A Travellerspoint blog

March 2009

Ferry Cross the Mersey... And Take Me Along

Exploring the other bank of the Mersey

sunny 12 °C
View To Liverpool from Sheffield and Back Again 2009 on GregW's travel map.

In 1964, when that other Liverpool band The Beatles was growing into the phenomenon that would become Beatlemania, Gerry & the Pacemakers were releasing their seventh single, a slow song called "Ferry Cross the Mersey." A tribute to the Liverpool area, the song implores the ferry to cross the Mersey River, to return the singer to the land he loves.

So Ferry, cross the Mersey
'cause this land's the place I love
and here I'll stay


On Sunday I ferried myself cross the Mersey to see Liverpool's opposite bank - Wallasey, New Brighton and Birkenhead.


Ferries have been crossing the Mersey river for probably over 1000 years. There was a record of a ferry crossing the Mersey from Seacombe in the Domesday Book in 1086. By 1150, Benedictine Monks in Birkenhead were running a ferry service. In 1330 they were granted a charter by King Edward III to run the ferries forever. They ran ferries until 1536, when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and took over the license for the ferry.

In the 1800s, modern ferry service began, provided by two separate companies - The Wallasey and Birkenhead companies. The ferry service was taken over 1968 by the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (also known as MerseyTravel) and the two services were merged into the single company. Wallasey tended to name their ferries after flowers, and thus to link with history one of the current ferries is named Snowdrop, though it is branded with Birkenhead colours.

During the week at rush hour, the ferry service is a commuter service, running between the Seacombe ferry terminal in Wallasey, the Birkenhead ferry terminal and the Pierhead in Liverpool. Off hours and during the weekend, though, the ferries run River Explorer Cruises. These cruises run for about an hour, with two stops. In the summer, the ferry runs downstream towards New Brighton before turning back and stopping at Seacombe and Birkenhead. In the winter, when I took the cruise, after leaving Liverpool, the ferry stops at Seacombe and Birkenhead before running upstream towards Eastham.


You can hop off at each of the stops and pick up a later ferry, so after crossing the Mersey, my first stop of the day was Seacombe.


I was actually happy that the ferry wasn't on it's summer route, as the trip downstream to New Brighton is something that you can do by walking along the 3 kilometre long Millennium Trail.



The trail is paved and flat, keeping to the river side. There are certain places where you can get down onto the beach (assuming the tide is co-operating with you). The water was cold, so even the birds were staying out of the water, instead just strolling along the water's edge.




Just after leaving the Seacombe Ferry Terminal, you will see the impressive Wallasey Town Hall. The town hall was opened in 1916, and interestingly faces away from the town and out across the river. I wonder what that says about the government's opinion of it's people at that time.


Three kilometres later, and I arrived in New Brighton. New Brighton is a seaside resort town, with the requisite seaside walk with arcade and funfair.



Out on a point on the border between the Liverpool Bay in the Irish Sea and the mouth of the River Mersey sits Fort Perch Rock. The fortress is a coastal defence battery built in 1829 to protect the Port of Liverpool. Today it is a museum.


Out from Fort Perch Rock is the New Brighton Lighthouse. When I was there, the tide was high and the base of the lighthouse was underwater.


It took me about 1 hour to walk from the Seacombe Ferry Terminal to New Brighton. Ferries run every hour, so upon arriving at New Brighton, I had a choice. I could turn right around and head back to catch the ferry with a 2 hour run trip, or I could hang around in New Brighton for an hour. I choice to spend the hour, and was bored after 10 minutes. That is the problem with the ferry schedule. Either you see nothing of New Brighton, which is less than you want to see, or you see 1 hour of New Brighton, which is 50 minutes more than you want to see.

I decided to head back by walking along the road instead of along the riverside promenade to see a different side of New Brighton and Wallasey. There was a few nice sites along the way.



I also came across a couple street names I liked. First up, home sweet home!


And then, this street. Depending on your age, you might be imaging a furry red muppet with a halo, but because I was a teenager in the 1980s, I remember the excellent Brat Pack movie, "St. Elmo's Fire," and the theme song by John Parr. For the rest of the day, I was humming the chorus to myself.

I can see a new horizon
Underneath the blazin' sky
I'll be where the eagle's
Flyin' higher and higher
Gonna be your man in motion
All I need is a pair of wheels
Take me where my future's lyin'
St. Elmo's Fire

I continued my motion, though via my feet and not a pair of wheels back to Seacombe Ferry in time to grab the boat to Birkenhead. Along the way we passed the car ferry terminal, where ferries leave for Belfast and Dublin.


