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Not Grim Up North: a Trip Report from North England, Northern Ireland (and Ireland)

Not Grim Up North: a Trip Report from North England, Northern Ireland (and Ireland)

Old Oct 8th, 2007, 03:59 PM
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Not Grim Up North: a Trip Report from North England, Northern Ireland (and Ireland)

This was an odd trip, just the way we like them, and this will be an odd trip report. I will not be boring you will mundane details about how much that muffin cost in four currencies, or any of that mundane crap. I have far more mundane stories to relate, from Manchester, Blackpool, York, Scarborough, Liverpool, Belfast, and finally Dublin, Republic of Ireland (we had never been to Ireland, and we still haven't, really, what with two days in the capital, but it seemed wrong to travel all that way and not add any new countries to our life list, so Dublin it was).

I have a tragic, crippling interest in industrial heritage: trains, bridges, steam engines, brick warehouses, mills, docks, ships, oil depots and chemical works. My wife has an interest in things that aren't there any more, like shuttered shops. We both have a rare form of the Anglophilia disease; neither of us is interested in Princess Di or palaces or stately homes or gents in red coats and big black furry hats. We like caffs that haven't changed since 1963 and tacky postcards and railway station newsagents and clocks that don't tell the right time and dirty streets and rain. We both enjoy some of the saddest and unloveliest things about Britain the best. We'd rather eat fish and chips than braised medallions of artichokes in a bed of raspberry rocket or whatever. We both like the North.

First stop was Manchester, after a change in Heathrow.

One of our female BA flight attendants provided us with a classic reintroduction to Britain by delivering a blistering tearful attack on her suddenly-ex-boyfriend via cell phone mere yards from baggage claim. "You bastard, you absolute #$%^&* bastard! You're a nasty piece of work, aren't you? I want you out of my flat tonight! #$%^&*$% $%^&#$%^ $%^&!"

I have never seen a group of passengers showing a keener interest in the still motionless carousel, rapt and silent we stared, pretending we couldn't hear. "Oooh, now you're just trying to hurt me, aren't you? @#$ $%^ %^&%^&! Get out of my flat!"

The poor dear was a very attractive young woman, hardly English-looking at all, and I'm sure she will have happier romantic entanglements in the future. Perhaps future Fodor travelers will keep us posted on her progress?

Our hotel was actually an apartment, in the newly-trendy Northern Quarter, and was much larger than we had booked -- two bedrooms, two baths, and a kitchen, and in classic English fashion a total of EIGHT doors, all on springs. I staved off claustrophobia and drawing room comedy with a few improvised doorstops made out of kitchen utensils, and we set off in search of dinner. Being confused and disoriented and jet-lagged, we ended up with the classic British solution: microwaved takeaways back at the room in front of the TV, with a couple of cans of beer.

It's good to get caught up on what's happening in the world of English TV. That turned out to be ALL MADDY, ALL Of THE TIME, throughout our entire stay. Did the mother do it? Look at those guilty, guilty lips! Was the body incinerated in the pet cemetery? Is this the missing girl in this blurry photo from 1932? What is the gardener hiding under that bushel? I don't mean to make light of others' tragedy, but Britain leads the world in trash-TV (and trash newspaper) coverage of scandals and calamity.

Another example: one of the papers covered their front page with closeup photos of Amy Winehouse's enormous infected scab. The others were mostly covered with semi-naked women -- they used to be on Page Three; now they're on the cover. And if you think the pictures are bad, you should try the rabid right-wing opinions in the text! "You'll never see a nipple in the Daily Express", quoth John Cooper Clarke (1980s Mancunian, actually Salfordian, punk poet), and you'll never hear a nice word about Poles, either.

The next day was walking day. I loaded myself up with stupid amounts of camera gear, and we set out.

Manchester is a city in transition. Like most of her Northern industrial sisters, she survived hard times in the seventies and eighties as her traditional smokestack industries died out. Manchester was a city of mills, and in the heyday of the cotton trade was one of the most vigorous and vital cities in the world. But the cotton business went away, and what the Luftwaffe wasn't able to bomb the council did, and a generation of unemployed grew up in some of the grimmest tower blocks this side of Uzhbekistan. Manchester was one of the toughest cities in the world.

But a funny thing happened in the abandoned mills and rotting canalside strips filled with garbage: a bit of a cultural renaissance started in the 1980s, and by the early 1990s "Madchester" was in some ways the pop music center of Britain.

