‘Why Liverpool?!’ They asked.’
‘You were all set up for a night in Ebbsfleet!’
Well why not? If you recall, when I started on this journey almost seven days ago the key aim was to go to places I had never been to before. Liverpool is one of those. Ebbsfleet is not. I have been there before. It was…bewildering. I know they had to have a station on the be HS1 somewhere but, still, Ebbsfleet? I can’t really violently disagree with the decision because Ebbsfleet just doesn’t stir those kind of emotions in me. It just leaves me empty. Blank. Indifferent.
Ebbsfleet would definitely appear on a list of ‘the top top ten most pointless railway stations in the UK’. ‘Southwark’ on the Jubilee line would also be on there (I know, I know, it’s the interchange with Waterloo East but nobody uses it! The train will arrive in the station and proudly announce ‘this station is Southwark’ and there’s that awkward moment when nobody moves for the exit. Glances are exchanged – come on, surely someone’s going to get off – nothing. Even the tumbleweeds have had enough of the place.) East Midlands Parkway would be another candidate. True, when the power station closes down it will be at the centre of a new garden city (you heard it here first) but that’s still at least a decade away.
But where were we? Ah yes: a train to Liverpool, a place I’d never been.
Liverpool is famous for a few reasons in the UK but, everywhere else in the world it’s known because it’s the home of that phenomenally famous British supergroup One Direction The Beatles. Liverpool is so well-renowned for this fact that it may well pass the ‘prompted citizen of Wyoming’ test of city identification. Perhaps I should explain:
A good way to judge how big a UK city really is on the world stage is to consider whether someone who lives in the state of Wyoming, USA would be able to identify it in one of two tests – prompted and un-prompted.
Bear with me here.
For those of you who don’t know, Wyoming is a vast rural state in the USA that has the Rockies on its western boarder. It is perhaps most well-known for the fact that it contains a fair chunk of Yellowstone National Park and was also used extensively as a location in ‘Close Encounters of the third Kind’ (Devils Tower). It has a land area twice the six of England but a population about the same as the city of Leicester. So it’s quite remote. It is, by far, my favourite out of all the states I’ve visited in the US, but that’s a different blog.
Now, it’s important you don’t misunderstand what I’m doing here. This test isn’t a down-your-nose ‘look at the stupid American’ thing. I don’t buy into that perception at all anyway. Such stereotypes of Americans are usually perpetrated by people who’ve never actually been to America. This is more a – if it is truly a global city then a citizen of Wyoming will know about it – test. It works both ways. If I asked you to name five American cities you could easily: New York, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, Los Angles. Boom. But if I asked you to name five cities in Wyoming? Or three? Or one? That’s my point.
So, UK cities that would pass the un-prompted test (name a city in Britain): London and (possibly) Nottingham. If you asked specifically about Scotland you’d properly get Edinburgh. This is not an attempt to upset the residents of every city that’s not London, Nottingham or Edinburgh, it is simply what I believe the responses would be. (Nottingham only because of the whole Robin Hood thing). If you asked a prompted question (‘where did The Beatles come from’) I think you’d get the answer of Liverpool. (You’d also get the university cities of Oxford and Cambridge this way). So on that un-scientific basis, Liverpool is properly the forth most globally-famous city in the UK.
This properly explains why it became the capital of culture a few years back.
I arrived into Liverpool Lime Street (now that’s a station-and-a-half) at around 21:30. The hotel I was staying in was out on Albert Dock so I’d have to walk through some of the city centre to get there. I’d heard so much about what a cultured and up-and-coming place Liverpool was, so couldn’t wait to experience some of it for myself. With hindsight, deciding to get your first experience of the cultural hub of Liverpool on the last Friday evening before Christmas may not have been the best of ideas. A paralytic drunk on the pavement outside the station however advised me to ‘keep happy’ – so this is what I decided to do as I walked through the city centre. Culture is everywhere – you just have to look at things with the right mindset.
So, without further ado, here are the cultural highlights of my walk through Liverpool city centre at 21:36 on the 19th December 2014:
1. An outdoor impromptu contemporary dance routine being performed by two women in heels (a very difficult feat). The emotion and intensity of this dance was such that it had moved several of the onlookers to tears.
2. A street theatre production of the Shakespearean Classic Romeo and Juliet. The theatre company had decided to bring the production bang up-to-date and stage it in an ally next to the rear entrance to a nightclub. This gritty production seemed to have mostly shouted dialogue.
3. A re-imagining of the famous ‘rumble’ scene from West Side Story. While obviously well-choreographed, I don’t think the depiction of two distinct ‘gangs’ was as good as it could have been. It seemed to be more of a free-for-all.
4. Numerous cars driving round blaring out the works of the greats from their sound system: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven. One car was playing some Britten, which a group of wandering musicians obviously enjoyed so much they couldn’t help themselves but join in with a daring take on the classic.
5. A huddle of people staring at a cutting-edge piece of modern art that had been spontaneously left on the pavement. Apparently it was a work by Emin entitled ‘all the kebabs I have ever eaten’. Stirring stuff.
Is that enough? I think so. (Please don’t take this as a dig Liverpool, I’m sure every other UK city had such spontaneous cultural outbursts last night – it just happened that this was the one I was walking through!)
Arriving at the docks I was instantly impressed. The large, lovingly restored warehouses and industrial buildings, all dramatically lit, were unlike any I’d seen in any other cities. The warehouses have all been converted for ‘modern’ usage (as hotels, restaurants etc) but this has all been done very subtly – so you don’t notice unless you really look hard. This preserves the character of the buildings but does make it quite hard to identify your hotel when you’re arriving for the first time on a wet and windy evening!