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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)

Oct 10th, 2007, 03:57 AM
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hi, fnarf,

WHat a great report and great trip too. DH went to Salford uni many years ago, but strangely has never felt the desire to go back and show me the delights of the chemistry tower, whence they used apparently to launch flour bombs upon the innocents below.

I liked the description of teh full-english breakfast; IMO it should NOT include hash browns, but devilled kidneys and kedgeree are optional extras.

your black pudding is now trendy - it is served with scallops in posh restaurants in the soft south. Don't suppose you want to eat it again now!

keep it coming,

regards, ann

PS I'm sure you know about the terrific engineering heritage in Cornwall. Have you ever managed to see the programmes made about Trevithick et al by Fred Dibnah? he was a steeple jack "discovered" years ago by the BBC who made many wonderful programmes about steam, engingeering, etc. etc. a great lancastrian accent too!
annhig is offline  
Oct 10th, 2007, 04:09 AM
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Great reportr, fnarf, and it's nice to read about less-visited places.

I am also a Manchester fan - DH worked there for several months, 3 or 4 years ago, and I really enjoyed going there for weekends. We found quite a few good pubs, my favourite being the 2 smallest pubs I've ever been in - the Circus and the Grey Horse/Greyhound ? We are also fans of mild & found it quite easily obtainable.

Thanks for the tip about the Stauart Maconie book, too - I have put on my 'to read' list. He's currently on TV presenting a series on 'TV towns' - towns & the TV programmes they've featured in. So far he's done Edinburgh, Manchester & Liverpool, with London next up. Plus Birmingham, I think, we but didn't record that one as we don't really know the place.

caroline_edinburgh is offline  
Oct 10th, 2007, 04:10 AM
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Great reportr, fnarf, and it's nice to read about less-visited places.

I am also a Manchester fan - DH worked there for several months, 3 or 4 years ago, and I really enjoyed going there for weekends. We found quite a few good pubs, my favourite being the 2 smallest pubs I've ever been in - the Circus and the Grey Horse/Greyhound ? We are also fans of mild & found it quite easily obtainable.

Thanks for the tip about the Stauart Maconie book, too - I have put on my 'to read' list. He's currently on TV presenting a series on 'TV towns' - towns & the TV programmes they've featured in. So far he's done Edinburgh, Manchester & Liverpool, with London next up. Plus Birmingham, I think, we but didn't record that one as we don't really know the place.

Caroline (originally also from the drier side of the Pennines)

caroline_edinburgh is offline  
Oct 10th, 2007, 06:30 AM
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Fodors really should have a 'tapping foot' icon.

fnar - more please
alya is offline  
Oct 11th, 2007, 02:44 PM
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Sorry, Alya! For some reason my employer has no interest at all in Blackpool, so I'm having trouble finding the time for this.

My Blackpool report may displease the more refined, sensitive sort of English person, much as Blackpool itself does. Please remember that no matter how many gauche or disgusting people, things and events are described here, I am well aware that they do not represent the whole of Britain, and also remember that at all times I was having a stupendous amount of fun.

We were warned by our hotelier, well up the North Promenade, to avoid the area south of the famous Tower, as that is where the tackier people went, not "quality" like ourselves. Like many of the nicer sort of hotel these days, he had a strict "no stag and hen" policy, and even directed our attention to an article about a nearby place that had been trashed by a group of young men, furniture destroyed, walls smeared with excrement, vomit in the hallways.... We didn't see anything like that. But we did of course immediately headed south.

I've read a lot about "faded" Blackpool, which had me expecting closed-down rides and boarded up pubs and just a few stumbling alcoholics pitching in and out of the gutters, but the first thing you notice about Blackpool is that it is absolutely heaving with people.

I've seen the photographs from the forties and fifties, and while the sand itself was relatively empty -- no hordes of men in suits with rolled-up trousers and knotted handkercheifs on their heads, no fat ladies in housedresses reading the newspaper under an umbrella jammed in the sand. There were a few kids riding the donkeys on the beach, and building complicated damworks with bucket and spade. But along the promenade, it was a very different scene. Wall to wall.

Most of these people were drunk. Many of them, the ladies especially, were wearing matching outfits of some sort -- groups of eight or ten pink miniskirts with high heels, or matching hi-visibility vests with "Beaver Patrol -- Big Beaver", "Bald Beaver", "Shaved Beaver" and so on. The archetypical modern British hen parties were out in force, with L plates and giant inflatable penises, tottering along on impossibly high heels, to go with the impossibly short skirts and impossibly skimpy tops, wholly inadequate for the heavy, uh, job they were being asked to perform.

