Death in Liverpool

This city keeps confounding me. I think that I am finally done exploring it and then… No! It throws something else in my direction. So you can imagine my frustration when I discover that there is another museum in Liverpool which I haven’t visited- An archaeology museum. The fact that I haven’t visited or previously didn’t know about this place is disgraceful. How many times have I been to Liverpool now? How many times have I walked the halls of the Maritime Museum whilst all the while there has been this place, untouched? And they have a mummy, an actual real-proper ancient Egyptian one! That’s cool. There are also three more things I have to do in the city, some unfinished business. There’s a shopping place I want to see, I must find the market and I must locate the time portal! You’ll see what I mean by that. So it is time for an adventure… It’s time to return to Liverpool!

‘They still haven’t repaired the electronic thingamajig saying when the next bus is due. It’s been eighteen months for god’s sake…’The museum (The Garstang) is only open on Wednesday’s and that is fine by me. Wednesday is a good day for adventure. I also want to go before the winter weather sets in and so I make a date for the end of September.  Things should be quiet around then too, just after the summer and before all the Christmas shoppers descend. The majority won’t have end of year work fatigue yet… They’ll still be in their post summer high. And I haven’t had a proper day off since the start of the summer and might not get another till long after Christmas. So when the last Wednesday of September rolls around I get on the old bus and ride it to the train station, cursing over the fact that a two way bus ride now costs more than a return train ticket to Liverpool. If the station was within walking distance and not three miles away I’d walk! Ach… Never mind though. When I move out of this dump I’ll hopefully be in spitting distance of a train station and won’t have to pay ridiculous bus fares any more. Another thing… They still haven’t repaired the electronic thingamajig saying when the next bus is due. It’s been eighteen months for god’s sake… All they’ve done is stuck a plastic timetable to the wall of the bus shelter and even that has only been put there in the last few weeks.

As I arrive the train station is empty… Cool! It makes me feel like the lone traveller I am, like I’m in a modern frontier town and not actually on the fringes of Britain’s second largest urban conurbation. But then people start turning up and that’s a drag… It ruins the fantasy. Such a shame. Though for a while that fantasy has shooed away any bitterness I have over the extortionate bus fare. Hurt that other passengers have dared to destroy my fantasy, I get the old music in the ears and it makes things better. For some reason I go for songs beginning with G… Starting with The Gambler by Kenny Rogers and going on to songs like Get Back, Get It On, Gasoline Alley, Graceland, Great Balls Of Fire… Those G’s end up giving me a comfortable ride to Liverpool, none of the songs are too heavy and the train isn’t as crowded as all the people who turned up on the station platform had me thinking it might be. There is a lot to moan about concerning the British rail system but sometimes your train ride feels almost perfect, as this does. If you get on the right service at the right time of day you could almost be riding the greatest rails in the world.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Liverpool Met… On the way to the Garstang!

I arrive in Liverpool all happy and pumped up and ready to see what the day will bring. The sun is shining and I go off in the direction of Lime Street and towards the university and cathedral quarter. I’ve been up this way twice before, though I didn’t write about those visits- I don’t normally write up my visits to Liverpool, it’s kind of my special place… This piece is a rare exception. The last time I was up this way was earlier in the year on a visit to the Victoria Gallery (which, like the Garstang, is a part of the university) and the time before was a visit to the two cathedrals. The Garstang is just beyond the Metropolitan Cathedral and its a part of the university archaeology department. But I don’t go directly down the road to it just yet. I divert at the end of Lime Street towards a place called ‘Grand Central Hall.’ I’ve read that it’s supposed to be this weird, quirky sort of place full of boutique shops… A kind of market… And I’m curious.

