Day 8-Liverpool!!!!!

It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me
But the fact that we never went there in the first place!

So sayeth them bards of yore, Nerissa & Katryna Nields, yea rudely to their father who, as was mentioned previously, along with their mother, insisted on driving THREE HOURS OUT OF THE WAY merely to avoid a visit to Liverpool in the summer of 1985 when last our heroine came to the British Isles.

So it was not without some huge doses of irony that these words came out of my children’s mouths today as we approached Liverpool.

“How long do we have to stay here?”

“If we ever come back to England, can we NOT go to Liverpool?”

“How long do we have to stay here, again?”

And, most brutally, “Why are we even here?”

Tom: Because this really means a lot to Mom. Basically, today is pretty much about Mom.

Child: Pretty much this whole TRIP has been about Mom. What do you call yesterday? Abbey ROAD?

I should also say, first off, that we almost didn’t make it onto the train from Euston Station. Remember how I was marveling a few days ago about how great it was to travel ticketless? How I’d gotten an email confirmation and could use just that to board? Apparently, we could not. Picture all 3 of my family members yelling at me as we stood in line for boarding. All I had, at 5 minutes to the time the train left Euston Station from London to Liverpool, was a cold iPhone that wouldn’t budge from a message from Trainline that said, in pale grey letters, “This message not downloaded from the server”. In a panic, Tom said, “Let’s just buy the tickets again!” So we raced up to the kiosk back in the station where I tried to input my confirmation code. When that failed, he said, “Let’s just forget about this till tomorrow. We blew it.”

“Noooooooooo!” I shrieked, and I ran as fast as I could back to the platform. The good crew of the train stood baffled as I blubbered on about my cold iPhone and the cruelties of the internet, and they finally just waved us onboard. “Wow, does Mom have some specially convincing powers?” marveled the son. “No, just desperate,” I said. And “Acting!”

It wasn’t acting, though. I was really crying. And as I got on the train, I took a moment to think about all this. Why the blasted kerfuffle on my part? Do I really care about going to Liverpool? I almost don’t. It’s a bucket list thing, isn’t it? And what, after all, is a bucket list? Things we want to do before we kick it. But why? Is it just to redeem the feelings of that cranky 18-year-old who missed her boyfriend and hated being bossed around by her parents (just as my kids now hate being bossed around by me?) What will change if I go to Liverpool? Haven’t I gotten enough Beatles in my life? What do I even love about them? Their music. But I have all their music. It lives in me, and it always will, and the way to be in closer relationship to the music is to play it; not to go to Liverpool for Godssake. I am not going to discover their music in Liverpool. That’s already happened.  What can the Beatles Museum, or even the River Mersey show me that I don’t already know? Why am I spending £350, five hours on the train and an entire precious day of our London trip to be in this Northern boring industrial city for five hours of sightseeing?

We did not see much of the English countryside from the train. But when we arrived in the Lime Street Station (“she’ll never walk down Lime Street any more”), I felt a jolt. We had done it! I was here and it could not be undone! We asked for help from the friendly ladies at the train station, and they kindly directed us. We walked down to the river and found the Beatles Story, the museum that houses all sorts of artifacts Beatles. And for the next two hours or so, my family wandered around from room to room learning about my favorite band. And the kids each got their own little device to listen and watch the tour. Give a kid a device, and all is well.

George Harrison’s first guitar!!!!! OMG!!!!!
Reproduction of the Cavern Club

I did not learn very much I hadn’t known before. I did not have any epiphanies. But I did have a bit of a sense of being in a very crowded place of worship, sort of like being at Westminster Abbey: all these people knew the lyrics of “It’s All Too Much” as well as I did. All these people knew the exact date John and Paul first met (July 6 1957–word to my sister Abigail!) What I DID learn today is that the gig for which the Quarrymen were booked was in celebration of the 750th anniversary of the date King John gave the charter inviting people to start settling in Liverpool. WHOA!!!!!! And sitting to watch the films and images from the Beatles’s solo years moved me deeply–the George/Monty Python skit made me laugh, and the Lennon footage made me cry.

A pair of John’s glasses

We left the museum and let the kids play wall ball against the Albert Docks,

chatted with some friendly Liverpudlians, and worked our way around to the Slavery Museum. Once again, we managed to show up 15 minutes before closing, so I only got in for a bit. But I was shocked and impressed by what I saw. Much of Liverpool’s wealth in the 18th century came from the slave trade, and in fact, Liverpool was “Confederate” during the Civil War in the States–this according to an Englishman who worked at the museum. There was quite a bit of discussion about what it was like to be of African descent in England, and it peaked my curiosity more than anything in the Beatles museum had done. I want to know more about the Black experience in England. I also wonder what, if any, was the connection between what the Mersey Beat described as “The New Orleans of England” and its historical connection to the American South. Did John and Paul love the African American rock pioneers in part because of an historical connection in Liverpool?

