Our first weekend in England was filled with trips to IKEA and our local home electronics store, Curry’s, where they're just as incompetent as the people at our local Best Buy in Somerville. But the most important thing was that we got a TV, a DVD player, and a Christmas tree. We also went into the city and saw the Tate Modern extension at Albert Dock, which was pretty neat. Liverpool is Europe’s “City of Culture” for 2008, and it’s cool to see how much they’ve embraced the title.
Our second weekend, we decided to try to explore the area a bit more. Which, for Mark, meant Christmas shopping. I was planning to do all mine online, but I was game and we walked to our local train station to head into the city.
I won’t talk about the next two hours, because they were a blur of far too many Christmas shoppers and bad mall music. Mark was successful and gathered a few gifts, while I paced the cobblestone streets until he was ready to meet back up. But then we wandered about a bit, away from the more commercial downtown shopping district (cobblestone pedestrian-only streets and the biggest mall I’ve ever seen, “Liverpool One”) and toward a hipper, younger area with music, bars, and a bunch of smaller shops. It was nice to find the area, and we had a few beers before heading home for the night.
We’ve met a few of our neighbors, and they all happen to be “pensioners,” people who’ve retired and can now get tax discounts and ride public transportation for free. They also really like meeting their neighbors, and we’ve been roped into an evening of carolling and drinks tomorrow evening, so that should be… Interesting.
But one of them, John, mentioned that we should visit Speke Hall, a local attraction. I looked it up on Wikipedia the other day but have forgotten any other details about it, beyond it’s proximity to Liverpool’s airport and the Tudor-syle house. We decided to venture out on Sunday morning during a break in the drizzle.
One of the coolest things about England (I think) is the abundance of public footpaths. On nearly any street, you can see these small signs pointing out to public ways across properties ranging from churches and private homes to large farms and land trusts. It makes me look forward to having Miller here.
Anyway, we found one of these footpaths leading to Speke Hall (there was also a road, but that’s too easy). We spent an hour or so walking about the impeccably groomed grounds before exploring the adjacent woods, eventually ending up on a well-worn path atop an earthen wall. Elevation is key here, because it rains nearly every day and all of our other paths were waterlogged and muddy. Anyway, this circled around the property, eventually bringing us to the airport. A little weird, but we took some pictures and then headed back to the car.
We then drove through Liverpool to the mouth of the River Mersey, where it meets the Irish Sea. This is a heavily industrial area, filled with busy docks and some pretty rough areas. But there is also some gentrification in spots, and some efforts recently to set up parklands. Mark had heard about an art installation nearby, so we parked the car and began walking toward the shore as the sun fell (it was about 330pm).
The artwork was amazing and a bit haunting. The artist, Anton Gromley, made a cast of himself and produced 100 identical iron statues. These are placed along three kilometres of barren coastline, punctuated only by razor clamshells and urban detritus (read into that as you will). On the horizon are enormous wind turbines which, in the evening haze and fog, seem eerily futuristic, like the imagined coastline in a Philip K Dick novel. And then you notice all these solitary figures, their gazes fixed at the sea, as if waiting for someone to arrive. I don’t know if the installation is meant to be so sad, but it seemed so to me.