And weird is definitely the word to describe this place. I enter through what looks like it might be Tim Burton’s front porch and then find myself in, for want of a better word, a hippie-goth paradise. It’s crammed with the kind of clothes I would never be caught dead in inside of a million years. Most of the little market stalley bits aren’t open yet but there’s a balustrade and I can look down on them, imagining it, when it’s open thronging with people in odd clothes. I don’t have time to wait for them to open… It’s already past ten and I don’t know when that opening should be so I move on, looking around the rest of the place for a few minutes. I see a T-Shirt that I sort of like, saying ‘Normal People Scare Me,’ and I think about buying it, but abstain. It’s funny but how long before the joke wears off and I’m sick of people sticking their nose into my chest to read it and making a comment? How long before it becomes just another T-shirt like any other? I like the disturbing, scary, severed head hanging over one of the doors as well. This place, in conclusion, is scary but sort of cool at the same time. Perhaps not somewhere I’d ever go into again though. It was worth it for the one look.

‘There’s bunting about and jolly people and people in silly outfits and OH GOD I’VE WANDERED INTO FRESHER’S WEEK!’There’s somewhere I want to check out around the next corner, briefly, for work purposes, and then its onwards to the Garstang. As I’m walking towards it, past the Met Cathedral (which you should visit by the way… It’s a triumph of modern architecture) I start to notice a few things that worry me. There are a lot of university buildings around here and I start to get the feeling that something is amiss. There’s bunting about and jolly people and people in silly outfits and OH GOD I’VE WANDERED INTO FRESHER’S WEEK! Any minute now people will start giving me leaflets for clubs I will never join and they’ll start running over and ask if I’m interested in student journalism or heaven forbid, RADIO. (It’s ok Storm, I’ll never betray you for another student radio station… Never in a million years. Perhaps a community station or a local or, miracle of miracles, a national, but never another student radio station!) Worse than all of that freshers stuff though… I’m heading towards the archaeology department. Pride in my alma mater is now asserting itself and I feel like an interloper, a spy! I haven’t been a student since forever but wandering towards the archaeology department of a rival university feels very odd and uncomfortable… It’s like I shouldn’t be here.

But the museum is open to the general public as well as academics and students so other than my foolish pride there is no issue in my being here. It is set a little back from the main road, behind  but I find it no problem. There are signs pointing to it and some big banners. The entrance is larger than I thought, a pair of big glass automatic doors. They’ve spent some money here, I can tell. I wander in and I’m greeted by a friendly student who asks if I’m looking for the museum- It’s just to the side down a corridor. I’m not expecting anything huge and it isn’t, maybe three decent sized rooms and a couple of mini-corridor galleries. A lump catches in my throat as I enter the first main room and look in the first display case. There’s a wall fragment from the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, in Syria. With the city now in the hands of the so called Islamic State who knows what now remains of where this came from. It could be nothing but sand and desert. They could have destroyed it completely, like we know they’ve done to countless other sites across the region. We might sometimes argue over artefacts such as these, arguing if it is right that we should keep them or return them to their country of origin, but nobody can deny that with it being here, right now in this museum, this fragment has survived. At least it is safe so that future generations may see it and learn from it.

Egyptian Bust, Garstang MuseumThe other rooms contain little curios, daggers and pots and various curiosities from Egypt and the Middle East, with some Greek and Roman stuff as well. It’s all interesting but the thing I’ve come to see is in a special room of his own- The Mummy! He doesn’t have a name from the looks of it and there’s someone else’s sarcophagus in here with him (and I wonder, where’s the original occupant?) but it is respectfully presented, more respectfully done than the human remains you come across in a lot of the more major museums. I like this room most of all out of the entire place.

It doesn’t take me long to wander the Garstang and I come out thinking that I want to see more Middle Eastern and Egyptian artefacts. Good job I’m in the right city for it- There’s another place where I can see exactly that, the World Museum up just the other side of St George’s Hall. I make my way there, successfully avoiding all the people who might confuse me for a student and tempt me towards joining some strange student radio station. I take the direct route straight back to Lime Street and in just over ten minutes I’m there outside the museum. It’s all quiet and peaceful and I go inside looking forwards to seeing more cool archaeological stuff. I see from a sign that there’s a Mayan exhibition going on as well. I decide that I’ll visit that as well. It’s on a lower floor, before I get to the Egyptian stuff, so I head in there first.