The empty warehouses were filled by famous nightclubs, including the legendary Hacienda, and after an IRA bomb cleared out a big section of the central shopping district in 1996, the city started to become fashionable again. Certainly London had nothing to compare with Manchester's pop roster -- Buzzcocks, Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Oasis. The worst of the sixties and seventies blocks were cleared away, and the soot cleaned off the old mills, and a thriving gay community turned a stinking canalside street into a row of hip restaurants and clubs. Euro money poured in, especially after Manchester was granted the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and a bunch of new glass towers went up in the center, including museums and posh hotels.

We didn't see much of that; sorry, not interested in glass towers or posh hotels. We did go in Urbis, a big glass wedge of an avant-garde urban museum, but we were there to see the fascinating Factory Records exhibit. Factory main man, con artist, rebel genius and genuinely Great Briton Tony Wilson had just died of cancer before we got there, so the exhibit had the character of a memorial about it. I never had much use for acid house or baggy or Madchester, and the only "E" I'm interested in is on this keyboard, but the Hacienda was a pretty interesting place, and the collection (much of it from New Order bassist Peter Hook) is vast. I've always enjoyed the kind of museum that finds the sense of life in ordinary detritus like crumpled matchbooks and so on.

The Castlefield district is where several canals and railways converge, including the world's first of each (depending on how you account for such things; the Bridgewater Canal, dating from 1761, and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, from 1830, both terminate here. The area has one of the world's highest concentrations of old red brick mills, warehouses, bridges, viaducts, boat basins and stations.

The LMR, the first railway in the world with regular freight and passenger service with locomotive traction the entire way, originally terminated here, in what is now part of the Museum of Science and Industry complex. Much of the museum is rather dated-looking "interactive" stuff designed to excite children (but usually boring them instead), but there is an impressive collection of the big textile machines that made the modern world originate here: spinning jennies, spinning mules, jacquard looms (the first programmable, stored-instruction "computers", really, dating from 1801).

In the Power Hall, a range of steam engines from early Newcomen engines built to pump water out of coal mines, through the enormous power-generating turbines, along with a number of important landmarks in railway locomotives are here. I was in heaven. Mrs. Fnarf was, however, able to contain her excitement, and spent most of the time sitting on a genuine LMC bench waiting for her husband to get tired of going "ooh! Ooh! Look at the flywheel on that one!"

Underneath the complex, you can tour one of the oddest museum experiences I've had -- traces of Manchester's original sewer system, complete with piped-in flushing water noises. Made me want to pee. Some of the exhibits were inadvertently more exhibits of ridiculous museum display techniques -- bad mannequins and so on -- than of the thing they were supposedly teaching you about. I'm sure it was cutting-edge pedagogical style a few years ago. I loved every tasteless cheesy moment of it.

Downtown, the fabulous Arndale Centre shopping mall, widely derided as the world's ugliest, and often likened to a toilet (it is or was made of millions of yellow glazed tiles), has been largely redone in the wake of the 1996 bomb, which destroyed half of it. Truly, the best revenge on the evil dreams of the IRA was when their idiotic bomb, which injured 200 people, became the impetus for a downtown revitalization. Of course, being perverse, we liked the toilet tiles better, and our favorite buildings downtown are not the new glass boxes, or the Victorian red-brick-porn of the Town Hall and its like, but the sixties aluminum-and-colored-panel towers like the stunning Manchester House, and the CIS tower.

The Hacienda nightclub was razed and rebuilt as a block of fancy apartments called The Hacienda, which is both funny and tragic. When the club was first sited there, the neighborhood was an abyss of crime and garbage, with the Rochdale Canal half-dry and filled with shopping trolleys, burnt-out cars, and the corpses of junkies. They took the space because no one else wanted it. Now, it's a fashionable district, and the canal has water and restored pleasure-cruising narrowboats in it.

In front of the posh new apartments was a makeshift tribute to the man who made the club and who made Manchester spring to life: Tony Wilson, who died days before. It was an odd tribute, in a corner that bore no traces of his time there, but it was sweet to see. Tony was a bit of a charlatan, but Factory Records was the real punk rock ideal -- there were never any contracts with the artists -- and he was a true creative risk-taker, and embodied a kind of wild Northern devil-may-care attitude that Manchester is rightly proud of.