We’re on the train now, heading home to our flat in London. I have a bag full of Beatles memorabilia and two kids who are playing cards with a deck that has the street sign for Abbey Road printed on its back. There is some triumph in checking off a bucket list item, if only to fortify the illusion that we have some control over our lives. That’s not nothing. Would I have preferred this trip as an 18-year-old? Possibly, though I suspect what would have meant most to me would have been knowing my parents had noticed my passion and made a sacrifice in that direction. But that was not the way in which they sacrificed–they sacrificed plenty. Have we done similar for our kids? Not sure. We failed to take them to the Harry Potter tour (it was all sold out by the time we got our act together). We certainly dragged them to more museums than they wanted, though far fewer than we would have liked. But we did make sure to travel with their friends, and we loaded them up with sugar pretty much whenever they begged. (Not that that is any kind of sacrifice; merely laziness on our part.) But time can only tell what they will make of this trip; of what they will remember and what they won’t. I am hoping they feel their real inheritance: our presence. In the end, that’s the biggest gift.

Day 7-Abbey Road

The rest of the trip could have sucked, and because of this, I still would have been glad for every penny and pound we spent. We did NOT stop traffic, but we did wait for openings. Jan Sabach is a great photographer, as you can tell.

We made sure we had all the photos we wanted, and then I worshipped a bit at Abbey Road studios.

And then to a local Beatles gift shop where the owner was playing Revolver. I asked if he ever met Paul, and he said, “No, but he lives in the neighborhood.” And he gave me his address! It was a few blocks away. No, I did not go there.

Tom flirting with the performance artists at the V&A

After that, everything was pretty boring. At least to me. We took the tube to the V&A which none of the kids was into.

I managed to see some Rodin sculptures (my favorite), some stone Buddhas, and a clockmaker exhibit at the Science Museum. But basically I was ready for cafe-hopping earlier than usual. We ended up riding public transit around town, landing eventually on the top and front of a double decker driving through Islington.

We had a farewell dinner with the Sabachs at a lovely place recommended to us by our friend Molly Burnham, and said goodbye to our friends. A wonderful week. Hard to believe we still have one more to go!

Day 5 I’ve Got to Admit It’s Getting Better

Yes! Things are looking up. It helps immensely to have our friends from Northampton with us. They are cheery, intrepid travelers, eager and enthusiastic. These are qualities lacking in some of us these days, speaking mostly for myself. The drug I’m on for shingles makes me dizzy in the am and very lethargic. Caffeine helps! And there are Starbucks on every corner, natch. The shingles seems better today. There are still new pox forming, but the old ones are getting purple and scabbing over. Luvly.

Lots of people recommended I read White Teeth, the Zadie Smith break-through novel from 2000. It’s a fantastic way to experience London, a hilarious cultural romp so far. I am reading and also listening on Audible. The narrator (Jenny Sterlin) is incredible, doing all the accents very well. In the mornings, I go for a run up a steep steep hill to a park, wind around and enjoy the view of the Shard. There should be a picture of that here, but there is not, alas. Instead, a pic of the park itself, where my family goes to play football. See how I said “football” instead of the “s” word?

We tromped along Oxford Street and felt like we were in New York, somewhere near Times Square, perhaps. The kids loved it. Grown-ups yearned for Swinging London’s Carnaby Street and instead got served up corporate America, which is Corporate Everywhere now, I guess. One thing I keep thinking is that the English took over the world in the name of commerce, and to some extent succeeded. The British Empire was about creating wealth for the wealthy and comfort for the British. I don’t know quite what other values were valued. Decency? “Christianity?” But what did they mean by that?

 

Our intention was to go to the British Museum at some point, but instead we ended up hanging out outside of it, looking dolefully at the huge crowds and retiring instead to a luscious bookstore called The London Review and having tea. (Mostly what we do here is stop for sugar and caffeine). My kids invented a younger sister for the trip. Her name is Rose (I get to call her Rosie, cuz I’m her mama). She had brown wavy hair, green eyes and is left handed. She is six, and her favorite book is War and Peace. We made sure to keep our “eye” on her as we made our way through the crowds. I was reminded, by Rosie, to buy a copy of the translation of War and Peace that came out in 2008, by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonksky. I had read this behemoth in 2005, and I am ashamed to say I now barely remember it. So I am going to try to read a page a day. To Rosie.

I booked train tickets to Liverpool for Monday. Yes, of course I did. You didn’t really think I wouldn’t, did you? After all those years of torturing my parents? The joke is going to be that the kids will hate it! The Magical History Tour was all booked up, but no matter–it would have been too much to spend all day on the train and then get on a bus. We’re going to the Beatles Museum. I love how you don’t even need a printer in this day and age. Just show them your iPhone! Tomorrow we’re going to Abbey Road to get our photo taken on the crosswalk.

 

Day 6-It Rains on Portobello Road

It rained Saturday, so no Abbey Road. Instead, we trudged along Portobello Road, buying umbrellas and crepes. I searched in vain for a fab jacket, but nothing. It’s cold here! They say London is just like that–completely unpredictable weather-wise. Highs were around 60, but I’m not sure it ever got there.

We took an overground train to escape from the rain, and while the kids played a raucous game of something called “Concentration,” which involves chanting and hand clapping a la “Miss Mary Mac Mac Mac,” a Scary guy in this mid- to late-20s sat across from me wearing a Hillary for Prison yellow tee shirt. He looked at me in this totally menacing way sort of like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Or Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs. Did he see that I was a middle-aged American woman with weird glasses and Bludstones, and therefore must have voted for her? I was sure he was going to pull a gun out of his bag, but instead he pulled out a paperback by Joseph Stiglitz, (a huge apologist for Brexit) but better than a weapon. I wanted to dance for joy when we all escaped the car. Euston Station never looked so good.

We made it to the British Library (after our four or five trips to various Sugar & Caffeine establishments) with a whopping 10 minutes before closing. We raced over to the Treasures of the British Library where I managed to set eyes on 1. an original copy of a part of the Magna Charta, 2. The Gutenberg Bible 3. one of two copies of the Codex–the ancient scrolls of the New Testament in Greek, this of Matthew. and 4. (BE STILL MY HEART!!!) original handwritten documents of lyrics by George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. This last made me swoon, though I was quite impressed with the other Treasures, too.

We were so close to Kings’ Cross Station that we had to go find Platform 9 3/4s. Unfortunately, there was a huge queue for the same, and our kids were all suitably disgusted at the photo opp that they refused to pose. (Jan snapped some photos and assured us we could photoshop our kids into his template, so I did not care, either.)

I retired early to nurse my shingles, and the rest of them marched onward to 10 Downing Street and Trafalgar Square. I was going to go to bed, but they called and made me meet them at a wonderful Turkish restaurant across the street from our flat.

Day Four

This trip is my 50th birthday present to myself. And I feel so ashamed about that right now. I have a long list of places I wanted to see–Tate Modern, V&A, British Library, Abbey Road–– and no one (not even me) feels like going. The shingles is wretched today. My entire left thigh feels like it’s hiked for years–tight, achy, disgustingly ugly and covered in huge red welts. Also, it feels like tiny needles poke at it when I least expect it. The meds make me dizzy and nauseated. But we have joined up with our friends from Northampton, and the kids are in heaven until we tell them we are going to the Tower of London. “Noooooooo!” cries the 8-year-old.

I am immediately brought back to my own childhood dread of being dragged around to museums. My grandmother was a great lover of art, and from my earliest memories brought us to art galleries and museums. My mother is an historian, so her bag was history museums and sites. That’s just what we did on Saturdays: trudged around seeing impressive things that made me cranky. So I had tons of compassion for my son. In fact, his proximity made the tower boring to me, and it was my idea to go! Amazing how one person’s attitude can affect me. Two years ago when Tom and I went to Paris with my parents, I couldn’t get enough of the architecture, the statues, the history. I was with people who were as energetic and curious as I was. But now, all I could think was, “So what? I read about the princes in the tower when I was twelve. I know the story. Big deal.”

Part of the plan for this trip was to finally go to Liverpool. But no one wants to go now, not even me. Maybe my parents were right: it’s just a dirty industrial city.

The girls are into the Tower and race around sharing a sweatshirt;  they hope to be mistaken for Siamese Twins. I am intrigued by the evolution of the architecture, the incredible ages of the buildings, including part of a Roman wall from the second century. And I have to admit, when I see the staircase where the two little princes’ bodies were discovered in the 1600s, I have shivers. It’s an amazing, tragic story.

I do not care about the crown jewels. What strikes me, in my crankitude, is how strange these royal rituals are, how uptight and tied to the past in ways that seem rigid and meaningless now. Well, to me–an American. But these are my people, my ancestors. I feel a connection, but a very odd one. The are my ancestors, but not my tribe. I miss music. Maybe I can get the kids to busk with me tomorrow.