The boys also traveled in packs, but less organized. We rode in a tram with one, all track-suited and spotty, successfully confusing the conductor about who was paying what for whom, and braying about the (unlikely) romantic conquests ahead of them. "I want that one", they would say, pointing at likelies in the throng below them. "Hey, Bluey" one yelled out the window at a girl in a blue tube top. She turned to look, and the boy and his mates erupted in laughs and high-fives. I don't know if they were even old enough to drink, but I suspect they finished up the night drunk and disorderly, the courage of beer proving insufficient once again to land one of the imaginary compliant birds. Perhaps I'm naive.

The same could not be said for some of the other gentlemen we saw. Some of them looked like the only thing that was going to keep them out of some lucky girl's hotel room was a prison cell. While standing outside Coral Island, a massive pirate-themed arcade, we saw a fellow shouting incoherently, wearing a grass hula skirt with (possibly) nothing underneath. I wasn't motivated to take a closer look. Half the people there seemed to be in costume, with "Kiss Me Quick" cowboy hats (yes, really), or giant neon pink or green wigs.

At one point we took a break in a grimy but friendly pub to watch the football. My wife's been a Liverpool supporter since the early 80s, and I pretend to go along for the sake of family harmony. The regulars in the bar, who appeared to be mostly bikers and their diminutive, snaggle-toothed girlfriends, would take big gulps out of their drinks and then head back out to the doorway to continue chain-smoking. Inside, those of us watching the match (against Portsmouth) included a lovely couple decked out head to toe in brand-new Liverpool kit, the full top and bottom tracksuit combo, with replica shirt and, in her case, jewelry. Hers was red, his was black, to match the tragic dye job she was sporting on her straw-like hair. They were both 25 and looked 45, but they were good company, and we all had a good time (I suspect I had a better time than anyone there, as Liverpool squeaked by with an extremely tepid and unconvincing nil-nil draw). As we stumbled out into the afternoon sunshine, we said goodbye to our new friends, who were settling into a serious bout of binge drinking.

Despite the persistent raunchiness it was still a family's day out, with hundreds of kids of all sizes, shapes and descriptions on every block. Blackpool surely has the highest concentration of ice cream and candy floss (cotton candy to us Americans) and ice lollies and licorice rope vendors per kilometer anywhere in the world. It seems that one is no longer expected to buy a piece of Blackpool Rock; every shopfront was selling it by the dozen, or the ton. Frankly that's a little too much rock for me, but there were thousands of sugar-smeared faces all down the strand.

Other items sold in the shops included every kind of tacky souvenirs imaginable. I love tacky souvenirs, and spend a good hour poring over the cheap football pins, thimbles, red phone box keychains, magnets, lopsided Blackpool Towers and Winter Gardens. Most of the other patrons were more interested in the vomitous perfumes and the big samurai-style swords, which was a little worrying. Mrs. Fnarf found the most adorable fudge and taffy shop in the world and was happy; her moods can be most simply expressed as "needs chocolate" and "has chocolate".

One thing that did not make us happy were the Jolly Gollies, little golliwog black dolls of a sort that had become offensive to sell anywhere in America by about 1959. They were everywhere (we even saw them in posh York), but here in Blackpool the many black faces we saw walking the promenade passed by them without comment.

I was however very happy to see another relic of a less sophisticated time, the dirty postcard, featuring a brightly-colored cartoon of some embarrassing situation involving a bursting bra, a bare bottom, and a red faced misunderstanding over a naughty, naughty double-entendre. I must have bought a hundred of them, and had my picture taken sticking through a life-sized version on a pier.

Blackpools three piers are my favorite part. North Pier isn't that interesting, but Central Pier is a delight. It's got the tacky tourist shops -- I picked up a Preston North End pin for a pound that turned out to be white with corrosion on the back -- and the colorful rides, including a large ferris wheel, dodgems (bumper cars to Americans), a waltzer, merry-go-round, etc. These are the more sedate rides compared to the terrifying ones down at South Pier. All the way around the pier are original Victorian white cast-iron benches, which sparkle in the setting sun. It's really beautiful, especially if you've been in the bar down at the end for a while. South Pier, in addition to the insane bungee-drops and other rides that fling you into the stratosphere at high speed, has more color and noise and music.

If you don't get enough rides on the piers, there's Pleasure Beach, a vast amusement park near South Pier. Add these amusements to the miles of arcades, and I don't think there's anything like this anywhere in the world. It's like Coney Island, but ten times as big, and ten times as alive.

If rides aren't your thing, and you've tired of dropping 10p coins into the coin-slider machines, you have many psychics and seers to choose from, all of whom post faded pictures of celebrities outside, to give you the impression that Harrison Ford or Pamela Lee Anderson has been here, which I doubt. Not mystical? Visit Louis Tussauds Wax Museum, or one of the celebrity impersonator shows, or go up the Blackpool Tower. We didn't go in the Tower because they wanted too much money, and we were getting burned out on attractions, as well as just plain burned; we had gorgeous bright warm sunshine the whole time we were there. We did sit for a while with the old people in the Winter Garden cafe, which was fun. Here we really did see old gents holidaying at the seaside with a necktie on, which was oddly comforting.