Not far from there is Manchester's loveliest pub, Peveril of the Peaks, a glazed-tile chocolate box of a place bursting with flowerboxes, Art Nouveau swirls, and Victorian charm. Built in 1840, but obviously redesigned much later, it is surrounded now by traffic and office towers. Inside lies England's greatest treasure: real ale. Manchester, doesn't seem to have that many great pubs, unlike Liverpool, which has three spectacular pubs on every corner, each more fabulous than the last. Manchester's pubs are intimidating and seem closed off to the street; but not this one. It's the prettiest pub I've ever been in. And the beer is delicious.

I don't normally drink beer; I don't like most American beer, even the craft brews. There's something about American hops I don't like (and my favorite English beer is Mild). But in England, I drink the beer, and wish I could drink more, but when you're walking around a city, and you have a bladder that holds about a tablespoon, it's a problem. Drinking beer means keeping a toilet close by; every pint means three trips for me. And of course, the best place to find a toilet in a strange city is another pub; and it's rude to use the Gents without buying something, so now I'm sitting there with another pint, and another three trips soon to follow... this makes walking tours difficult. It also makes motor control difficult at an embarrassingly early time of day, and causes Mrs. Fnarf to make disapproving faces and noises. Trust me, this is not something you ever want to see.

There are still pockets of hulking mills complete with a few of the smokestacks that once filled the view in the paintings of L.S. Lowry and the poetry of William Blake, the places where a new Jerusalem was builded. They've been quiet for decades, and their facades cleaned, but their size and heavy repetitive brick presence still has power. The Cambridge Street Mills, just south of the city center, and the massive, stunning blocks along Redhill Street in Ancoats still testify to the industrial might of the world's first industrial society. Ancoats is a fascinating place; half-crumbling, with massive blocks of brick leading on to entire blocks of rubble, boarded-up pubs, and scary-looking housing estates.

In this district, while photographing the old fire station on Goulding Street, built in 1870 and largely destroyed by fire inside in 2002, I was approached by a rather threatening looking fellow. He turned out to be the owner, and was not happy about me taking pictures. I think he thought I was from the council, or some developer, and had some nefarious motive in mind. Once I had convinced him I was just a dumb tourist from America, he changed his tune and was very friendly and shook my hand vigorously. I get the impression that every Brit has recently been to Vancouver, BC, so they know where Seattle is. I couldn't testify to the full text of what he said to me, as Mancunian is almost impenetrable speech to me -- Mancs sound a bit like barking dogs to me, with some of the same vowels but none of the lilt of the Liverpudlians a mere thirty miles away.

Near the fire station is my favorite street in Manchester, Anita Street. This street began its life as the first council row in the world with running water and sewer in every house, as Britain's cities recoiled from the horrors of the early eighteenth-century slums, with their cholera-infested tiny back-to-back houses in closed courts with sewage running through them. Anita Street was a named Sanitary Street to mark a new era of housing, but the residents didn't care for the social laboratory implications of that name and blacked out the "S" and the "ry", and the new name stuck. It's still council housing today, some of the prettiest, if quite modest, you'll find.

That night, we met some people we knew, a charming couple of transsexuals who took us to Canal Street, in the gay area, where we drank rosé and ate delicious food in the late sunshine of the nicest night of the summer, possibly the ONLY nice night of this summer. The light on the canal, the sparkle of the wine, the sunset, the pretty people strolling arm in arm -- this was a far cry from the Manchester of the Industrial Revolution, or Morrissey, for that matter!

Afterwards, they took us to see the statue of Alan Turing, one of Britain's greatest, and saddest, heroes. Turing was the math genius who laid the foundations for the invention of the computer, and during WWII he ran the unit at Bletchley Park that cracked the Enigma code that allowed the Allies to read all of the encrypted Nazi communications. You could say he won the war for us. His reward was a criminal conviction for homosexuality, and a crude chemical castration with injections of hormones to "cure" him, which drove him to suicide. He ate a poisoned apple, and his likeness in bronze is posed in a Manchester park, seated on a bench, with an apple in his hand. A simple and moving tribute to a brilliant man, horribly abused by the country he helped save.

Next: Manchester Ship Canal
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Old Oct 8th, 2007, 04:27 PM
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fnarf999:

I was just a tad put off by your description of the BA flight attendant 'a very attractive woman, hardly English-looking at all'.

