As my wife was off meeting a friend and normally I would have stayed home to write, or do something hum drum, but I wanted to do something different, and which didn't involve being pestered by cats (I love them but they're not always the most peaceful company, and as Hobbes is being kept indoors at present, he's decided I'm the best toy). So I wanted to get out, and sent my friend Lesley an email to see if she could get a day away from family.
As you might be able to tell... she could, and so I bolted out of the house yesterday morning and headed up that way on the train from Birmingham New Street, past the many buddleias that line the railway tracks, to Liverpool.
I went university up that way, not in Liverpool, sadly, but at Edge Hill up in Ormskirk, reading Politics and History, and enjoying my first time away from home, away from the parental thumb. It was my introduction to the stuff I was late to discover, parties, subculture, roleplaying, and so on. Not comics, I already read those, though I abandoned superheroes in favour of the likes of John Constantine or Sandman, started reading vampire books not Michael Moorcock or fat fantasy tomes. I also learned about hugging, and Lesley was the person who taught me... not in a rude sense but, my family is pretty non tactile, they don't touch really. I had few friends as a teenager, owing to various circumstances and had retreated into a world of books and listening to Radio 1. Lesley was the person who brushed all that aside and made me realise it wasn't weird to make human contact. Looking back, I can only admire her persistence. She was one of my closest friends all through university and in the few years afterwards.
We'd lost touch, going our separate ways and reconnected via Facebook, and email. It was an odd sort of thing, ephemeral. We would make contact, lose it for a while, and then get back in touch (say what you like about Facebook, it's very good for that). But we hadn't seen each other, over all that time. As I say, Eve and I usually head south, so it wasn't really on the mental map of places to go.
After such a long time away, it was inevitable that there was going to be some changes, it's a bit like when I go back to Coventry these days; there are things I remember that have been replaced, and my memory hasn't quite caught up with that yet. Liverpool Lime Street, for instance, is much airier than I remember, and cleaner too (though that seems to be part of every city these days, which makes the warnings about air pollution seem strange, if everything's so clean where are the pollutants?). The city centre seems more open, and more developed, though that's a shame in someways, as it means the creep of the glass monoculture has robbed the city centre of some of its character. We wandered about Liverpool One, the shopping centre, in the afternoon, and it was just like being in the Bullring or the Pallisades, even down to the way the shops looked. Quiggans, where I bought my first pirate shirt and drainpipe jeans, where I got my first piercings, is gone and Lesley says the replacement isn't the same; it lacks the atmosphere. We didn't go in, so I can't comment, though the windows at street level are very dramatic, with a gold, spiky flame effect rising from the frames. Again, it had that strange feeling of familiarity mixed with strangeness. I don't know the city and I feel like I should. I lived up in the North West for eight years, after all.
We ate at Cafe Tabac, looked for books in charity shops, and mooched around the Blue Coat Gallery a bit, before popping into Worlds Apart (and with a teensy bit of civic pride I would say Nostalgia and Comics, my 'local' for that sort of thing, is tiny bit better). Mostly, though, we sat and drank tea, and talked, catching up on, well, everything; family, children (hers), cats, jobs... life in fact and all those little bits that contribute to it. Lesley hasn't changed, though I'm sure she'd dispute that, and she remains charming, witty and caring. She's one of the easiest people I know to talk to; a natural counsellor as it were.
I came away feeling refreshed, and like it had been a day well spent... along with a small determination that I should head back that way before another decade passes....