One thing I will never, ever forget about Blackpool: the food. While we had excellent fish and chips at the chippie attached to Coral Island, we ate a later meal at a cafe in one of the arcades. I had "beef curry" which was chunks of mystery meat in about a gallon of what appeared to be straight HP sauce, over rice. Absolutely vile; one of the most disgusting things I have ever put in my mouth. On our second night, we ate in the Tower cafe, and listened in embarrassment as the drunk woman at the next table hurled abuse at the poor Polish waitress -- "I can't f---ing understand you, b----, anybody got a f---ing Polish-English dictionary? Take this s--- away, these are Polish chips, I want f---ing English chips" -- all at maximum volume and vitriol. To be fair, the food wasn't great, but abusing immigrants, or waitresses, is simply not acceptable behavior in my circles. An interesting sociological experience, though!

At breakfast in the hotel one morning, I decided to have the smoked haddock. I didn't realize I was going to get an entire haddock filet, more than a foot long! Delicious, but I could feel my clothes starting to shrink around the middle.

The hotel was sweetly old-fashioned. As happens to us regularly in English hotels, water started to pour through the ceiling into the closet from upstairs. It's better than Liverpool in 2003, when the water was pouring out through the overhead light fixture! But it was clean and well-kept, and very friendly.

After walking around some of the less salubrious areas of Blackpool's back streets, taking pictures and hoping not to be robbed by some of the hard-looking fellows standing around, and me buying the world's stupidest-looking flat cap off a barrow in the Abingdon Street Market, we bought our tickets for tomorrow's trip to York. Blackpool was the one city in Britain where we never heard another American accent, and maybe most of our countrymen wouldn't be caught dead in such a tasteless, plebian place; but I absolutely loved it. It was like seeing Britain, or a part of it at least, when she's not putting on airs for tourists -- not overseas tourists, anyways. She's devoted to simple fun and good times, without pretension or put-on snooty heritage or "class". No bowler hats or brollies, no pearls, no stately homes, and no royalty except the ones painted lopsidedly on decorative plastic plates. Blackpool's not a museum, it's a party. I wish we had one where I lived.

Next: We take the train to York.

fnarf999 is offline  
Oct 11th, 2007, 04:06 PM
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Another really good book on (mostly) architecture in the North is "Northern Pride: The Very Best of Northern Architecture...from Churches to Chip Shops". I wish I'd read it before we went; I might have gone to some other places, but he's very good on Liverpool, Manchester, York, etc.
fnarf999 is offline  
Oct 11th, 2007, 04:08 PM
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Oops! Left out the author. "Northern Pride" is by John Grundy, who also worked on the Pevsner Northumberland revision.
fnarf999 is offline  
Oct 11th, 2007, 08:48 PM
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Darn, fnarf999 is work getting in the way of the rest of your life? Priorities!!!

It does appear the Blackpool hasn't changed in the slighest the last 10 years or so since I visited.

My parents would take my sister and myself there every year - only on a daytrip though. When I married and had children we carried on the tradition and all 3 generations would visit together.

Good memories - I have the funniest picture of my youngest daughter sitting on the beach with her elbow on her knee and her hand under her chin (looking rather bored) watching my father using her bucket and spade to make a sandcastle He died in 2001 and I still miss him everyday so thanks for the smile.

Anyway! - onwards and upwards - how was York?
alya is offline  
Oct 11th, 2007, 09:05 PM
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Since you mentioned Fish and Chips you might appreciate this.

We left Yorkshire in the 80's and moved south and rarely bought F&C because they just didn't taste the same but whenever I visited my parents the first meal was from the local 'chippie' - fish, chips, fish cakes (not the southern [email protected]) and mushy peas.

Now 20 years later, I live in MA and instead of traveling 200 miles for F&C I can travel less than 10 miles to 'Ye Olde Fish and Chippe Shop' in Woonsocket RI.

RESULT!!!! - if only they sold mushy peas
alya is offline  
Oct 11th, 2007, 10:46 PM
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Thanks for the fond reminders of northern England. I wish you had spent more time in Liverpool!

Merseyheart is offline  
Oct 11th, 2007, 11:22 PM
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The only difference between southern fish and chips and northern ones is the dripping used in the north (even the Yorkshire fishcake peculiarity of fish sandwiched between layers of spud, then deepfried, I found in Weymouth a couple of weeks ago)

SURELY they don't use dripping in Massachusetts?
flanneruk is offline  
Oct 12th, 2007, 01:47 AM
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Surely, nothing drips in New England?
PatrickLondon is online now  
Oct 12th, 2007, 02:24 AM
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It's all a bit academic if they don't sell mushy peas isn't it?