Enjoyed reading the rest of your trip report and look forward to more of your mundane stories.

Sandy


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Old Oct 8th, 2007, 04:43 PM
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That was a joke, Sandy! I'm sorry if my terrible sense of humor didn't come through. Many English women are beautiful. Not in Blackpool, where I'm headed next, of course....
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Old Oct 8th, 2007, 05:40 PM
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LOl fnarf, this is very funny and a most enjoyable read ! I have been reading bits to my husband..we are both giggling..(well, he doesn't actually giggle but he is chuckling a lot ) I always wanted to go to Blackpool!

My son loved the train pullling into NewCastle and the conductor or whomever it is that makes the announcements, singing them instead

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Old Oct 8th, 2007, 07:28 PM
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The Manchester Ship Canal

After the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened for business in 1830, the cotton merchants of Manchester had an easy way to get the cotton to their mills from the ships that brought it from America, Egypt, and India. Before that, they had to send the loads on the long, slow canal journey up the treacherous Mersey to the Bridgewater Canal, on small narrowboats. But the railway had two problems: you had to pay the railway company, and you had to pay the docks. Liverpool's dock system was the first, and biggest, in the world, but Manchester didn't like paying them.

In 1894, they opened a solution: the Manchester Ship Canal, a wide, high-capacity direct waterway, 36 miles long, from Eastham Lock on the Wirral side of the Mersey, paralleling the dangerous, unpredictably silty Mersey, and avoiding the Liverpool docks altogether. The ocean-going vessels didn't need to be unloaded at all, until they got to Salford Quays in Greater Manchester. A whole host of industry sprang up along the canal, including petroleum refining, chemical works, and automobile shipping.

Today, the cotton business is long gone, as are most of the other industrial uses, but Mersey Ferries runs a boat up and down the canal on one of the most interesting tours I've ever been on.

We started at Salford Quays in the morning. Salford is a separate municipal body from the Manchester, but the two cities are contiguous. The only difference you notice as you approach the Quays on the tram is the sudden appearance of loads of "Kill Gill" and "Glazer Out" graffiti put up by disaffected Manchester United fans who are unhappy that their precious football club is now owned by an American, Malcolm Glazer (Gill is the club's finance director). Soon we see the frightening hulk of Old Trafford, their glitzy stadium, on the far side of the quay, and queue up next to MV Royal Daffodil, one of the famous Ferries Cross the Mersey, pressed today into special duty on the canal here at Liverpool's great commercial rival.

The crowd here is quite different than we've seen elsewhere heretofore in England. They are older, mostly in their sixties, and I am not the only one clutching a fancy camera and pile of OS maps. Some are just out for a nice day on the water, but there are quite a few trainspottery types as well, nice, intelligent, attractive folks with a keen interest in industrial heritage, like me. The cruise is so popular they've had to put on extra sailings. I'm right at home here!

The canal is almost empty today, and most days. It is wholly owned by the Manchester Ship Canal Company, and is considered in its entirety to be an extension of Manchester docks. Special permission is required for entry, so you don't get many pleasure boats the way you do on the narrow canals operated by British Waterways. While the canal is not very important for shipping anymore, modern ships having long since outgrown it, it is still a working waterway and thus difficult for pleasure boats.

Almost immediately out of Salford, we begin passing major engineering landmarks. The Centenary Lift Bridge was built in 1995. After it is the famous pair of swing bridges at Barton: the Barton Swing Bridge, carrying the road, and the incredible Barton Swing Aqueduct, which carries the Bridgewater Canal over the MSC. This is a rotating trough that swings the water of the canal around a central pivot to allow ships to pass. It replaces an earlier fixed aqueduct by James Bridley that carried the Bridgewater over this stretch of the River Irwell. You can still see the remains of the earlier aqueduct's supports. The swinging trough carries 800 tons of water. Seeing this marvel was so exciting for Mrs. Fnarf that she was moved to say "yes, dear, that's nice" over her cup of tea. For my part, I was nearly hopping out of my shoes to finally see this beautiful work of Victorian ingenuity.

There are several other swing bridges along the route. It never ceases to amaze me how such a huge lump of metal can pivot so effortlessly around.

At Barton there is also the first of several locks on the canal, which drop us down towards sea level by the time we enter the Mersey at the far end. These are significantly larger and more complicated than the hand-operated ones you see on narrowboat canals.