I take note of a group of school kids huddled around the first display. Ok… Weird! It’s late September, term has only just started. What kind of school plonks a trip in September only a few weeks after the start of term? These are nice kids though- They’re quiet and supervised which is more than can be said for the others who are further in. I wonder what kind of a hell I have entered into. The noise is horrendous. Where are the museum staff? Where are their teachers? They’re nowhere to be seen. I want to look at the displays, the really interesting, funky stuff that has come all the way from Central America but I keep being distracted by a scream or some loud child who obviously doesn’t want to be there. It starts to annoy me, really annoy me. I have nothing against children in museums but this behaviour takes the biscuit. There is no end to the torment and by the time I come out of the exhibit and into the special little shop they have set up I am seething with rage at how this sort of thing can be allowed. Worst part? The exhibition itself was really good. It was really interesting and well put together. I just wish I could have looked around without it sounding like I was standing in a playground.

‘I’m so mad that I’m about to turn green and rampage around the museum shouting ‘JAMES SMASH!’At least there’s still the Egyptian exhibit to look forward to. But as I make my way upstairs I encounter more schoolchildren and these ones really make my blood boil. They are equally as loud and as unsupervised as the others but now they are running… RUNNING! This is a museum, not a race track. Jesus Christ- If I behaved like that when I was at school I would have been banned from all trips for life, up to and including university. It would have gone on my permanent record- I can picture it now: A lecturer mentions there will be a compulsory trip to listen to farmer talking in the middle of an empty field (that one really did happen… A literal field trip!) and then he goes on to mention the exception to the rule- Me, because I misbehaved that time in infant school. Back in reality I am now in a really, angry mood. I’m so mad that I’m about to turn green and rampage around the museum shouting ‘JAMES SMASH!’

Things can only get worse… The Egyptian bit isn’t open. Closed for refurbishment! Have I been cursed or something? Am I really in hell? It was that mummy in the Garstang, what’s the betting? I turn and wander into the world cultures gallery and at least here, finally, there is some peace… Apart from one school kid dancing through the gallery (Da actual fuq?) I’m annoyed, I’m disturbed and I am very angry by this point… Too angry that making a complaint now would look like I was causing a scene. Museums aren’t supposed to be like this- I expect better. I expect people to pay a bit of respect towards other visitors and I expect a little more regard for the items on display, especially if they’ve come from somewhere in Central America. I couldn’t do anything about the refurbishment but I did make sure to let the museum know of the other issues. I wrote a letter of complaint and to their credit I got a super nice reply back from them and they agreed that the situation was unacceptable and they’d do all they could to make sure shit like that didn’t happen again. I don’t blame them for it either… Or not entirely. Where were the teacher’s again? Usually this is a really good museum and I was just unfortunate to go in on a day when the tiny terrors of St Satan’s Primary School were visiting. In hindsight I think I should have tried to demand recompense in my complaint letter… A free slice of cake and a private, guided tour of the refurbished Egyptian exhibit? I will go back one day, look at the Egyptian Exhibit and I’ll hopefully be able to enjoy the place like I have done in the past. It is worth visiting I’ll say that much, it is just a shame I had this bad experience.

‘There’s a trampy bag man having a fag outside and there’s a bit of litter about so I don’t have any high hopes for this…’I leave. That is all I can say. I leave. On the way to finding the market I think about looking into the library next door (Library’s are quiet!) but I still have a bit to do. I have never seen the St John’s market, never found it, but I know it is around somewhere. It is well hidden, up a flight of scuzzy stairs and above the main St John’s shopping arcade with an entrance all of its own and no indication it is there. From the outside it looks a bit scummy, not nice. There’s a trampy bag man having a fag outside and there’s a bit of litter about so I don’t have any high hopes for this… But what I find within I actually quite like. It’s a good little market, superior to an awful lot of what is left out there. There are a fair number of stalls, some butchers and grocers and a few clothes places but a lot of others are shuttered up and there is an aura of neglect to it all. The place looks like it is struggling, like it needs new life. Being right opposite to Lime Street station and in the heart of the shopping district it should be thriving and bustling. It should be a shining, powerful example of the indoor British market (Like at Bolton!). But look at where it is, hidden away behind a scummy entrance. That’s not the place for a market. It should be bold as brass, shouting ‘Come buy, come buy!’ I’ve heard of plans for a refurbishment though, so things might start looking up for the place soon. It needs love and that will save it I think. (All you need is love?)

I search the grocery stalls for Jerusalem Artichokes. I’ve been looking for ages, tried everywhere I can think but nowhere sells them- Not a supermarket (I’ve tried them all, including making a specific voyage all the way to the Waitrose in Porthaethwy in the deluded hope they would have some) and not a market anywhere. It isn’t like they’re something obscure so I can’t understand what is going on. Not seeing any I start to think that maybe I’ll have to grow my own. They can’t end up as any more of a failure than this years tomato crop I suppose- I got a few little orange ones but my reds just wouldn’t ripen for shit. They rotted before they turned- All except for three of them. Next year then Jerusalem Artichokes instead. Though I might need a bit more space.

After this it is off for one last bit of business, a short hop down the road to Bold Street and the time portal! I’m not being deluded here, trust me. It was something I read a while back. People walking down Bold Street have suddenly found themselves back in the sixties, or so they claim. They wandered into shops and found that their modern money was useless or that the place was suddenly full of people dressed like they lived in the fifties… For more on that see this article I found… I know that it is probably a load of crap but I still find this stuff interesting and want to check it out. And if I do manage to somehow find a time portal (or a time slip as most websites call it) then I’ll have the greatest travel blog on the internet- Not just exploring the world but time itself- I’ll be just like Doctor Who!

Unsurprisingly I don’t find it but I do discover something else… I was here once before. It was on a college photography trip, which now I think about it was also around this time of year (Guess that answers the earlier question then!). I remember buying a book in a shop, British Life A Century Ago. I’m almost certain, however, that this street wasn’t in this spot and it ran in a different direction. It was up and down rather than across, as it is now (if that makes any sense). It was further back towards the river I am certain of it. Forget time portals because there’s something weirder going on… Over the years I have become convinced that the streets of this city move around, to the point where I’ve even used the idea as inspiration. Those streets change, they relocate. Buildings appear where they weren’t there before. Things vanish only to turn up again years later. This is another example of that. OK… I’ve never had need to come down this way so it might have always been here but that doesn’t explain the other times… Like when I came across an old Georgian building with it’s own courtyard and art gallery and street leading up to it- I am convinced that wasn’t there the previous times I had visited the city.

It is probably all just me being stupid… So I walk down this street and I look for a sort of little square where the last time I was here I ate my lunch, alone, against a wall whilst I watched the people going by. I don’t find it but I am sure it was here (Did it not move here at the same time as the street did?) The memory makes me realize that I’m hungry so I head into the nearest Costa and buy a Tuna melt. I haven’t had fish or meat for ages so it will be a treat. It’s only as I’m walking away, eating the lovely tasting, hot and gooey sandwich that I start to wonder if the fish is sustainable. I was so concerned with actually getting hold of this food that checking the sustainability slipped my mind. And Tuna is tricky… Line caught and farmed is fine but wild and trawler caught is bad. Dear god I hope this isn’t wild tuna. It’s too late now if it is, I’ve already eaten half the sandwich. I eat the rest, feeling guilty for enjoying it because it might be unsustainable. It’s all my own fault if it is!

The Garstang Mummy


So… Have I now finished with Liverpool? Not quite… I’ve never visited the Tate, the upstairs of the Walker Art Gallery or the Beatles Experience but I’m not too bothered by them. I’ll certainly need to come back someday to see that refurbished Egyptian gallery at the World museum (how about a January, just after Christmas next time? Surely… SURELY no school would book a museum trip for the few weeks after Christmas. (Can’t think that I ever had one.) And hey, I’m working on a book set in the city right now so I might be called back to the place at any time- A promotional reading on the steps of St George’s Hall perhaps? For a little while at least though, adieu, Liverpool. You’ve been swell!


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