London, Day 2

17 June, 2018
Rat Fink

As I fly backwards at 100 mph on the Virgin 10:20 to Manchester, listening to Revolver on my headphones, I reflect back on the last two days in London, and indeed, the last six days I’ve been on this odyssey. Would the Thriller be happy with all of this? I think so. I think he’s smiling down on me, and it makes me happy. It’s a melancholy happy, as those of you who’ve lost someone know. I’ll never be happy in the same way, ever again. And I think I’m getting accustomed to finding different ways to cope with that. I don’t imagine I’ll ever “arrive,” but I do know there are healthy ways to keep stabbing at it. I’m resolved to make the best of it.

Boy, did Miss Suzanne and I make a day of it yesterday! We started with breakfast at our hotel at 8 a.m., then took off for a day of nonstop craziness. It was the most fun I’ve had in ages, and I was delighted to have it with Suzanne. While the day was nuts, the mood was completely laid back, if you can imagine that. There was no We have to get to the next THING! attitude at all; rather, we said if we didn’t make a connection or the line was all the way around the block (like it was at Westminster Abbey), no bigs. We’d punt and do something else. I loved it. I was on vacation, and I wasn’t going to follow a list, and she felt the same way. First priority was to enjoy each other’s company after not having been together for four years — and did we ever do that! Such fun.

First up was the Tower of London. From Traitors’ Gate to the Crown Jewels to the world-famous ravens, it was a truly impressive experience. Also sobering, when you consider how severe the conditions were — especially for those convicted of crimes and awaiting punishment. As we looked down at Traitors’ Gate, I imagined the journey that prisoners of the Crown made, en route to their final destination (in life), looking at the heads of previous “criminals” on pikes on the tower bridge…then to make the final ascent up those stairs and to the Tower…just barbaric treatment.

Up next was Westminster Abbey. When our taxi dropped us off, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The line was almost all the way around the cathedral, three and four bodies across. And we had tickets already; this was the security line to just get past the desk and join another queue to wait your turn to file through. With just over 12 hours to see and do everything we thought we could fit in the day, it was decision time. Do we want to blow through two of our remaining hours standing in line, or get on to other things? Suzanne had been to the Abbey already, and I’d seen countless photos and documentaries…I know, not the same thing, but we pulled the plug on it in the interest of not having most of our London experience spent waiting in line. I’m glad we decided to move on, because we moved onto the Tube to St. John’s Wood — to Abbey Road.

Standing on the zebra and in front of the studios was like a circle being completed. I know it sounds silly to those who don’t understand, so I won’t try to codify the experience with words, because I probably couldn’t anyway. It’s the magical mystery that will forever remain so, and I’m fine with that.

It made my heart happy to hear Suzanne tell me how  touched she was that she got to be there to share this experience with me. It was very emotional, and I’m glad that, even though she’s not a big Fabs fan, her empathy for this hopeless addict came through loud and clear. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

After that, it was lunch at the Admiralty Pub, then off to scout out a hop-on/hop-off tour that would take us to the big-ticket places for a looksee. What fun for our eyeballs, and relief for our aching feet. We saw world-famous sights, including Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and many others. There were a few tourists in Oxford Circus. Lawd.

After the double-decker, it was off to the London Eye. Suzanne didn’t think I’d be up for it, but after all my previous experiences in overcoming my ookiness with heights, I was like, why not? It was totally entertaining, and we got a great view of the Thames, Parliament, and Big Ben (although he was 99% covered in scaffolding for repairs).

After that, it was a quick trip back to the hotel to get ready for the evening. We went down the street to a pub for some appetizers, then hoofed it to Whitechapel for the Jack the Ripper tour. Very interesting way to finish out our London visit. Philip, our tour guide, was funny and interesting, and we walked the same streets that the poor victims walked during those frightening months in 1888, when the town was terrorized by the most famous serial killer in history. It was fascinating to look at the old versus the new on this walking tour; every street had a modern vibe, but with a deep, dark history lurking beneath.

And here’s something that completely creeped us out. We were standing in a square, listening to Philip speak, when my eyes were diverted upwards, to a window of an old building. While at first thinking I’d seen nothing, I strained my vision again to bring into focus the face of a girl — just staring at me. Staring at all of us, from the window. She never moved the whole time we stood in that space. I got Suzanne’s attention, and she saw her, too. The gal was probably just putting us on (“Let’s give a bit of a fright to the Rippers down there…”), but it definitely had me going for a minute!