In addition to industrial views, much of the canal passes through pleasant green English countryside. At first you can see remnants of the old brick and stone walls of Trafford Park, the estate of the original landowner here, whose holdings long predate the canal. Commentary was provided along the route, much of which was rather amusingly vague: "on your left you can see a great deal of greenery" and "as you can see the canal is very popular with a variety of birds; several kinds of birds are visible to your right". Still, I give the woman credit for being able to talk almost nonstop for six hours; that's an iron set of pipes for sure!

All along the canal you can see remnants of Britain's industrial past: docks and piers. At one point there is a huge metal recycling facility, with a mountain of rusting steel and iron being cut up and loaded into rail cars. Other spots feature vast tank farms holding petroleum or other chemicals. Ford had an early plant here. The American company Westinghouse had a huge plant here, making turbines and generators as Metropolitan Vickers. A large flour mill still operates on the north bank.

Many of the plant sites are closed or derelict now. There isn't nearly the intensity of heavy industry here as there once was; by the 1960s, the area was in steep decline. You can see some of these vast factory sites on Google Satellite.

See for instance http://tinyurl.com/yuefjz, where the rash of red and blue dots at top center, just south of where the upper Mersey flows into the canal, is a zillion cars being shipped (zoom in to see them -- is your Nissan here?).

Or http://tinyurl.com/3yu28l, where you can make out the church built in the middle of the Runcorn industrial estate, surrounded by miles of tarmac, for the use of the dockworkers.

At Runcorn is another engineering wonder: the Runcorn Railway Bridge, across the ship canal and the Mersey, built in 1868 by William Baker for the London and North Western Railway. Its beautiful wrought-iron box girder span was once the world's longest of its type. The road bridge next to it was built in 1961 and replaces a transporter bridge -- a movable section of roadway that was carried back and forth across the canal and river by cables. Sadly it is gone, but the light green arch of the newer bridge is impossibly graceful against the sky.

Widnes was once the center of Britain's chemical industry, and while that industry is mostly gone, its poisonous legacy remains. However, remediation of some of the sites of soap works, salt mines, and United Alkali has resulted in the reclamation of a surprisingly beautiful wildlife reserve area.

The Mersey at this point and beyond is a vast tidal mud flat, almost impossible to navigate, and separated from the ship canal by a simple wall. Locks at Runcorn are disused now. The River Weaver enters, and you pass scenes of sheep grazing on the grass of the tidal flats, and then you pass the mind-boggling works of Ellesmere Port. Most prominent are Shell Oil's Stanlow refinery, of 1,900 acres, a former ICI plant, and a large Vauxhall factory, still in operation though much reduced from its peak utilization. Stanlow seen from the canal is unlike anything visible from the roadway (or anyplace else): the tanks and color-coded pipelines seemingly go on forever.

At the end of the trip, coming up towards Birkenhead, we entered the Queen Elizabeth docks, having some company for a change -- a large merchant vessel coming the other way. Watching the captain put this craft into the lock, a few bare inches to spare on either side, was very impressive, especially if you're as poor a car parker as I am.

After we pass this last lock into the open Mersey, we circled past the booming construction site formerly known as "Liverpool". The view of the Anglican Cathedral, Britain's largest, has partly been wrecked by a vast new glass arena which looks like a pair of dragonfly wings. In the center of town there is a forest of cranes, and a number of new glass boxes have sprouted up just north of the Three Graces -- the famous trio of office buildings that have signaled the commercial power of this city for the past century or so: the Dock Offices, the Cunard Building, and the Royal Liver Insurance building with its brace of liver birds surveying the scene.

Liverpool is another chapter on another day; this afternoon we only had time to walk around the commercial center and grab a quick pint at Liverpool's oldest pub, Ye Hole in Ye Wall (and please don't pronounce "ye" as "yee" -- it's pronounced "the" -- that's not really a "y", it's a thorn, an old English letter no longer used except as here).

I did get to admire again my favorite Liverpool building, Oriel Chambers, built in 1864 by Peter Ellis. It is startlingly modern, looking more like a building from the 1920s in Chicago or New York, with a facade almost entirely of glass, with gorgeous oriel windows with the thinnest frames ever seen til then, of stone dressed to look like iron. It was hated at the time for its lack of Gothic or Classical ornamentation, and Ellis only ever received one other commission, but today it is strikingly beautiful in a completely modern way.