At the ferry terminal in Birkenhead, the more industrial port like nature of the Liverpool area is very visible. Downstream you can still see the Ireland ferries, and upstream there is an oil refinery and a few dry docks.



After the 6 kilometre round trip walk in Wallasey, I wasn't in for too long a trip in Birkenhead. Instead, I just took a quick jog up to the city centre, just 10 minutes on foot.

Just outside the ferry terminal, I passed a double-decker wooden trolley.


Birkenhead had the first street tramway in Europe. Opened in 1860 the first line ran from the Woodside ferry terminal to Birkenhead Park. This early system was horse-drawn. Today, two replica trams, imported from Hong Kong, have been brought into service as part of a heritage tramway.

10 minutes walk up hill, and I was in Hamilton Square.


Hamilton Square built in the late Georgian and early Victorian area. 3 of the sides of the square are Georgian terrace houses, with the four side having the town hall (which is now a museum). It is second only to Trafalgar Square in London for having the most Grade I listed buildings in a single square.




Birkenhead is connected to the underground train system called MerseyRail. I loved the motto on this train station tower. "Frequent Electric Trains." Oh, if they are electric, then I will take one! I guess the motto probably made more sense when the choice was underground steam engines, which history documents as being very sooty and chocking.


After my quick tour of Hamilton Square, I still had 40 minutes to wait for the next ferry, so looked for a place for a quick pint. Sadly, it seemed that Hamilton Square wasn't the only thing with Victorian elements - the morals of the place must still be Victorian, as all the pubs were closed on Sunday.


None for me, at least not that day.

Instead I went back and sat on the river side watching the river roll by.


The ferry arrived, and I completed my round trip. We powered upstream against a fast current to see the oil refineries, dry docks and oil tankers.


The boat finally turned back, and quickly moved downstream towards Liverpool's Pier Head dock. I took a seat on the deck and watched the sun shimmer off the River Mersey.


Ferry, cross the Mersey.
cause this land's a place for a tourist to love
and here I may not stay, but it was nice to visit...

Posted by GregW 13:14 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

The Cavern Club - The Underground Sound

Listening to the musical legacy under the cobblestones of Matthew Street, Liverpool

sunny 8 °C
View To Liverpool from Sheffield and Back Again 2009 on GregW's travel map.

In the late 50s, John Lennon and a couple of school friends formed a band which they called the "Quarrymen," after their school Quarry Bank. They played a brand of music called Skiffle, which was a simple country-blues type music that featured banjo and wash-tub basin. In 1957, at a church social which the Quarrymen were playing at, Paul McCartney heard them play and talked to John. John invited Paul to join the band, and Paul brought along his much younger friend George Harrison, whom he had met riding the bus to school.

Over the intervening years, the band changed their names a few times until winding up with The Beatles, a play on the word beetle and a tribute to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. The name was originally suggest by Stuart Sutcliffe, the groups bass player, with McCartney on piano at the time.


In 1960, The Beatles, along with Pete Best as drummer went to Hamburg, Germany for a stint of 48 shows at the Indra Club in Hamburg’s red light district. Over the next few years, they would return to Hamburg a number of times, along with a bunch of other bands from Liverpool, including Gerry and Pacemakers.


While in Germany, The Beatles performed as the back-up band for singer Tony Sheridan on a recording of My Bonnie, a rocked up version of the traditional Scottish folk song “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”

After honing their skills in Germany, the band returned to Liverpool and on February 21st, 1961 made the first of what would be 292 appearances at The Cavern Club on Matthew Street. The club had been opened by the owner, after being inspired by Paris’ Jazz District, in a basement that had been used as an air-raid shelter during the war.



While The Beatles were appearing at the Cavern Club, the song My Bonnie was catching on outside of Germany. The manager of a record shop called NEMS was intrigued by all the people asking for the single, and doubly so when he found out the band was playing in Liverpool. On the 9th of November, 1961, Brian Epstein went and saw The Beatles play, and by January of 1962, he had them signed to a contract.


Epstein cleaned up the group - putting them in suits and forbidding drinking, smoking and gum chewing on stage. The Beatles went along with it, as long as Epstein didn’t tinker with their music. Epstein eventually got George Martin, a producer at EMI to agree to produce the group. Martin didn’t like Pete Best, and The Beatles replaced him with Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr.

The rest is history, as they say. From their first release, the single “Love Me Do” in 1962, The Beatles released 24 singles, 13 EPs and 12 studio albums before they broke up in 1970. It’s amazing to think that in August of 1965 they released Help!, and less than two years later were releasing the psychedelic St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.


The Cavern Club was demolished in 1972 to make way for an exhaust pipe for the underground. Incredibly, the exhaust pipe never got built, and the club was just filled in with dirt from the tunnelling.

The club was rebuilt in the 1980s, roughly in the same spot and to the same design as the original, though there are some differences - most importantly, The Cavern Club now serves booze.



I went there on March 13, 2009. The day had a full line up of musicians. I saw Jon Keats, who is featured singing Strawberry Fields in this clip (and singing the bit of Working Class Hero by Lennon at the end). After Keats, I saw a bit of Mike Hunt as well. Later in the evening, Midnight Blues played, however I had long left for the comfort of my bed by that point.

Here, though, is a video that hopefully gives you a feel for what the club was like in 2009, and perhaps even what it must have been like back in the 1960s when the Beatles were on the stage, though the crowd may not have been as vocal, what with having no beer at all.

If you can't see the video, check it out on my Youtube channel.


Were they recording today, do you think that The Beatles may have recorded a song called "Travel Blog Writer?"

Posted by GregW 01:50 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Lively Life in Liverpool with the Livers and the Scousers

Liverpool One: More than Just a Shopping Mall, It is Also the First Part of My Trilogy on The City That Is The Pool of Life.

sunny 8 °C
View To Liverpool from Sheffield and Back Again 2009 on GregW's travel map.

The British tax year runs from the sixth of April until the fifth of April. It strikes me as odd to have a “year” starting on the sixth. The strange starting date is due to the year previously starting on March 25 (start of Spring and all) and days being lost with the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, all of which is a little confusing but makes me think, “wow, the British have been collecting tax from people for a long time.”

As the tax year ends in early April, that means that most company benefits also run on the same year or for simplicities sake, an April 1 to March 31 year. Good news for me, as that means after only 2 months of working at my company, I get a full year’s worth of benefits. It does mean, though, that I had a somewhat small set of benefits prorated for my first two months. On starting, I was told I would get a prorated amount of holidays to take.

My first day, one of the women from HR told me, while consulting a table of prorated holidays based on starting date, “you are starting on the 26th of January, which means that you have 4.5 days to take before March 31st.”

Oh. Not enough to take a full week off, which I couldn’t do anyway because I was expected to be working right away on my first project to the end of May. So, after some discussion with my project manager, I decided to take a few long weekends in my first two months to make sure I didn’t lose my vacation. I already took one back in February when I moved to my new place, and I have a four-day weekend scheduled coming up at the end of the month. Picking a weekend that fell directly in between those two dates, I decided to take another vacation day on March 13… lucky Friday the Thirteenth.

I had, on my first few trips up to Sheffield noticed that a train runs from Sheffield up to Edinburgh. “Awesome,” I thought, “I will take the train up to Edinburgh for a 3 day weekend and check out Scotland!” Then I didn’t think about it again for almost a month. I didn’t figure I would have any trouble getting a hotel in Edinburgh for the weekend. After all, it’s the tail end of winter, who is going to want to go to Scotland in the middle of March?

Lots of Irish and Scots, it turns out, if that weekend happens to be the weekend when Ireland is playing the Scotland in Edinburgh in the Six Nations Rugby. Doing my usual level of research for a trip (i.e. none), this was something I didn’t figure out until I tried to book a hotel a few weeks ago in Edinburgh, and couldn’t find anything for under £300 a night.

So, I decided on plan B, which was to develop another plan, or really, a plan at all, seeing as Plan A wasn’t a plan so much as an idea. Let’s call this new plan C. Plan C involved going down to the Sheffield train station and looking up at the departure board and picking out somewhere else that trains go from Sheffield.

Birmingham… Nah, been there. Glasgow… Nah, too close to Edinburgh. Leeds… Umm, what is in Leeds? Manchester…. Nah. Oh, wait, there’s an idea. Liverpool.

So I ended up booking a hotel and train ticket, and on Thursday, March the 12th after work made my way from Sheffield across the Pennines and to the port city of Liverpool.

Liverpool is a city. That might not be immediately clear if you Google Liverpool, as the first few hits are about a football team, but more on them later. The city sits on the banks of the River Mersey, close to the where the river empties out into the Irish Sea. The city’s position on the west coast of England and on a major, wide river meant that Liverpool became one of the most important ports in England. Today, it still is an important port, both for cargo and passengers, especially those heading to the Isle of Man or Ireland (either North or Regular-flavour).


Being a busy port, there was a significant amount of building, both of the functional variety with docks and warehouses, but also the showy variety with fancy public buildings and headquarters of important companies. In 2004, UNESCO declared major parts of the city a world heritage site, dubbing it the “Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City.”

One of the key areas, and one that gets a lot of photos taken are the Three Graces: the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. These are the main buildings in the area called Pier Head, and where I started my tour on the Friday.



Atop the Royal Liver building are two Liver Birds, the symbols of the city of Liverpool. The Liver bird is a mythical creature, much like the Phoenix, the Roc or the Ethical Banker. A bird first appeared on the corporate seal of the city of Liverpool dating back to the 1350s, an eagle with broom to honour King John. Sometime later, the eagle was replaced with a cormorant, and the broom swept away in favour of a sprig of seaweed. Yummy.



Note that the Liver in the birds name rhymes with diver, while the Liver in the city’s name of Liverpool rhymes with river, yet another mystery of the English language to ponder.

The street that runs along in front of the Three Graces is called Canada Boulevard, named in honour of the fact that Canada donated the mighty and majestic maples that line the street.


Okay, they don’t look very mighty now, but they were only planted in 1995. Wait for another 50 years, then the trees will provide an overgrown, shadow-casting and maple key throwing darkness and mess along the street, when they will be the bane of street cleaners the city over!

Just up the street from the Three Graces is Our Lady and St Nicholas Anglican Church, also known as the “Sailor’s Church” and “St. Nick’s.” St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, and given the number that have set off from Liverpool, it is not surprising that a church would spring up in his honour here. The spire is topped with a golden boat the shines brightly in the sun.



Another area preserved and restored as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Albert Dock. Opened in 1846, the Albert Dock was the first enclosed dock made out of something that wouldn’t burn, making it a huge improvement in maritime technology over the smouldering, smoking and burning docks of other cities. Today, the Albert Dock is one of many docks along the waterfront of Liverpool no longer in use, as most of the shipping has moved away from the city centre to the larger container ports downstream and upstream. Instead, the dock holds museums, bars and restaurants, including a branch of the Tate Museum (which while having a cafe, I meant as an example of a museum, and not a bar or restaurant).




I skipped the Tate and went instead to the Merseyside Maritime Museum and International Slavery Museum, housed in the same building. The dual museums pay homage to all those that passed through Liverpool or her boats, both those who chose to go and those that were taken.

They will remember that we were sold, but not that we were strong. They will remeber that we were bought, but not that we were brave. - William Prescott, former slave, 1937.



I was quite moved by the statue of the immigrants looking out towards the sea, as both my Paternal Grandparents sailed from Liverpool in 1920, though on different boats and months apart. The museum had a number of models, including one of the Empress of France, the name of the ship that my Grandmother left England aboard, but the model in the museum was for the Empress of France II that wasn’t built until 1928 and replaced the Empress of France I.

Between Albert Dock and the Pierhead, and moving away from the River is a number of new, modern developments. It is a beautiful, mostly pedestrian space where new, shiny glass buildings often share space with older, restored ones.





About ten minutes walk away from the river is Liverpool Lime Street Rail Station, where I had arrived the night before. The station is attached to a massive North Western Hotel, which now serves as a student residence, and has an impressively clean looking rail shed with a glass roof dating back to the 1880s.



Across Lime Street from the rail station is St. George’s Hall, a neo-classical building at the heart of the city’s Cultural Quarter. Liverpool was the European Union’s Capital of Culture for 2008, a rotating position which allows a city to show the rest of the EU how cultural it is. It was often mentioned in the tourist literature that Liverpool has five main theatres, which I guess is a sure sign of a cultural with-it place. Anyway, I skipped the theatre for this trip, and instead concentrated on the impressive statues in the fore-court of St. George’s Hall.




Along Lime Street and then up Mount Pleasant, I came across more workaday Liverpool. Here, row houses line the street as residents of Liverpool, known as Liverpudlians or Scousers (after a local food dish) went about their business.




It is here that I got my first glimpses of the tough times that Liverpool must have went through in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s as the shipyards closed and the docks shut down.



In the 1970s, Richard J. Webber, while working for the Centre of Environmental Studies, was looking at ways to tackle the issues of poverty in Liverpool. It was during this time that he developed something called “geodemographic segmentation,” which he wrote about in his paper Liverpool Social Area Study, 1971 data that was published in the engagingly named PRAG Technical Paper No 14, Centre for Environmental Studies, 1975.

