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Beatleland

Omigod omigod!!!! Today I saw like so much Beatles stuff it was crazy! Like incredible. Everywhere. So incredibly cool.

Penny’s daughter Rosie and her boyfriend Phil organised what they called the Cheapskates Magical Mystery Tour. The real thing, which we ran into several times today, costs many pounds and involves large busses to various Beatles sites. We drove with a Google map, and hit these bases: Penny Lane, where we watched the inhabitants of a tour bus take pictures of each other by the street sign beneath “the blue suburban skies” – because the sun actually came out; Strawberry Field – because it’s not Fields it’s Field, a fence and sign covered with loving graffiti; John’s school Quarrybank; St. Peter’s, the church where John and Paul met at a fair for the first time, and also, apparently, where Eleanor Rigby is buried – we saw many Eleanors and many Rigbys but not together, though I was thrilled also to see the grave of an Alice Leadbeater, which, since many of my mother’s relatives came from around here, may very well be a relative of mine, there in the graveyard of the church WHERE PAUL AND JOHN GOT TOGETHER!

Then on to Menlove Avenue where John lived with his Aunt Mimi – a much more respectable house than I’d ever imagined. John didn’t want us to know that his was by far the wealthiest of the Beatle upbringings. And then … Mecca, 20 Forthlin Road, the tiny ordinary rowhouse where Paul McCartney grew up. Both his house and John’s, and I suppose the other two’s, have been bought by the National Trust, which manages all Britain’s historic monuments. Imagine, these ordinary Liverpool houses are historic monuments, even Paul’s where people are still living.

We took a bus to the centre of town, to explore Albert Wharf, which has been gentrified for tourists, and to take the “Liverpool Duck,” a bright yellow amphibious bus which, it turned out, was originally built in the U.S for the Normandy invasion. It took us around Liverpool showing off various sites, and then into the water for a few more and much riotious laughter provided by the M.C., whose accent was so strong I could barely understand him. I had no idea that Liverpool was once a very wealthy city, with landmarks and mansions to prove it – though unfortunately much of the wealth came from the slave trade, which, with other shipping, dominated finances here. Apparently a few years ago there was a move to rename all the streets in Liverpool named after slave-traders, including Penny Lane, but the initiative was dismissed as impractical.

But Liverpool has many parks, much going on – a very impressive city.

We went to the Bluecoat, the first arts centre in England and still going strong, where Penny’s son Tom works – saw art exhibits and videos and had coffee in the sunshine, then set off again for more Beatles – Mercer Street, where the Cavern was and its recreation lives on. I went here in 1965, overjoyed to be in the Cavern where the Beatles began, though, humiliatingly for a 14 year old, I was with my mother. The real Cavern has been destroyed but there’s a recreation a few doors down which does not indicate, anywhere, that it’s not the real thing. It blasts Beatles music and is full of cabinets of memorabilia and German tourists taking pictures of each other in front of them.

Then the piece of resistance – the Hard Day’s Night Hotel. Surely there’s no other four star hotel in the world where Beatles music warbles at you the moment you open the door. This is for the true fanatics; a staffer told us that the group Lynnerd Skynnerd (?) were doing a show in Manchester but had come here to stay tonight, had had a tour of the Cavern and were in awe of everything. This same staffer took us from the hotel lobby down into the nether regions, where we saw a reception room full of Beatles photos, the chapel where people get married surrounded by photos of the Beatles “with their favourite wives” – no Cynthia Lennon or Heather, Paul’s latest disaster, here. And to the Hard Day’s Night room, with many records, magazines and everything else on display. It was overwhelming, all this stuff, and even I had had enough by the time we left. We went to a lovely old pub called Rigby’s, not because it’s associated with Eleanor but because it’s a fine old Liverpool name, and it was a great relief that they were playing generic sixties rock – “Why don’t you fill me up, buttercup” – and no Beatles.

Still, that music is guaranteed to bring me joy, so I spent much of the day singing along. And it was thrilling to see these sites, not only for me but for Rosie, who’s 27, and her mother, who’s a little younger than I. We finished the day, fittingly, at a Turkish restaurant. No Beatles here.

*************************************************

Yesterday, Penny and I managed to get out of Sheffield and drove through the harsh sheep-dotted moors; had a fine English lunch at a very old pub in Snake Pass, and arrived mid-afternoon in Manchester. We went first to the Lowry museum to see the work of this marvellous Liverpool painter, a solitary eccentric who had a lonely life but found his calling in painting the industrial landscape of his city and the inner landscape of his soul.

We drove downtown in time to realise that the Manchester team, United, was playing a world cup final against Barcelona in Rome that very evening. The streets downtown were filled with young men in United shirts, already drinking and singing team songs, and young women mostly there, I think, to hunt the young men. Penny had researched the oldest, quaintest pub for us to have dinner in before the ballet, but it was jammed with United fans. Every pub was jammed, and the buzz of testosterone in the air was frightening. We finally found a Japanese restaurant which was quiet, though the Australian pub across from the opera house where the ballet was playing was teeming with noise and energy. My greatest fear was either that Manchester would win, in which case the celebrations of all these men would tear apart the downtown, or that they would lose, in which case the anger of all these men would tear apart the downtown – despite the large swarm of police hovering nearby. But, in the end, when we came out after the ballet, it was clear that United had lost – there was deflation in the air, not helped by the pouring rain. No riots and violence, just a lot of very disappointed young men.

While they raged and drank, we saw the Northern Ballet Theatre from Leeds in a lovely rendition of “Romeo and Juliet” with music by Prokofiev – heaven, always. It was thrilling to see that the artistic director of this fine troupe, David Nixon, was born in Chatham, Ontario and trained by the National Ballet of Canada. The production was exquisite and had some interesting twists – for example, Mrs. Capulet was having an obvious affair with Tybalt. That one is new to me. But mostly, there’s that grand, glorious score.

Rosie and Phil have been marvellously welcoming; Liverpool has been a complete delight. I would try to think of a snappy Beatles song title to finish with, but it’s midnight and I’m full of Turkish food and worn out. The long and winding road. We all live in a yellow submarine. All you need is love.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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