We took the bus back to Manchester, getting a fine view of the motorway, and ate a rather bizarre Indian (actually Pakistani or Bangladeshi, as most "Indian" restaurants in Britain are) meal, at a place with a wall-sized menu but only two dishes actually available -- chicken or lamb?

Next: Full English Breakfast
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Old Oct 8th, 2007, 07:55 PM
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I'm totally enjoying your humour - I was born and spent 20+ years living in Bradford so I was surrounded by the industrial heritage you mention.

Then again - there is the most beautiful countryside within easy reach.

I bet you'd love this http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/ll...eyfiverise.htm

Scarlett - Blackpool??? You'd only go once, just make sure it's when the "lights" are on
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Old Oct 8th, 2007, 08:14 PM
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fnarf999 - This is most fascinating reading. Are you a writer by profession? If not, you should consider freelancing; might send off this piece to Conde Nast?

Peter Ellis sounds like he could have been the model for Howard Roark in The Fountainhead. A man before his time, eh?

I'm SO looking forward to the next installment! Thank you for sharing!

Paula
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Old Oct 8th, 2007, 08:34 PM
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Fascinating reading, thanks.
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Old Oct 8th, 2007, 09:49 PM
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<<I have a tragic, crippling interest in industrial heritage: trains, bridges, steam engines, brick warehouses, mills, docks, ships, oil depots and chemical works. My wife has an interest in things that aren't there any more, like shuttered shops. We both have a rare form of the Anglophilia disease; neither of us is interested in Princess Di or palaces or stately homes or gents in red coats and big black furry hats. We like caffs that haven't changed since 1963 and tacky postcards and railway station newsagents and clocks that don't tell the right time and dirty streets and rain. We both enjoy some of the saddest and unloveliest things about Britain the best. We'd rather eat fish and chips than braised medallions of artichokes in a bed of raspberry rocket or whatever. We both like the North.>>

My kind of people - ok I'll continue reading now
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 12:40 AM
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Its always good to see someone who goes to the less travelled places and i like your style of writing. V Funny and descriptive.
 
Old Oct 9th, 2007, 12:43 AM
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Great stuff.

But, since in spite of your unerring insight, frequent good taste and terrific writing style you've committed practically the greatest sin possible in my book (having a good word to say for that poseur-ridden pseudo-city at the east end of the Ship Canal), I hope you'll forgive one small historical correction.

"After the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened... the cotton merchants... had an easy way to get the cotton to their mills"

Oddly they didn't. That was certainly why Liverpool's venture capitalists subscribed to the railway - but the railway never got any serious cotton-freighting business, and what actually happened was a lesson for all new businesses that think they're going to "create new paradigms" or whatever other nonsense gets into the Red Herrings.

The second the railway started, the Duke Of Bridgewater slashed freight rates on his canal and the bargeowners zapped up the speed and efficiency of their transhipment. More importantly, the merchants realised that it really didn't matter whether it took two days or two hours for cotton and finished goods to move the 30 miles, and that transhipment onto barges at Liverpool, and from barges onto mills' private wharves at the other end was a great deal easier than messing about with getting goods to trains, then dragging them to the mills in penny parcels on horse-drawn carts.

BUT, the merchants discovered, getting themselves to Liverpool in two hours transformed their ability to negotiate for newly arrived cotton. Plus of course, the train let them get out of their horrid little village and into civilisation a lot quicker. And the rest of the trading population of South Lancs made similar discoveries, so by the end of the railway's first year passenger traffic between the two cities had grown tenfold, and all the stagecoaches, bar two old blokes who thought this steam stuff would never take off, had been put out of business. The railway's business model in the prospectus was all about freight: in reality, it got its income from infinitely more passenger traffic than anyone ever dreamt possible

Most intra-Britain freight remained waterborne until early in the 20th century. The central lesson of all this - that trains really aren't very suitable for lugging most kinds of freight round Britain - was immediately understood by the 19th century business community, who realised how limited trains are for freight here. But in the past 30 years, all kinds of armchair experts have taken to lecturing those of us who work for a living about why we ought to ignore the lessons of history.

The Ship Canal was then developed not because of dissatisfaction with the trains, which almost no-one used for freight. It was dissatisfaction with congestion and extortion at Liverpool docks, and with the fact that Mancunians could no longer build factories accessible by barge.