Afterwards, we draggled back to the hotel and had a drink in the lobby before calling it a night. After a good night’s sleep, we met for breakfast and said our goodbyes. I will miss you, Suzi! I hope you had a good train ride back to NL.

At this point, I’m ready to pull into Manchester train station and spend my final day in England. Looking forward to relaxing a bit before the flight tomorrow. I want to thank my family (sister Mavis, my sons and stepdaughter) for working together to care for Remy so I could fly away and goof off these many days. You’re the best! And to my sister and sister-in-law, Vicki and Vicki — thank you so much for all the great advice on getting around in the UK. Your instructions have been spot-on, and so helpful! I couldn’t have booked this thing on my own without your help.

And to you, my fiends — thanks for coming along. It meant the world. OK, we’re almost to the station, so I have to check out of this wifi. I’ll talk to you stateside.

Much love…

London, Day 1

16 June, 2018
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The last time I was in England was 1976. It really has been great to return and experience the London sights as a grown-up. :-)

I left Liverpool in a frenzy of uncertainty because of the construction that closed Lime Street Station (my original point of departure). South Parkway Station was a zoo when my Uber driver dropped me off. But I ended up getting on a train going the right direction, and leaving earlier than my previously booked trip, so….score!

Lush farmland (and one yikes) dressed the view on the southbound trip to London. In many ways, it reminded me of the green of Ohio. Cows are cows and grass is grass. What struck me most (and I’d remembered this from my last trip) is that there are virtually no houses with clapboard or siding. No wooden dwellings. Everything is almost exclusively made of brick or plaster of some kind. I know there are several reasons, and I won’t discuss them here, but it was neat to see all the structural differences.

Once I got to Euston Station, I had to run to catch another train to King’s Cross (alas, there was no Gate 9 3/4, although I confess I didn’t look; I was running). From there, I found the right line (there are three subway lines that run concurrently, using the same platform and track, so a person has to be on her game) and parked my little self in, surprisingly, a mostly empty train.

And sorry, NYC — the bright platforms in London have your dungeons beat by a mile. I dunno…maybe it’s unfair to compare them, but I didn’t feel depressed and I saw nary a rat on the tracks — unlike my New York experiences. (It’s OK tho — I still love NYC the most.)

After arriving at Aldgate, schlepping my 17-lb. backpack and myself off the train, up three flights of steps and out into the air, I hoofed it a quarter of a mile to my hotel. At long last! Then I waited for Suzanne’s train to arrive. She got to the hotel a few hours later, and we met on the elevator — a joyous reunion! The rest of the evening was spent eating, drinking, talking, and laughing: basically c!atching up on the last four years since we’d sat across the table, face-to-face. She’s a joy!

We have a super-busy day planned today. Lots to tell you about tonight; I hope you’ll check back to see some pretty pictures!

Much love to all.

Liverpool, Day 3

14 June, 2018
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Holy cats, what a crazy three days. I loved every minute of it. Well, almost every minute; I was just OK with sitting in the laundromat for an hour and a half. And, fellow Americans, this is a Liverpool “launderette.” Microscopic, but very clean, and the gal working there was super nice.

The day started with my 9:00 appointment at the Beatles Experience museum — the #1 Beatles attraction in the world, and one of the main reasons that an annual £82 million is added to Liverpool’s economy, courtesy of J/P/G/R.

Speaking of money, here’s another fun (or maybe not-so-fun) fact: The Liverpool airport is named after John (Yoko gave a bunch of money for it). But Paul, who bought an entire falling-apart city block and completely refurbished the London Art Institute and accompanying school buildings and turned it into a fully functioning university, providing hundreds of jobs, and who has given countless millions to charities and restorations all over town — doesn’t even have a street named after him. Don’t you find that odd? Not that Paul was/is an angel, mind. Everyone knows he’s been a straight-up self-promoter since the age of 18. But still — John *never* returned to Liverpool after leaving it. Pretty much washed his hands of it, except for one small donation to a sculpture in the town square. Paul has remained actively involved in the machinations of his hometown all these decades — yet John gets the airport? Hmm.

Anyway…the Beatles Experience was a fine one. Perhaps the best parts were the painstakingly detailed recreations, from the studio at Abbey Road, to the rooftop of Apple, to the Casbah (something I wish I’d had a chance to see this time around, as it was the very first place they played), to John’s white room at Tittenhurst where the “Imagine” video was filmed. Here are some photos.

