fancy office building, so I don’t think I could go in, but I had a good walk round the outside and marvelled at how my expectations of the North had been completely shattered. The waterfront in Liverpool has numerous other swanky buildings, too, so it’s a great place to just walk around and admire the architecture.

By this point I was getting hangry, so I headed inland for some grub. They say northerners are friendlier – which they are – but I must say the waiter I had was a little too friendly. First he abruptly asked me why I was alone, to which I replied that it was because I was there for work. I needn’t have dignified that with an answer at all, to be honest, as he probably would never have asked a  man the same question. Just another example of #everydaysexism, I suppose. Then, 3 minutes later, he asked me if I was German. Granted my accent is a little weird – an odd mix of west country, BBC English and just a hint of chav. But definitely not German. Glad to know that I looked like a weird, German loner at that particular moment in time (not).

Excusing myself from this very awkward situation, I headed back out to explore the Albert Docks. I didn’t have time to visit the museums, sadly, so I’ll have to do that next time. I did manage to get the best photo I’ve ever taken, however:

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This same seagull attacked a lady for her sausage roll just seconds earlier, so I can safely say that Scouser Seagulls™ are just as thug as the ones in Poole.

I thought the Albert Dock was pretty, but by this point I was quite keen to get back to the hotel, since it was getting dark and I was whacked. Stopping in at Lush on the way, I stocked up on a ton of bath and shower supplies so I could have a ‘treat yo self’ evening.

Little did I know this was the beginning of my addiction to Lush – now I can’t get enough of their stuff, and I currently spend most of my disposable income on it. I seriously thought about adding another dimension to this blog where I solely review Lush products, but A) I don’t have the money to be constantly buying them, and B) 90% of what I wrote would sound like: “Smells nice, five stars”. I don’t really have a lot to say other than that, to be honest. I just like it because it’s all made in Poole, and it’s vegan/vegetarian and cruelty free, so I convince myself it’s worth it.

Ton of bath stuff in tow, I get to the hotel, which work had paid for. I think I need to do more of this reviewing stuff and interviewing people, for the sole purpose of getting an occasional weekend away out of it. I can see that you might get bored if your whole job is living on the road, but since I never get to stay in plush hotels I was going to live it up.

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Ohhhhh yeah.

Spending an evening just listening to good music and bathing made me realise the importance of self care. I hadn’t felt that good, or so content in my own company, for a very long while. It was honestly so helpful and relaxing. I think that’s probably where my Lush addiction stems from, as I now associate it with relaxation and feeling nice. Dammit, capitalism.

Continuing the good vibes, the next day I saw my very best pal Mohammed. I thought Leeds, where he’s from, was just a short hop from Liverpool. Turns out it’s a 2.5 hour train ride, which shows you just how little I know about the North. Anyway, I’m very grateful he came to see me, since it had been so long since the last time.

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Stylin’.

We started off our tour by exploring Chinatown. Liverpool is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe, probably due to its history as an international maritime city. On a rainy and wet Saturday morning, it probably wasn’t the best time to see it, but nevertheless it was still impressive.

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This is the second biggest Chinese archway outside of China, apparently.

Then on to the Albert Dock, we saw the famous houseboats that are moored in that area. I’m not a big fan of the Beatles, so I couldn’t care less about the yellow submarine houseboat. However, the one next door really caught my eye:

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Yep, that’s right. It’s a houseboat that looks like the broken, half-sinking Titanic.

I’m fully aware that Liverpool has a close connection with Titanic. But so does Belfast. And Southampton. I don’t have a very dark sense of humour, so I was not amused, like that bit in the Titanic movie where the poor guy hits his head on the propeller and spins. People laugh at that, would you believe? Well, Mohammed did anyway. Bloody monsters, the lot of you.

We also apparently had to see the ‘lambananas’ that Liverpool is famous for. These colourful sculptures are an icon of the city, in a way that colourful Shaun the Sheep statues dot Bristol, I suppose.

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Cute, but in this weather, slightly sinister.

After popping into the Liverpool Museum to learn more about the city (because we’re history nerds), we had just enough time to grab some lunch before we both had to head back to our respective cities. Someone from the World Museum had recommended to me this veggie junk food place, which we just had to try.

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Meat-free burgers all round.

As recommended, it was really very good. I was also impressed by the price – things up north are so much cheaper than they are down south. Liverpool is the sort of place I could genuinely see myself living, in the future. Equally, though, I don’t want to be one of the media types that move up there and make it more expensive for the locals. Ever since the BBC moved up to Manchester, things have become more and more pricey, and I wouldn’t want the same thing to happen anywhere else.

Mohammed and I said our sad goodbye at the train station, and headed home. I bought myself a £5 coffee to cheer myself up, and took the long journey back to Bristol. Having only been in Liverpool for just over 24 hours, I know there is so much more to see, and I will simply have to go back. The trip has finally shown me that there’s a whole world beyond the M4 that I have yet to explore, and I still need to find out what else the UK has to offer.

Not before I go to Greece again, though.


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