Not to mention, of course, the fact that Mancies are born with a deep sense of resentment at having been born in such a dump when they're so close to the greatest city in the universe, that they've always been plotting ways of undermining us.
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 12:54 AM
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flanner, that is very interesting. Thanks for posting that.

fnarf999, what an interesting approach and and interesting trip report.
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 04:03 AM
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When you went to Runcorn, did you see the
Anderton Boat Lift?
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 04:26 AM
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I'm looking forward to the kestrel strangling installment with interest.
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 09:41 AM
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I tried unsuccessfully to find any kestrel strangling going on. Unfortunately the closest I could get was a little pigeon-slapping at MOSI. The North has changed, Audere; as shown by the sad fact that the "Myth of the North" exhibition at Manchester's Lowry Museum (a later chapter) tried but was unsuccessful in finding a stuffed whippet to display. Flat caps and Vera Lynn 78s, sure, but no stuffed whippets anywhere in the north of England.

Thank you, Flanner, for untangling the hash I made of the Ship Canal history. In my defense, all of my reference material from the trip is still on a slow boat making its way around Cape Horn, unless a striking Royal Mail employee has just chucked it into the harbor.

The basic point to take away is that the Ship Canal was an attempt to avoid the Liverpool Docks.

I understand your antipathy towards your great commercial rival to the east, but I have to say I can't agree. I thought Manchester was terrific. The only thing I would have liked better would be if they had left the beautiful coat of grime on the buildings, both there and in Liverpool (the Liver Building is gleaming white, not brooding black, these days).

Flanner will not agree, but Manchester is clearly the Capital of the North these days. Their downtown revival is ten years further along. Liverpool is one of the great cities of the world, but it's at a bit of a dead end, a terminus; it's not really a gateway to anything anymore, not even Wales, while Manchester is the gateway to the entire north of England.

But the rivalry between the two makes for spectacular entertainment, and has for two hundred years. We will be returning to Liverpool.

As an example of the dispute between the two, we ended up not having enough time to visit the Lowry during our Manchester stay, and returned with our Liverpudlian friend (Mrs. Fnarf's old boyfriend from her time at University there several centuries ago). The amazing thing was, he had not been to Manchester FOR TWENTY FIVE YEARS, and even then only as an away supporter of Liverpool at Old Trafford.

He continually muttered that his mates would never believe where he'd been -- to MANCHESTER, clearly a less likely destination than the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. The Lowry is within sight of Old Trafford, which clearly upset him.

My wife has another old friend who lives in Wigan, halfway between Liverpool and Manchester, who in her fifty years on this earth has NEVER VISITED LIVERPOOL, something like twelve miles from her home.

If you read an excellent little book called "Pies and Prejudice" by Stuart Maconie, who grew up near Wigan right on the border between "Scouse" and "Woolyback" (Lancastrian), you will find much more on this topic of northern town and city rivalry and insularity.

Unfortunately, you can't borrow my copy, because British Airways apparently dipped the suitcase in which it had been packed into a pond of standing water, soaking the entire contents. The book, now dried, is now larger and fluffier than Don King's head, and all the pages have fallen out -- it's more of a pile than a bound book. Thanks, BA!

Josser, I did not get a chance to see the Anderton Lift, nor Pontcyssylte Aqueduct, nor Ironbridge, nor any of a dozen other landmarks that were on my list. Bizarrely, my wife believes that she should have some sort of input into our itinerary, and even more bizarrely didn't want to see any old boat lifts. Unaccountable. My arguments, even though they prominently featured detailed statistical and historical references, all went for naught, defeated by a simple "do they have an H&M there?"

Sarge56, I AM a writer -- I wrote all this lot, didn't I? Not by profession, though.

Anyways, on the Full English Breakfast.

Our hotel was right next to one of Britain's most charming contributions to civilization, the chrome cafe. The Abergeldie Cafe, by name, it is essentially unchanged since it opened in something like 1970, and features a high counter and lots of booths done in well-used wood and orange leatherette. Not as glorious as the New Picadilly in London, but charming nonetheless. And they serve breakfast.

Now, the details of a Full English have even more partisan disputes than Liverpool v. Manchester, and every one I tried was slightly different. The biggest area of disagreement seems to be on the inclusion of fried hash-browns or fried bread. I believe the correct answer is "both", but here's what I had at the Abergeldie:

Four large slices of bacon, each as big as my hand -- meaty English back bacon, not American streaky bacon; four sausages, containing a guaranteed ten percent or more of actual meat; two black puddings (sausage made of pork fat and beef blood); two eggs; an ocean of baked beans, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms; a bit of hash browns; six slices of toast; and a pot of tea.

I believe staff were standing by with the engine running and a pair of jumper cables in case my heart stopped beating.

On the subject of black pudding, I have to say that I have previously in this forum maligned its deliciousness and authenticity, and been corrected by Flanner. I was wrong, extremely wrong, utterly dead wrong. Black pudding is unbelievable, and is now my favorite food, though it is unclear when I will ever be able to enjoy the one I have in the freezer, since Mrs. Fnarf objects to the smell of it being cooked, and she unaccountably has power in our household, which extends even to the cooking of foodstuffs. Seriously. If a man can't even fry a little something in his own house without being told off, just because he might "ruin my good pan" and "fill the house with stinky smoke" and "almost burn the house down again", well! Honestly!

But at least I was able to enjoy my full English at the Abergeldie. She liked the Abergeldie even more than I did, I think, even though she didn't have any meat products at all with her chaste eggs. I could seriously spend the rest of my life sitting in a cafe like that one, eating my black pud and reading about the Rugby World Cup in seven different newspapers.

Brits sure do like their newspapers. Aside from the seeming dozens of titty-full tabloids, whose articles take up less space than their headlines or their ads for weight loss and hangover cure, and the dozens of right-wing tabs that lack the naked ladies but have even tinier articles, all of which seem to be about sending the darkies back to wherever they came from, there are a variety of serious papers matched in the States as a whole but not in any single place. Even in relatively obscure places you can gather up the Times and the Independent and the Telegraph and the Gaurdian (Grauniad), and have more seriously thought-out and investigative reportage from all parts of the political spectrum, than you could get anywhere in the States unless you lived next to a specialty newsstand in a very large city. Most people in the US can't just walk into their local 7-11 and choose from the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, or Chicago Tribune in addition to their local papers.

The "quality" papers were full of long, multipage articles about this place called "Iraq", which I remember hearing something about a few years ago but has seemingly dropped out of American news more recently. It sounds like a dreadful place. I can't imagine why anyone would want to go there.

(Forgive me, I'm an American, and thus my sarcasm muscles are atrophied; this is the best I can do).

And of course there's still hundreds of pages of Britney Spears news in the next stack over if you should need it.

One problem with a Full English Breakfast is that it can rather deaden one's resolve to get up and get moving. It can in fact make it difficult for the untrained physique to pump one's blood all the way down to the lower extremities and back up again. So the answer to the question "so, what are we doing today?" becomes "um. I, uh. The uh, we could. Is there a train? I wanted to, uh. Look, this girl is naked, right here in the newspaper."

The passage of time in this report is a little chopped and compressed, so some things will be covered on the wrong day. For the sake of the story, we got on the train and went to Blackpool.

Next: Blackpool.
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 12:41 PM
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If Mrs fnarf is worried about your cooking, you might refer her to this example:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/7025782.stm
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 12:51 PM
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Well, the police have never had to close off the road, but there's a first time for everything!
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 01:02 PM
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I am shocked to discover that we traveled down the Ship Canal on MV Snowdrop, not Royal Daffodil.
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 11:42 PM
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fnarf:

You didn't make a hash of the Ship Canal Co history. Your account is pretty much the version taught in schools (well, at my schools anyway) and asserted or implied in most popular histories.

But a number of articles in specialist journals during the 90s made it clear popular history was just wrong: apart from a couple of specialised products - like coal from mines - England after 1830 never developed rail freight seriously in the way that, for example, the US did, and the Liverpool-Manchester railway simply never got any meaningful freight business.

More controversially (indeed saying this is tantamount to calling Nelson Mandela a murdering terrorist), it's now clear that the reason rail freight never really took off was because it was (and still is) a pretty useless way of moving most goods around Britain.

Try saying that in the vicinity of a Guardian or Independent reader and watch the explosion.
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 11:49 PM
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<<Not to mention, of course, the fact that Mancies are born with a deep sense of resentment at having been born in such a dump when they're so close to the greatest city in the universe, that they've always been plotting ways of undermining us.>>


Ah the rantings of on of those poor specimens unfortunate enough to be born on the wrong side of the Pennines.
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