I found the bloom falling off the blossom of the Embassie Hostel and the city of Liverpool on 18 February 1998. In the morning I couldn’t find a sink available to brush my teeth at, found the toaster eternally-in-use, and Argyle rambling on in an annoying fashion. So I just took off.
I visited the Merseyside Maritime Museum, one of the many great attractions on Liverpool’s Albert Dock. I enjoyed the exhibits of maritime history, customs agents, and art of the sea. Unfortunately, it was Half-Term (the British equivalent of Winter Break) and the museum was crowded with a gazillion children. This wasn’t bad in itself but between the kids and their children there was a lot of screaming, pushing, and downright obnoxious behavior. Out on the Dock itself I enjoyed a couple of buskers playing Beatles tunes on banjos.
I found more frustration in the crowded Lime Street Station where my train to Oxford departed an hour late. I went to Oxford on invitation from Billy, the American student I met in Kilkenny. I met Billy outside the porter’s gate of Magdalen College and he walked me through the quads and cloisters dating back to the 13th-century, then through a deer park, along a riverside path and finally to a door in a wall. Billy unlocked the door and on the other side it we were still outdoors. Billy was actually living in a modern residence hall set away from the main college.
Billy showed me a path to get in and out of the college without keys and went to work on a paper. I snuck out an found an Irish pub called The Elm Tree. I didn’t know it at the time but this would be the last pub I’d visit on my holiday even though I would travel for 12 more days. It was a good one with an Irish trad session. The musicians often stopped playing to allow an individual to sing unaccompanied. I was impressed that everyone in the pub would stop talking and give their attention to the singer during these solos. I was also impressed by the group of men who took a double whiskey, poured it in a bowl of peanuts, set fire to it, and then ate the flaming peanuts. They offered me one but I was too pyrophobic to reach in and get one myself, so I settled for an extinguished one offered by one of the men.
After that I went out dancing all on my own at The Zodiac where an enthusiastic crowd enjoyed a 70’s/80’s night. I’d actually meant to go to the reggae club downstairs, but hey I was having a good time and feeling good about myself. I skipped back to Magdalen and conked out on Billy’s air matress. Not bad for my first night in town.
Rockin’ to the Beatles on Banjo at Albert Dock.
On only four hours of sleep, I packed in a lot of tourism in Liverpool on 17 February 1998. First I visited the two cathedrals: Liverpool Cathedral for the Church of England which is the largest in Britain, and the Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, an exercise in modern architecture so audaciously ugly that it’s awesome. I also paid a quick visit to The Museum of Liverpool Life which contained surprisingly honest exhibits about labor struggles and racial tensions. I also enjoyed the exhibit about sport in Liverpool where I learned more about Everton, my new favorite football club.
With such fine attractions to see I felt guilty about dedicating the better part of the afternoon to The Magical Mystery Tour, a cheezy 2-hour coach tour of Beatles lore, but I could not resist riding the polychromatic bus. It turned out to be an interesting sociological and anthropological adventure. My fellow tourees devotedly, almost obsessively photographed every single landmark. I found myself more interested in watching them than looking at the rather nondescript buildings that once upon a time were associated with a Beatle or some Beatle’s relative. I was also charmed by the Liverpudlians who would great us at each stop. My favorite part of the tour was seeing local children kicking a football around in the street, blissfully indifferent to the fact that George Harrison once lived at the end of the cul-de-sac. After my trouble getting around the day before, I was relieved that that coach driver Les got lost on the journey back to the city centre.
Back at the hostel I joined some people watching the video Backbeat, a movie about The Beatles before they became famous which includes scenes filmed in and around the hostel. Sadly, I was unable to find Tanya but Kevin, Sr. told me about a pub called Guinan’s where he believed that other hostel guests were hanging out at. I didn’t see anyone I recognized and wasn’t enjoying the vibe, so I returned to the hostel and inadvertently to bed, which is what I should have done in the first place after a long day.
Beatles fanatics at Strawberry Field.
Children play on a street where a Beatle used to live.
The day of 16 February 1998 was a wash. I intended to check my bag at the York railroad station and pay a visit to the National Railway Museum. Then I saw the queue of people waiting to have their bags hand-searched. I waited for 15 minutes without seeing the line move, so I gave up and went to the track for the first train to Liverpool. My waiting didn’t end because the train was heavily delayed. Then about 2/3’s along the journey everyone on the train was unceremoniously ushered onto a platform in some town I don’t recall the name of as the train went out of service. It was a long wait for the replacement train.
Arriving in Liverpool, I managed to get lost for a long time before finally locating the Embassie Hostel. The door was locked and no one answered the bell. From what I came to know of the staff later, I’d wager they were all asleep, but at the time I assumed the hostel was closed for the season. So I walked back into city centre and checked my bags at the station and paid a visit to The Beatles Story Exhibition. It was nice to cool my heels with two hours of Beatles memories.
With the sun going down, I returned to the task of finding a place to sleep. I was feeling exhausted enough that I seriously contemplated using my rail pass to take the longest journey possible by train just to have a place to sleep. Wisely, I called the number for the Embassie Hostel instead and discovered that they were indeed open and booked a room. Too tired to carry my bags on another long walk I took a black cab for the first time, the cabbie generously instructing me on the English rules of tipping (i.e. – don’t).
I received a warm welcome from Kevin, Jr. part of the father-son team who run the Embassie and was introduced to a number of other guests, most of them Australian. One guest named Argyle broke the mold of young, stylish Aussie travelers because he was a somewhat frumpy, 73-year old Australian who enjoyed telling rambling anectdotes. Two younger Australian women named Monica and Sabina asked me what word would an American use to describe a person who never stops talking. I decided chatterbox was the most polite term.
As a group we went on a pub crawl stopping for a quick pint in the elegant Philharmonic Pub and then to an Irish pub called Scruffy Murphy’s which was serving £1 pints. Here we joined even more Australians, including Tanya who worked at the hostel, and one local Scouser name Uncle Ian. Speaking of Premier League football, Ian informed me that Manchester United were a bunch of wankers and that I should support Everton (which I do to this day just because some guy in a bar told me to). We next went to the Jacaranda, a pub where the Beatles played some early gigs, for late night pints and dancing. I liked that the dance mix included James Brown and a lot of Liverpool bands including the Beatles.
Back at the hostel a bunch of us gathered around the table in the lounge for a long night of fun and conversation. Tanya, her friend John, and I managed to stay up until 7 am! The great night certainly made up for the lousy day.
The otter on Abbey Road.