Geodemographic segmentation is the clustering of people into groups based on their geography – i.e. where they live. People had segmented populations and customer groups before, but usually based on known demographic elements like age, income, ethnicity, etc. Mr. Webber put into statistical practice that oft quoted phrase, “birds of a feather flock together,” by determining that we tend to live in neighbourhoods that are populated by other people like us. We move to areas where we feel comfortable, and we are likely to feel most comfortable when surrounded by those who share our interests, morals and lifestyle.

Geodemographic segmentation is now used the world over in both setting public policy and service planning, as well as in the private sector for customer segmentation and marketing efforts. Geodemographic segmentation, along with a number of other segmentation methods, is something that I have over the past 10 years working in computer systems for customer relationship management and marketing become very familiar with, so being in Liverpool for me was a bit like an Elvis fan going to Graceland. All those fun coloured maps, segmentation profiles and behaviour modelling I get to play with every day, it all started here in Liverpool.

Now that is history!

You are probably less enamoured of the history of statistical modelling and segmentation methodologies, so instead I present something else developed in the same period, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King.


Consecrated in 1967, the Metropolitan Cathedral is the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral and the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool.

I realize that some of the photos are blurry looking in this section. I don’t know what caused that. It first started happening with the photos near St. George’s hall. I was a little suspicious that the photos looked grainy, but it is sometimes hard to tell on the LCD screen of the camera. I was sure something was off by the time I snapped the photos of the Metropolitan Cathedral, though, and then I looked at the settings on the camera. As far as I know, I didn’t change anything, but after exiting the settings menu, the pictures I took after that were all fine. I guess just by observing the settings, I fixed them. It’s a lot like Schrodinger's Cat. For those of you who don’t know, Schrodinger is the little boy from the Peanuts cartoon that plays the piano, and whenever he looked at his cat, he killed it. That’s physics, for you.


Back to the Cathedral. It is modern and very round, and as such the Met stands in stark contrast to the other Cathedral in the city, just a mile down Hope Street.

The Liverpool Cathedral.


The Liverpool Cathedral is Anglican and very gothic. Where the Metropolitan is inviting, the Liverpool is imposing. It sits atop St. James’ hill, giving the already towering and commanding exterior of the Cathedral an even more imposing mass. The cathedral is the largest cathedral in Britain, and close in size to both St. Peter’s in Rome and the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. It is very open inside, but also quite narrow, and as with most places that are big, it is hard to capture on film.



While the building looks like it dates back to the 1200s and the time of dragons and knights, it in fact was only started in 1904, and wasn’t completed until 1978. Some of the areas are quite modern in design, including the front entrance, which has this modern stained glass window and weird statue.


The church is surrounded by St. James’ Garden and Cemetery, which sits below both the Cathedral (atop St. James hill) and the nearby roads, which means that you have large rock walls rising up above you at all times. There hasn’t been a burial here since the 1930s, and most of the headstones have been moved over to the sides or repurposed as stones on the walking paths, but I felt it was one of the creepiest cemeteries I have ever been in. Perhaps it is the high rock walls and lack of escape routes, or maybe the fact that almost everything is covered in a thick, green moss, or maybe it is because the sky was grey and threatening and was about to rain when I was there, but the place gave me the shivers.





It was a fun scare there, and no zombies ate me, so everything turned out okay. Leaving St. James’ Garden, though the rain starts to fall, and I find myself digging in my bag for my umbrella.



Heading down Parliament Street the road meets up with the River Mersey again, and I walked along Chaloner Street. The rain brought a fog in with it, and the Cathedrals’ towers become shrouded in fog.



A little further along, I cross over the Wapping Dock and walk by the Echo Arena, modern in a shape that reminded me of a sea-gull, which felt fitting for a city by the sea (or at least, the estuary that is close to the sea).


I finished my walk along the water until I reached the Albert Dock, and then headed back into town for some well deserved rest and relaxation.

The next day, having seen the sights in the city core, I decide to head downriver for a gander at one of the other site identified within the UNESCO heritage destination, but an area that isn’t quite as repurposed and redeveloped as the Albert Dock.


Stanley Dock opened in 1848, and today sits mostly abandoned just a 30 minute walk from the city centre core and the Three Graces. The area is home to a Sunday market and is part of a grand redevelopment plan, but you all know how well redevelopment plans are going over in this credit crunch climate, so it may be a few more years before the fading, industrial decay of the Stanley Dock becomes like the bright, shiny and fashionable Albert Dock.








Personally, I am a fan of the grittier, rundown dock buildings. While the Albert Dock is very nice and a good place to go for a lovely dinner on the waterfront and then perhaps a walk around the Tate Museum, it retains very little of the blue-collar, working-class, industrial personality that you can still feel in a place like the Stanley Dock, even if it is just the ghost of long-ago laid off dock workers.

Just down from Stanley Dock on Waterloo Road is the Clarence Dock. It was at the Clarence dock that boats from Ireland landed in the 1800s, and thus it is through these gates that most of the 1.3 million Irish who fled the famine would have passed.


Walking back towards the city centre along Waterloo Road, there isn’t much that is very active. The street is lined on the one side by the thick granite walls that separate me from the now abandoned docklands, and on the other side a mixture of what appear to be working warehouses and industrial spots, though they are closed on the Saturday that I am strolling there, and a number of abandoned buildings.






Just before reaching the Three Graces, the redevelopment of the docklands appears. The Prince’s Dock has a number of new buildings and modern touches, like a whale-bone shaped footbridge across the basin at the mid-point.



After the docklands, I wander for a few hours checking out the parts of the city centre I missed over yesterday.







Saturday afternoon at 1:30 PM, and the streets of Liverpool were deserted except for a few confused looking tourists. The population of Liverpool plus one Canadian-cum-Londoner were crammed into pubs and around TVs watching the telly, because the home-town team, Liverpool FC was playing hated rivals Manchester United in a game with serious implications for the run for England’s Premiership championship.



I watched the game in an Irish pub called the Slaughter House, and luckily for the fans of Liverpool, it was the home side that was doing the slaughtering. After an early goal by Manchester United which stunned the crowd into silence, Liverpool piled on goal after goal against an increasingly lame looking Man U club. By the end of the game the chanting, cheering and singing were in full blast, and the game ended with a score of 4-1 in favour of Liverpool to the strains of legions of fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”


You’ll Never Walk Alone is a tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel that was covered in 1963 by local artists Gerry and the Pacemakers (who’ll make another few appearances in the narrative before my time in Liverpool is done). Soon after, the fans of Liverpool FC adopted the song as an anthem and is now sung before every match, and apparently, after if the result is good.


Saturday night I took it easy. After having a few of the above beverages during the game, I was tired and tried to recharge with a late afternoon nap, but I just ended up feeling worse. The centre of Liverpool becomes a mass of young people, many of them dressed up in costumes for hen parties, stag dos or birthday parties, and the crowds become crushing. Despite enjoying the group of brave young ladies who themed their party “South Pacific” and treated all the rest of us on a cold, March night to a show of taut flesh underneath skimpy bikinis, I couldn’t take the crowds. So I retreated to a quiet pub just behind St. George’s Hall called Doctor Duncan’s and had a pint of Cains India Pale Ale (the hand-pumped cask conditioned stuff, not the keg variety). Cains is a local brewer that has switched hands many times since its owner’s death, and is currently owned by two brothers of Indian origin. It seems fitting that an English brewer should end up in Indian hands, seeing as many of them were founded on exporting of ales to that country.

So, there you go. Have I covered it all? The Mersey – check. The docks, the decay and the regeneration – check. UNESCO and the city centre – check. The Cathedrals – check. The footie club – check. Liver birds – check. Geodemographic segmentation – check. Yup, that’s everything anyone could ever say about Liverpool.


Oh right, those guys…

I’m not quite done with Liverpool just yet. I still have to write about Friday night, which I conveniently skipped over in this entry, and which does involve four mop-topped lads from Liverpool who, like Gerry and the Pacemakers, were part of the Merseybeat sound. And I have to write about taking a ferry cross the Mersey, which will also feature more of Gerry and the Pacemakers, so look for a few more entries to come.

Liverpool, a city you can’t just cover in one blog entry. Perhaps that should be there new tourist slogan.

Posted by GregW 03:23 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

The industrial past of Sheffield

sunny 9 °C
View To Liverpool from Sheffield and Back Again 2009 on GregW's travel map.

This last weekend the Sheffield Steelers of the Elite League Ice hockey league here in the United Kingdom clinched the championship for this year. After beating the Newcastle Vipers 4-1 on the road, the Coventry Blaze lost to the Hull Stingrays, mathematically eliminating the last team that could challenge Sheffield for the title. According to Sky Sports, there was "a wild night of celebrations in South Yorkshire," though I will admit I was up in Sheffield on Sunday, and must have missed the celebrations.

