When I told people I was going to Liverpool for three whole days, a puzzled look came over their faces, before a slightly concerned: ‘Why?’
You don’t get that with the South of France.
‘It’s really nice, Liverpool,’ I’d say. And they’d pause before remembering that it is.
It seems less natural to be going north on a break, with the assumption of better weather, nicer food and endless boules in the opposite direction. As it happened, we had glorious sunshine everyday, while London had torrential rain. The numbers favour London over the year, so you just have to be lucky. Luckily, I am.
I noticed the friendliness thing immediately. My Scouse host, an old pal, reckons it’s because of the ‘monoculture’. Everyone is affable because they’re largely the same. My Indian girlfriend couldn’t help but notice the odd stare like she had two heads, but then we’d walk into a pub and a stranger would promptly start a conversation with her and we’d feel at home.
At Albert Dock we went to the Tate for the Bacon exhibition after enjoying one of his butties. The docks have been beautifully redeveloped, with lots of public art complementing the many handsome structures. More importantly The Pump House has some delicious ales from Liverpool Organic Brewery. We supped outside in the sunshine watching two pigeons have the most brutal fight I’d ever seen from winged critters, while a seagull nearly killed itself trying to swallow a nacho whole. It was like Countryfile vs 24 Hours in A&E.
In Canning Dock, the MerseyPlanet (see main image) loomed promisingly on the water with ‘Bar’ painted on the side. I’m told it makes a fine chillout location at the end of a long night but we didn’t make it as far as clubbing, let alone post-clubbing. We visited The Phil, Liverpool’s stunningly ornate boozerie, and dined on scouse, a kind of meat stew, at Ye Cracke, a kind of pub. Ye Cracke is a warm, traditional boozer with personality; an old haunt of John Lennon which Noel Gallagher was allegedly asked to leave.
We ended our first night on Merseyside at a backstreet beauty in the Georgian Quarter, The Belvedere, which felt like home, apart from the fact they had 24 gins to choose from in their ‘GinNasium’. Lady South went local and had a Liverpool Gin, which she declared made the best G&T of her life. The pub had that slightly scruffy feel of faded glamour that I like, coupled with nice ale, which I also like.
The next day we remained in Woolton, in South Liverpool, where we were staying, where it was pointed out to me how many Liverpudlians socialise with several generations of their own family. We often saw youngers out with their uncles or grandparents – something we don’t often see in London. It would have been impossible to find a pub to satisfy me, my Dad and my Granddad, given the capital’s shortage of racist-friendly pubs with wifi.
We skirted round the Grapes, known locally as The Planet of the Grapes, with its slightly desperate air, and had one in The Loft, where absolutely everyone said hello. We carried on to The Elephant, the chi-chi gastropub of TV chef Simon Rimmer. Happily they did a cracking pint of One Inch Punch which distracted me from food entirely and allowed me to focus on my core activities.
The houses in Woolton look like they’ve been hewn from the nearby quarry. That’s because they have, as had the giant Anglican cathedral that can be seen from miles around (see image above). The people, the buildings, the hole in the ground – everything was connected. Spooky, huh? In The Vic on Quarry Street, the various generations enjoyed an open mic night. While the oldies tackled classics with aplomb, the teenagers played tunes like Psycho Killer and Monkey Man. No wonder they all get on, the musical generation gap was about three weeks.
To the beach at Formby. There, we walked through pinewoods to the dunes and a vast beach on the Irish Sea, with no one selling anything but sunshine, sea and sand. That seemed idyllic until an overwhelming urge for a pint came over me. It was a long, hot walk to Formby Village so we headed to Freshfield, which somehow sounded nearer. It wasn’t. And unlike Formby it only had one pub. What if it wasn’t open? In the relentless heat I imagined our desiccated bodies being found outside the pub at opening time, scratch marks on the door, like the inside of a coffin of a man buried alive.
Happily, dear deeply concerned reader, The Freshfield was not only open, but welcomed us with 14 cask ales from stellar breweries, like Oakham, Peerless and Tiny Rebel.
‘Thank God, you’re here, Doctor,’ I cried to the barman. ‘We’ve been walking for almost nearly two-thirds of an hour.’
In three days we had experienced city, suburb and coast and had a rollicking good frolic in all of them. We sampled a difference to our own lives but one that never felt odd. Admittedly the multi-generational thing raised eyebrows. Generation gaps are both sad and valuable. I’d hope to be able to have a pint with my children one day, less so my folks – though I fear my kids might feel the same way.