Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Liverpool – Day One

The drive from Newcastle to Liverpool took about 3 1/2 hours; though we didn't leave home until about 2:30 we managed to miss rush hour traffic at Leeds. (Day to day names here in Britain; from the US I remember when they sounded so exotic, like Tulsa and Muskogee to Bill!)

We freshened up and ate (chicken tikka masala) in the bar, rather than in the restaurant where we saw some of the other managers from London. Ken, the local manager, had organised a pub crawl (British version of bar-hopping), to show us his hometown. This is pretty much de rigueur for socialising with one's work colleagues. One doesn't necessarily have to drink alcohol, but standing around holding a beverage ('bevvie') and talking is required.

Ken led us on a slightly winding route as the boss and another manager had arrived late; we dropped them at a Weatherspoons to eat and join us later. Ken took us first to the White Star where in the little back room there was a big fireplace, lots of broad wood beams and the walls were covered with pictures of ships from the White Star Line, two of which were of course the Titanic and the Lusitania. The latter was actually built by Cunard which later took over White Star. Titanic never docked at Liverpool; she was only registered there, but they claim her as their own. I later learned that about 90 of the crew were Liverpudlians. Chatting with Ken was very pleasant, as it reminded me of the times I’d seen the Beatles on the TV, his accent being very much the same.

After that we went to The Grapes in Mathew Street. The Grapes is a pub that was across the street from the Cavern, where of course the Beatles played. There is a picture over the fireplace in the back room showing the group (with Pete Best, not Ringo Starr) seated next to that fireplace. The wallpaper over the bench is darkened with nicotine and dust, but is now covered with protective plastic and one can see that it is the same pattern as was probably new in the picture. They all look about 16. Even then, John Lennon has a cynical sneer on his face. I think he was born that way.

Aside from that photo and that history, there is nothing to recommend The Grapes other than a couple of the girls who were fashionably dressed in patterned tights and mod dresses; we could almost have been back in the 60s, only the dresses were black, not psychedelic prints (though there were plenty of those in the store fronts). There was a karaoke going on and it was bad (is there any other kind?). Several of us noticed the carpet had a peculiar spongy texture that wasn’t fully explained by soaking with beer. Perhaps it was also original to when the Beatles hung out there. The smell of the place, probably the carpet, wasn’t so much stale cigarettes and beer (smoking in public buildings went out a couple of years ago) as dirty, sweaty feet or old vomit. I declined anything to drink from their bar or sit anywhere and was very pleased to leave. I did wish I’d brought my camera to get a photo of their photo. That said, I don’t think I ever would go back to get it.

Our last stop – the others continued crawling until about 3 am, I understand – was thankfully much cleaner, looked more recently decorated and had bare wood floors. It called itself the Cavern Pub and sure enough one had to go downstairs at the entrance, but this is just one of several establishments on Mathews Street using the name Cavern (being of course in the Cavern Quarter). At the entrance, a teenaged-looking boy chatted up one of the women in our group, a tired-looking 30-something sort-of blonde; he told her she was ‘sex on legs and you know it’. No disrespect to her, but he was clearly drunk, and she knew it. He followed us in, but sat at the front near the stage. The main act was a large older guy with a classical guitar who was competent enough. He sang his way through a number of 60s hits from other groups – I only remember Lola - interspersed with Beatle’s songs and then it was time for karaoke. Wouldn’t you know it, our drunk teenage friend got up and sang. He actually wasn’t too bad, actually, which is almost breaking the rules.

Nevertheless, a small group of us left and walked back up to the hotel. I enjoyed the cold fresh air and I slept well in spite of the tiny, flat pillows provided.

No comments: