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Going Down to Liverpool

14 Aug

With dwindling cash reserves and a lot of time on my hands, waiting to start my new job in two weeks, how to fill the summer holidays is a current concern. What I’ve learned is that I don’t have to go a vast distance or spend a fortune to have a significant cultural experience. For those not in the know, Liverpool is as fine a city destination as any, and I even say that as an honorary Mancunian (I was born in Salford and raised in Bolton). But I have lots of personal reasons to love Liverpool, going back many years, although that’s all quite another story…

Liverpool’s rich history makes it an essential stop off point in search of art and culture, and you won’t be disappointed. On a very sunny August afternoon I explored both of the city’s cathedrals, with a willing companion, in what was quite deservedly European Capital of Culture for 2008. This isn’t to say that ‘culture’ ends (or even starts) with two (admittedly impressive) religious buildings. But as an obvious couple of landmarks, they are as good a place to start as anywhere. I’ll try and explore the smaller attractions another time for you (The Walker Art Gallery is particularly impressive in contents and facade).

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I last visited the cathedrals back in the early ‘90s, since which much restoration work has been done to the Catholic one, known locally (and in amusingly un-politically correct fashion) as “Paddy’s Wig-wam”. Admittedly, it does look like.a wig-wam tent, albeit one from a science fiction movie; it’s fairly suggestive of something from  Kubrick’s 2001. A piece of modernist design from architect Frederick Gibberd, the current cathedral replaced the original plans for a Catholic cathedral, that would have dwarfed even the mighty Anglican cathedral, just half a mile away. Actually, it was the plans for this uber-cathedral that left me more impressed than the cathedral as it stands (which is, admittedly, quite a striking achievement). The original plans would have dwarfed even St. Peter’s in Rome, so one way or another the Catholics of Liverpool were certainly adamant they were going to put a mark on their global Catholic map, and as it stands the modernist building is still a remarkable achievement. As for the Anglican cathedral, it’s the one I least warmed to, but its sheer volume is reason enough for a visit (it’s the biggest cathedral in Europe), plus the neighbouring St. James’ Cemetery is very atmospheric, situated in the hollowed, sheer faced remains of Liverpool’s original urban quarry.

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Totally unrelated to the religious intent of the two cathedrals, but I have to mention The Philharmonic pub on Hope Street, which is a design gem, with Art Nouveau trappings I found particularly impressive. The toilets are the only Grade I listed toilets in Britain, which is even more notable when you consider they are in a Grade II listed building. The beer selection is excellent, and the food menu is impressive (and very British). In the ‘60s, at the height of Beatlemania, when asked what he missed about Liverpool, John Lennon replied that he missed having a “pint in the Phil”, which as a Beatles fan is quite an incentive to go back. Glancing across the street you also have the Art Deco loveliness of The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, but more of that another time.

A pub to revisit!

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So, there you have it: Liverpool, a city that rewards the visitor even if you’re just looking at one pub and two cathedrals. But then again, the fact it has two cathedrals is perhaps a signifier of something. Next time I’ll tell you about the Albert Docks, and why I believe Liverpool and its tough history encapsulates a spirit of triumph in the face of adversity; a spirit you can’t help but admire.

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As a brief postscript, something not directly related to my visit is the bombed out church of St. Luke’s which appears to be closing soon, according to signage outside (it is used for creative events such as art exhibitions and concerts). A bit of research has revealed this is probably for restoration work, rather than the site having been sold to a property developer. I shall investigate further!

I also have to thank Katrina and the Waves for supplying a suitable blog post title. Great tune, and way better than The Bangles cover.

‘Nuff said; this is where I bail out La!

All photographs are blogger’s own.

For more information on the places mentioned in this blog, please check out the web links below:

http://www.liverpoolmetrocathedral.org.uk/

http://www.liverpoolcathedral.org.uk/

http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/northwest/thephilharmonicdiningroomsliverpool