The coach of the Steelers is Dave Matsos, who is from my hometown. I believe I went to school with his brother, but I'd have to go and check my old year books, which currently are in a storage locker near Toronto airport, and thus not exactly accessible to me right now.

I've posted a number of pictures of Sheffield so far, and many of them have looked something like this...




...a pretty town centre. That's because, for the most part I haven't actually made it out of Sheffield town centre. The train station, my hotel and my office are all within a 10 minute walk of each other in the town centre, so that's mostly what I have seen so far.

The name of the hockey team, though, gives a clue that Sheffield isn't all pretty town squares and pedestrian malls, but has an industrial past and future. There has been a long line of innovations in the steel industry and metallurgy in Sheffield, dating back to Benjamin Huntsman creating the "crucible technique" in the 1740s, which allowed the wide-scale manufacture of steel. Stainless steel was invented in Sheffield, and the process for silver-plating cooper was invented here, the metal becoming known as Sheffield Plate.

Secondary to the steel industry in Sheffield, but probably more important across the entire region (known as Yorkshire) was coal mining. Last week marked the 25th anniversary of an event related to coal mining that shook the foundations of the United Kingdom. In 1984, the Thatcher government announced the closure of 20 coal mines, putting twenty thousand miners out of work. The coal mining union was very powerful, and the government had prepared for a long action by the miners. They had stock piled coal and converted power stations to burn gas instead of coal.

On March 5th, 1984, the members voted to strike at Cortonwood Colliery in Yorkshire, starting what would be a year long strike that spread across almost all the coal mines in the UK.

On the 15th of March, David Jones, a miner aged 23 and father of two, was killed picketing in Ollerton. Mr. Jones was the first to 10 deaths related to the strike that would occur over the year.

The strike broke the union, and after the strike was settled, pits started to close. In 1984, before the strike, 180,000 miners working at 170 pits across the UK. By August 2006, the UK coal industry was reduced to employing around 5,600 people.

Today, most the closed mines have been reclaimed for other uses. The site of one of the most violent battles of the miners strike was at Orgreave, where about 5,000 pickets faced up to nearly 6,000 police on the 18th of June. Orgreave was closed in 2005, and is now being redeveloped as a site for housing and commercial interests, including a hi-tech advanced manufacturing park in association with Boeing and Sheffield University.

Sheffield and Yorkshire haven't forgotten their history of mingin, though. There has been a number of events around the region this past week to mark the 25th anniversary of the start of the strike.

For me, stuck without a car in central Sheffield, though, I haven't gotten to see much in the way of any of these events.

There is, though, a frieze on the town hall that commemorates a nubmer of the industries and people that made up the history of Sheffield, including one panel dedicated to the mining past of the region.


With the frieze, as Sheffield continues to change, the past won't be lost.

Posted by GregW 13:49 Archived in England Tagged events Comments (0)

Maybe I should have done this all sooner... then again...

Free will, quantum mechanics, multiple parallel universes and drunken yobs on vacation!

semi-overcast 10 °C

Some physicists, those with a more philosophical bent most likely, worry about how free will is possible in the universe governed by the rules of physics. If we can understand and describe the future motion of items down to the atomic level, does that not mean that we can predict the course of neurons firing in our brains? In an entirely predictable world, all that has been, all that is and all that will be would be predictable if we just knew all the right variables and had the computing power to run the calculations. But if the entire world - right down to the electrons firing around in brain controlling our actions - is predictable, than that means our actions would be predictable too. We wouldn't have free will, it is all an illusion.

Personally, that's why I like the concept of quantum mechanics, quantum indeterminacy and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. If we don't actually know where atoms are and where they will be, but can just assign probabilities to these concerns, then free will lives. We don't live in a deterministic world, but rather in a nondetermined, probabilistic world that allows us to make choices. I'm no physicist, but I believe this is called the "Copenhagen Interpretation" of quantum mechanics.

Albert Einstein, though the father of quantum mechanics, didn't like the nondeterministic nature of the theory, and worked for most of his life to come up with a theory of quantum mechanics that didn't include uncertainty. He couldn't ever believe that the universe was not explainable if we had absolute knowledge of the current state of it. In a letter to Max Born, he famously said the oft-misquoted line, "I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice." The "He" in the sentence is the reference to God. Niels Bohr had an excellent come-back, in my mind, which was to say, "Einstein, don't tell God what to do."


