When I was a lot younger the Pierhead was a favourite place to visit when I lived in Liverpool. Whether it was to take the ferry across the Mersey to New Brighton or to Birkenhead where we’d catch a bus to Chester, Thurstaston or Hoylake for a day out. Sometimes we’d go the Pierhead, simply to watch the ships go by because in those days there were all kinds of boats and ships docking in Liverpool. It was a real working port and exciting. Now I live even closer to the Mersey but just a bit further along the coast a short distance from the Freeport at Seaforth where most of the container ships dock now.
But the other day I was meeting a reader of one of my books from California, whose mother had been born in Liverpool but emigrated to America not long after WW2. Her mother had passed on but my reader was visiting Liverpool for the very first time to meet a cousin and she emailed to say that she would like to take me out for Afternoon Tea. She booked a table on the top floor restaurant of the Maritime Museum which has a fabulous view over the Albert Dock.
I was early and had been dropped off the other side of the Liver Building, which meant I had a great view of the new Queen Mary at the new ocean liner terminal. It was huge with numerous decks, so extremely high.
Now I have several friends who really enjoy cruising, but although I have a yen to visit Norway where my great-grandfather Martin Nelson hailed from, so far my dh and I have not taken the plunge. It’s not that either of us fear suffering from seasickness. My husband just loves the fells and enjoys running up and down them.
I’ve been to the Isle of Man and also Ireland by ship several times. Once with my youngest son, Daniel, so we took our bikes and cycled into the Wicklow Hills for research purposes (Fateful Encounter)and we also stayed in a hostel in Dublin. The experience also came in useful for when I wrote Flowers On The Mersey. I’ve also crossed the English Channel more than once. The first time was also to research a book (Love’s Intrigue) and I took Daniel. We travelled by hovercraft and although much faster, I preferred a ship. Also John and I went on a trip to the Isle of Skye and Iona in the Hebrides on quite a choppy day and I’ve visited the Farne Islands to see the seals while on retreat in Northumberland. I’ve also been in a small boat off the coast of Anglesey whilst pregnant. Then there was the boat trip off the coast of Crete after walking the Samarian Gorge. So we do seem to have our sea-legs, although I have been told that you don’t really feel like you’re at sea in today’s huge liners.
So although impressed by the size of the Queen Mary, I was more interested in having a look at the changes that have been made to a place with which I was once so familiar with. I was relieved to see that the Liver Buildings was unchanged, except it was much cleaner than when I was a young girl before the Clean Air Act was passed. The India Building was also dazzling in the sun. I was later to tell my reader, Devo, that my plasterer father actually worked on the latter building after the war. I have a small photograph of him with some other workers high up outside the building standing on a balcony by what appears to be a flag pole.
I found myself moved to tears when I came across several memorial monuments, one dedicated to Merseyside seamen if I remember aright, another large one to the Norwegians who fought in the North Atlantic, the servicemen of Poland, another to those of the Netherlands, as well as the Chinese seamen who helped Britain in two world wars. There were probably others I missed because who could forget the Yanks helping us out.
I haven’t forgotten the statue of Johnny Walker, the hero of the Battle of the Atlantic. He was largely responsible for the final destruction of the German U boats who destroyed so much shipping and caused the deaths of so many British sailors. Sadly he died of exhaustion.
On another note there is a statue of Liverpool, singer Billy Fury, whose big hit “Halfway to Paradise” I remember well. Regretfully he died in his forties. There is also, of course, the Beatles Experience.
Close by the Albert Dock is the new Museum of Liverpool, and just further along is a Ferris wheel. There are also other changes to Liverpool’s seafront as just across the road from the Albert Dock is Liverpool One’s shopping centre and the Hilton hotel.
I had an interesting chat with Devo, who is from Santa Monica, over Afternoon Tea about all kinds of subjects, including, of course, books and Liverpool. The port did not disappoint her and I’m sure she’ll be back again one day.
For a time lapse of Liverpool by my son Tim Francis, writer, director, photographer,
LIVERPOOL TIME LAPSE City in Minutes from Tim Francis on Vimeo.
As for me, as I made my way up past Waterstone’s bookshop - slipped in there for a few minutes, to catch the bus, I thought I really should get out more away from my word processor and my characters living in the Liverpool of the fifties and mingle with those enjoying that of today.