Can you get a wally in New England?
audere_est_facere is offline  
Oct 12th, 2007, 03:45 AM
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fnarf, I'm really enjoying your "odd trip report" with it's wonderful combination of humour and detailed information. Here's to the mundane!

My mother's parents were born in Liverpool in 1880 so I've always had an interest in Victorian England. There's probably nothing left now of their old Toxteth neighbourhood but when I visited in the 1970s the street layout was still visable and I marvelled at how close together thay had been.

My husband and I have been to Ironbridge, New Lanark, near Glasgow, and Saltaire, near Bradford, all of which I strongly recommend. I also have fond memories of visiting the Museum of Everday Life in York with my parents. Many things that were archaic to me were familliar to them. I'm so glad that someone had the foresight to preserve these once common objects. There's a simmilar museum in the People's Palace in Glasgow and hopefully in many other places.
moolyn is offline  
Oct 12th, 2007, 04:40 AM
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I sometimes had nice fish & chips when I lived in London but never have in Edinburgh. I don't think it's just the cooking medium, people here just seem to like soggy chips (and pizza).

alya, can you buy tins of mushy peas anywhere ? That's what I have to do - keep a few tins in the cupboard, then heat one up while DH goes to the chippie on the rare occasion we are desperate enough. I've no idea where MA and FI are, I'm afraid, but I know there's a shop in Manhattan which sells old-fashioned British groceries like that. I did once try making my own, using dried peas, but thought they were no nicer - in fact possibly less nice - than Batchelor's.

fnarf, what a brilliant description of Blackpool ! I haven't been since I was a kid but it's made me quite fancy the idea of a weekend there !
caroline_edinburgh is offline  
Oct 12th, 2007, 04:53 AM
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Here's a recipe for mushy peas that both works everywhere in the world and is edible. Classic chip shop mushy peas fail on both accounts in my view, since dried marrowfats are available practically nowhere and produce pretty tasteless mushy peas anyway.

Take good ordinary frozen peas (NOT petits pois, which are too fussy for this). Prepare them in the normal way till they're about al dente. Wizz them through the processor with about a quarter their volume of single cream, and about half that (ie an eighth their volume) of butter. Season with salt and (essential, this) white, not black, pepper.

Not authentic. But the health of the fibre cancels out the effects of the cream, and ordinary peas have an edge to their taste which goes perfect with the cod. And tomato sauce with pasta wasn't authentic till about 400 years ago.
flanneruk is offline  
Oct 12th, 2007, 06:28 AM
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We were in Felixtowe in Suffolk last month and right by the shore was a rather grotty looking restaurant like a tin hut.
It offered "freshly caught fish and chips".
I do like my chips freshly caught.
It was a Thursday and low season, but the place was packed inside and out.
The fish was extremely fresh, the batter was light as a feather and the chips were plump and crisp.
There are wonderful chippies in Aldeburgh and Southwold too.
I reckon that you need to be near the coast to get good fish and chips.
MissPrism is offline  
Oct 12th, 2007, 07:49 AM
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That does sound nice, flanner, and I think I'll have to try it - but it's not mushy peas !

Having been down to Sheffield the other week and acquired a new bottle of Henderson's Relish, I'm looking forward to meat & potato pie, mash & mushy peas, with Henderson's on everything, on Sunday
caroline_edinburgh is offline  
Oct 12th, 2007, 09:17 AM
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I know I will instantly lose all credibility here, but I'm pretty indifferent to mushy peas, and the best ones I've ever had were in, uh, Australia, piled on top of a pie, with mashed potatoes, at Harry's Cafe de Wheels in Wooloomooloo.

I had some peas with my fish and chips here, and was, well, a bit bored. I had whole peas, too, in the Tower Cafe in Blackpool, which were completely awful. I ate every single one.

The best fish and chips we ate, in order: Lobster Pot, Liverpool (takeaway, eaten leaning on traffic cones in a construction site); The Fish Pan, Scarborough (upstairs, fabulous view); Coral Island, Blackpool (greasy and delicious); Leo Burdock's Dublin (disappointing -- lots of bones in -- but admittedly we were at the one on O'Connell Street, not the original).

I rate haddock as my favorite. We can get really good fish and chips here in Seattle (and some pretty crappy stuff too), but I don't think anyone uses drippings. If they do, they'd do everything in their power to hide that fact from the Food Nazis.

York coming up next. Big change of pace!
fnarf999 is offline  
Oct 12th, 2007, 12:27 PM
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I do remember a Fodors trip report from some time ago where someone had water coming in through the ceiling in to his/her hotel room in England. That must have been your previous Liverpool experience.

What bad luck to have it happen to you again, but you must be the best-humored guest ever.
WillTravel is offline  

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