Well it seemed like a good way to blend in with the locals …
The day started early as I left my budget hotel and drove five minutes to take advantage of a Toby Carvery all you can eat breakfast with hot drink offer, loading up with a ridiculously nice pile of protein for a fiver.
Then I made a statement to my cancer. I renewed my Oldham Athletic season ticket, committing myself and Chris to another year of footballing mediocrity. I did briefly ponder not doing. I might not be well. I might not be alive. I’m away for nearly a month in November and December taking in Australia and the Ashes. I’m also pondering a September jaunt back to the West Coast USA. But the football is what me and Chris do. And despite another season from hell where the players have proved incapable of getting within twenty yards of the big netty thing at the end of the pitch most games we’ll be doing it again next season.
Although it nearly went all wrong. I handed over my plastic card which represents my season ticket to be told I didn’t exist. Seat DD89 where I’ve parked my posteria behind the goal freezing to death for several years wasn’t on the system. The nice lady at the ticket office told me that they only go upto row P in that stand. It seems that the stand’s former sponsor has switched to the recently constructed North Stand which has been cunningly erected with a roof designed to allow the town’s wild Pennine rain and gales blow directly over all 2,600 shiny blue seats at the a Football League’s highest stadium above sea level. After a little discussion and fifteen minutes of heavy button pressing I was finally told I could hand over a large amount of money for the privilege of another year in the same blue seat. I then really confused her by asking for two tickets for Saturday’s match at Peterborough.
Then I hit the road. Liverpool the destination to see Chris, his university digs and a city I’ve never really got beyond the stadia before. Tapping the post code into the sat nav I got the odd response of “destination not found”. So I tried the street name. Same result. I tried “Liverpool”. The sat nav was having none of it. Being a radical thinker I thought about how I’d have handled this expedition pre-sat nav era and headed west on the M62.
The cone-fest began. Whoever invented the average speed check is an evil individual. Quite why I can’t drive at 80mph, slowing sharply as I approach a yellow camera, I don’t know. Quite why it takes three years to make a motorway “smart” is even more of a mystery. So I crawled along until I reached the junction for the East Lancs road and made a decision to swing left onto an alternative route that I used to take when visiting my now deceased grandmother in St Helens. A little trip down memory lane. Past a bridge where my late mother used to sense the spirit of my grandfather guiding her. And a sign pointing left that cracked me up. “St Helens Tourist Attractions”. I continued crawling straight on, following cone after cone. I also realised a hotel I’d booked for next week was on the wrong side of the road. I’ll rebook an alternative later.
Eventually I entered the outskirts of Liverpool. At least two major road signs highlighted cemeteries. Impressive “Everton” flags adorned lamp posts either side of Goodison Patk. I tried the post code in the sat nav again and this time it worked. I pulled up on a single free pay and display space at the end of the route. Glimpsing to the right was the door to the research building housing the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. Complete coincidence.
At this point I remembered that I had my latest Afatinib prescription sat in my boot. Drugs that retail for nearly $6,000 in the USA. Hopefully the NHS got them cheaper. Should I leave them in my boot in a city renowned for car crime or store them in Chris’ student accommodation where other students would never dream of trying dubious looking pills?
I slammed my blue badge onto the dashboard and, despite the two hour maximum waiting time, left my car there for the day. Gotta love the perks of terminal illness.
After a much needed cup of Lancashire Tea (like Yorkshire tea but even nicer) we headed out to see a bit of the city. Albert Dock. Some hot doughnuts. A seat on the river front with scenic views of Birkenhead. Memories of being chased by hooligans from Tranmere Rovers ground to hiding in the basement of a greengrocers in 1982. Scared witless after breaking the three minute mile with my mates and only leaving an hour later when a copper came to escort us to Rock Ferry station.
Walking past a group of primary children as their teacher pointed out the local landmarks to them in a shrill voice. “Over there you can see the Hilton Hotel and John Lewis”. Now I know this isn’t an audience where saying “this is where Paedophile Fred used to jump around on a weather map on live TV” would be appropriate but in the shadow of the Liver Building and Slavery Museum you’d have thought education had a little more to offer than a modern hotel and shopping complex. I never knew the Liver Building had two birds on top! Some have all the luck …
Walking through the shopping areas it struck me that this city is flourishing today. Empty units few and far between and busy streets.
Under magnificent blue skies we walked on. Picking up fridge magnets for all three kids in a shop that also sold Manchester United memorabilia. I assume it gets bricked regularly. And then into the Cavern pub with music memorabilia everywhere, including McCartney’s Hoffner bass. Oasis played on the sound system. A much needed ice cold cider slid down my throat with a picture of Bo Diddley behind me. Then we headed over to the recreation of the Cavern Club – which is a real live music venue today. Indeed, McCartney himself will be playing there in June.
As recreations go this was great. And free on a Wednesday. Lots of over priced memorabilia to be ignored but some wonderful artists have played in both the original club and this recreation. The a Who, Elton John, numerous Rock’n’roll pioneers including many from over the Atlantic. And a really impressive solo artist on stage doing a great job of singing Beatles songs and McCartney/Wings material. Band on the Run refreshing memories of seeing McCartney live three times in 1990 including a balmy June night in the Liverpool’s Kings Dock. His voice was better back then!
After leaving we headed back to Student land, passing a Hillsborough memorial and admiring some extraordinarily impressive buildings. As a football fan Hillsborough is one of those events where I know it could have been me. It was about the football fan, not the football team. The lies surrounding events that day have always been obvious to me. The cover up less so.
It also crossed my mind that the impressive buildings gave birth to Manchester as a successful city. The ship canal started it, but as Liverpool spent much of its wealth building and maintaining some magnificent structures Manchester was able to undercut them commercially.
The day ended with a Thai takeaway and a return to my car to discover it was still on four wheels, didn’t have a parking ticket and hadn’t been broken into.
I reflected on what an impressive city it is. But don’t tell the locals …