An alternative interpretation of quantum mechanics is to instead look at the probability of wave of an electron not as possible outcomes, but actual outcomes. Of all the possible places an electron could be, it actually is. Each of these possibilities then becomes its own "history." In effect, all possibilities occur, they just do so in parallel universes spun off from every point in time. This is called many-worlds interpretation. For us laymen, what that means is that if you imagine every choice you have ever made, there exists somewhere a world where you made the opposite choice.

I can't imagine the many-worlds interpretation actually being reality. It's too comic-booky. Too much like all those DC titles I remember popping up in the mid-1980s about multiple worlds and the Crisis on Infinite Earths where different versions of The Flash and Bat-dog all existed.

Thinking about the possibility that all those parallel worlds are out there, though, does present a tantalising thought that you could, if you could see through the barriers between worlds, find out what happened to other versions of you. I was thinking about this today as I wandered the streets of London down towards Chinatown, where I was heading to quench a craving for noodles.


I passed an estate agent that specialises in finding student housing in central London for all the students of the many University, colleges and other learning institutions in the city. I suddenly felt a little melancholy that I hadn't taken the opportunity as a student to go some place far away and exotic to study. Instead, I stayed close to home, and only really took up travelling in my 30s.

"What kind of person would I have been if I had started travelling sooner?" I wondered. I thought about all the lost opportunities and extra years I could have had feeding my travel urge. If there were multiple worlds out there, perhaps there was a Gregwtravels out there who had been at it since the age of 18, having criss-crossed the world many times, perhaps now lazing on a beach in Central America or eating noodles in a train station in Osaka.

Of course, that Greg probably doesn't exist even if multiple worlds do. After all, when I was 18 I had no real desire to go far away to school. The university I went to - University of Western Ontario - was really the only one I wanted to go to. I flirted very briefly and not too seriously with a couple other options, specifically McMaster University which was even closer to my hometown, and McGill.

McGill would have been an interesting choice. It was far from home, being a full 6 hours by train from my parent's house, and it was in Montreal, a bilingual and very diverse city. That is a Greg I could imagine that might have taken up travel sooner. Maybe he learnt French and did a semester in Paris. Maybe he went into something more bohemian than IT consulting, perhaps publishing. That Greg would be an interesting Greg to meet. I think I'd like him.

I continued to walk towards Chinatown, feeling the sting of lost opportunities. "I wish I'd starting travelling sooner. I wish I'd been braver in my 20s." I kept telling myself, becoming increasingly glum.

Perhaps Einstein was right, and perhaps God doesn't play dice with the universe, because just then something happened the removed all the glumness from me and cured my melancholy. It was so perfect a cure, so fitting to my affliction of temporary despondency that it had to be more than just mere coincidence.

I came upon this sign.


"Oh, a travel show, that'll brighten me up," I thought, so I went in. And brighten me up it did, but not in the way I imagined. For the show was focused on the young traveller, and was full of exhibitors plugging bus tours of Eastern Europe and trips that focused on nightlife, drinking and hooking up, including a company offered Trans-Siberian train journeys on the "Vodka Train," with big banners replete with photos of young, good-looking folk downing shots of the white liquor.

The place was jammed with people, mostly in the teens and twenties, and many seemingly interested in the tours that offered the best chances of hooking up and getting drunk. I could only stand it for a few minutes before I fled.


I realized, as I exited the hotel that it was probably best that I didn't travel much when I was younger, for knowing me it would have been EXACTLY that kind of travel - drunk all night, blurry eyed and hung-over during the day, missing most everything and really only wondering where the next bar was. I do know there are those out there in their teens and twenties who travel in a more measured, reflective way, but I don't think I would have done that. I would have been a drunken yob.

Some of you, especially those that have travelled with me, might be wondering how the above actually differs from my current method of travelling. I will admit that how I travel now does involve a few drunken nights and hung over mornings, but probably earlier nights, less buses and hopefully a little more appreciation of the local culture and sights than a 22-year-old me would have travelled.

"Guess I really didn't miss much," I told myself, and continued on my way to Chinatown, where I found a restaurant and fulfilled my noodle craving. I'm not as young as I once was, but I've still got a many good years of travel adventure ahead of me. I'll leave the other Gregs in other parallel worlds who made other choices to their own lives, and concentrate on mine. I may have started a little late, but I have to say that right now, it is pretty damn good.

Posted by GregW 08:49 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged armchair_travel travel_philosophy migration_philosophy Comments (1)

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