Click on the first one to bring the photos up in gallery mode:

After the Experience, I walked to a cafe and had shortbread and a coffee, in hopes of waiting out the 40 MPH winds so I could ride the ferry. Nothing doing. So I made my way back to the hotel, summoned an Uber, and went across town to do the laundry.

When I got back, it was time for more wandering. I had an early dinner at an American restaurant near my hotel (it was tasty), then came back and got dressed for the Cavern Club and the Jacaranda — two important places in the early lives of the Fabs.

The Cavern is down a small alley; not at all the glittering entryway of stars. In fact, this is a perfect replica of the original Cavern, which was filled with earth in the 70s to facilitate the construction of the Merseyrail train line. However, they did use many of the original bricks in the reconstruction within the same area of the street in the 1980s.

Pursuant to modern-day safety regulations, it was expanded and properly ventilated, as well as sunken a couple more levels beneath the ground (I stopped counting at five sets of steps into the club).

The cool part was it was totally crowded — and not just with tourists — on this Thursday night at 7 p.m. There was a live act (guitar player) who had everyone singing along, and many were in various stages of non-sobriety, enjoying themselves.

It was hot down there tonight; I can only imagine what it was like back in 1961 from the stories I’ve heard and read. The condensation from the body heat alone made the walls cry, and everything was damp and smelly from burgers and BO. Can you imagine if a fire had broken out, with all those stairs to climb…insane. I walked around a bit and people-watched. It was definitely a party atmosphere. I tried to imagine this tiny place (now much bigger, with a gift shop and offices and extra seating space) when the Fabs played at lunchtime, all those years ago. Oh, to have been a part of that scene.

I ended my evening with a quick stop at the Jacaranda, where the Lads would go after school, away from adults, to have coffees and cigarettes. It looked as if they were getting ready to have a lecture or poetry gathering or something in the downstairs cove, so I hightailed it out of there, but not before closing my eyes and imagining George at a corner table, joking and smoking.

 

What a fantastic journey this has been so far. It was both a tribute to the Thriller’s memory, and an odyssey to find out more about the Beatles’ early story, in an effort to further understand why their music speaks so strongly to my soul. I’m still searching for that answer, but maybe I just need to accept it for the magical mystery it is. I hope you’ve enjoyed coming along with me; tomorrow starts a new journey to London and craziness with Suzanne! Until then…peace and love!

Liverpool, Day 2

13 June, 2018
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Man…a weird, emotional day. I loved every second.

Today I stood in several places that were heretofore just part of my imagination. I can’t count how many times over the last 50 years I’d wondered where these guys lived, how they lived, where they played, hung out, went to school, etc. Well today, I found out.

My entire morning was taken by David Bentley of Day Tripper Tours. What a gas. He’s so knowledgeable, personable, funny…it was a pleasure to be his singular guest for several hours.

He was also a great storyteller, and one of his tales blew my mind. More on that in a minute.

We went so many places and saw so much, I’m afraid I can’t remember it all in order. But we did see the two homes that the National Trust Tour (which I took later) didn’t feature: the boyhood homes of George and Ringo.

12 Arnold Grove — George’s boyhood home

George, for those who don’t know, had a very loving, secure childhood and adolescence. His family were close-knit and supportive of him, and he never felt unloved. He lived in this tiny row house in Speke (a suburb of Liverpool) for the formative years of his childhood, before moving into more spacious quarters in Upton Green later on. George was born in this house. It’s now privately owned, so we couldn’t go inside. Same with Ringo’s boyhood home, which is undergoing a major construction project, so they had the area blocked off.

Fun fact: George and Ringo were born at home. John and Paul were both born in the hospital.

Most interesting to me was the history of how the Lads met and began making music. As is well known, they weren’t the Beatles first; they were the Blackjacks, the Quarry Men, then Johnny and the Moondogs, Long John and the Silver Beetles, the Silver Beetles, the “Beatals,” then the Beatles. It was John and George and some school friends first; Paul didn’t join till well after the now-famous Woolton church fete where he met John for the first time, and Ringo not until long after that.

I’ve always been particularly interested in their Hamburg years, when they really learned to play as a unit, and they polished their act under the most horrible working/living conditions ever — only to return to Liverpool and conquer the world. Such a great story.

Of course, David covered the Penny Lane story. There really was a barber shop and a banker who never wore a Mac (raincoat) in the pouring rain. There really were nurses selling poppies from a tray behind a shelter, in the middle of a roundaboutPaul really does remember “four of fish” (fish and chips you could buy for fourpenny) and firemen running about. What you may not know is that the song “Penny Lane” isn’t really about the street, per se, but just the general area around it. Still a classic.

After I said goodbye to David, I took the National Trust tour, which actually allows people to go inside the childhood houses of Paul and John.

Of course, no photography was allowed inside, but suffice to say that it was impressive how so much living could be undertaken in such small quarters and still call it a “house.” Incredible.

What sort of bothers me to this moment is a story David told me when we visited the cemetery behind St. Paul’s Church in Woolton. Blew my mind, actually.

Paul has always maintained that he made up the name “Eleanor Rigby,” as well as the story behind it. Well, David has another version on good authority, and I’d never heard it.

John spent a lot of private time in that cemetery, “talking” to one of its inhabitants — his uncle George Smith (Aunt Mimi’s husband, who died when John was 15). Other friends had witnessed Paul and John goofing off in that area, and then, when the monkey business was over, John would retreat to his uncle’s grave, lean against the headstone, and talk to him. All the Liverpool friends spent lots of time in that cemetery. Paul had to have seen this gravestone at some point. Anyway, at the time, John told his buddies he was going to write a song about a girl called Eleanor Rigby; even explained the circumstances (she suffered from depression, so she kept her public face “in a jar by the door,” and ended up dying young and alone). It was much later (1966) that Paul turned up at the studio and said he’d written a song about a person named Eleanor Rigby — complete with the details John provided all those years ago — and never acknowledged John for any of it. This is now known to many Beatles cognoscenti as the true beginning of the end of the band.

Interesting, eh? Maybe not. Truth is, Paul and John disagreed on many band issues. For instance, Paul claims credit for the entire tune of “In My Life,” but was never credited with such by John. Bummer, because that song has consistently been at #1 or close to it on every Beatles “best song” list since they broke up.

OK, enough yammering. Are you still with me? If so, I promise to dispense with the lecture tomorrow. :-) One more day in the north, then it’s off to meet fellow RtB fiend Suzanne in London. Wahoo!

Liverpool, Day 1

12 June, 2018
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Well here we are, in Jolly Olde. I think I may have overstated my worry about overseas travel, as I have received many congratulatory messages on social media for making it here alive — for “surviving.” hahaha OK, probably my fault. But enough already — please. I’m good. :-)

Speaking of overseas travel — or any type of long-distance trip when you’re cooped up in a cramped space with dozens of other people, I have three words of advice for you:

Noise.
Canceling.
Headphones.

I know that little Trevor (3-year-old seated directly in front of me) and little Georgia (also 3, seated several rows behind in the next cabin division) just wanted to get off that plane and go home. And six hours is a long time to make a squirmy toddler sit. But again….Noise. Canceling. Headphones. :-D

So along we went, soaring at 40,000 feet, and I monkeyed around with the video screen on the back of the seat in front of me. It didn’t take long to see that in some small way, the Thriller was here with me. On their “Classic Rock” music selection, they had the entire album End of the Innocence, which contains one of his favorite songs. I listened to it a few times over.

But I think he stayed on the plane, because it was insanity from the moment it touched down in Manchester. It took them f-o-r-e-v-e-r to find a parking space, and of course, I’d planned to allow myself 30 minutes to get to the train station (a 10-minute walk) after our on-time flight. Good, ja? Nah, not so good. I missed the first train, but fortunately I’d bought an all-day ticket. So I waited in the damp cold for an hour for the next one.

One train switch and an hour later, I was walking into Liverpool Central Station. A nice gentlemen told me how to get to my hotel. Fifteen minutes later, I walked into the beautiful lobby of the Nadler , ready to get off my feet after schlepping my 17-lb. backpack all over creation. They said sorry, but my room wasn’t ready yet. Oooookaaaay. I sat in the beautiful lobby and tried to not fall asleep. In 30 minutes, they came and got me. A nap was definitely in order, as I’d been awake for about 22 hours.

Then it was exploring time. I walked the narrow streets (many with the cobblestone and bricks still showing) and ended up at a pub on Bold St., where I had my first proper meal of fish and chips. Delightful! (But I couldn’t finish that enormous serving.)

After some more curious walking, I decided to turn it around and head back to the hotel, but not before stopping at Greggs and picking out a Spiky Mikey for a bedtime snack.

It’s late now — after 1 a.m. –and I’m still getting accustomed to the time change. I think I’ll sleep till 6, then escape somewhere for a quick breakfast before David, my private tour guide for the day, lah-dee-dah, comes to pick me up.

More tomorrow, fiends — thanks for coming on the journey with me!