Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Liverpool - Britain in a microcosm?

Recently we went to Liverpool.

There's something quirky and unmistakeably British about Liverpool. I say this coming from Manchester (and therefore obviously comparing it), which has been modernised and gentrified massively over the last ten or fifteen years. So you might say this is an unfair comparison; but also places like Birmingham, which were previously famously undesireable cities, have received a great deal of investment, such as in the Bull Ring Shopping Centre, and thus have become much more trendy locations.
But I'm digressing. Before talking about details of the city, a couple of observations that stick in my mind. I remember watching a documentary about compensation fraud in the UK some years ago, the statistic that really stuck in my mind was that the number of compensation claims in Liverpool was ten times the national average; the highest in the country. So, either Scousers were falling over a lot in the street due to uneven pavements, or...
But I don't want to fall into crude streotypes. The city council of Merseyside is well-known for being one of the most inefficient and profligate in the country; in that sense, Liverpool bears more comparison to Naples, minus the mafiosi.

Evidence of the gloriously inefficent council can be seen throughout the city centre; shopping centres like Clayton Square, St Johns and Queens Square, are found in that gloriously run-down and dowdy part of the centre adjecent to Lime St train station and the bus station - an entire district of the centre that looks like an open air museum of 1993, stuck in a twenty-year-old timewarp.
It's little touches like that which I find strangely endearing: the quirky and unashamedly unfashionable side to Liverpool - shops that in other cities in the UK closed down about fifteen years ago; gift shops in Albert dock that sell unashamed utter crap; pubs a stonethrow's from the main train station that look like they were last refurbished in 1975,with some of the clientele looking like they last had a wash in that year as well; the charmingly indifferent attitude to rubbish; the glorious Victorian pubs that sit alongside the crappiest of crappy bars; some cafes' lovable ignorance to hygiene; I could go on.
Of course, Liverpool was European capital of culture a few years ago. The centre of Liverpool has a huge number of shops; more than I had appreciated until my most recent visit. But one district of the centre, now called "Liverpool ONE" has been a glorious addition to the centre's fabric - an ultra-modern and stylish urban environment that more than competes against Europe's finest retail spaces.
Then there are iconic places like the Albert dock, the two cathedrals and the three graces (Liver building and so on) that have barely altered since first being built, apart from a few cosmetic improvements. Then there's "The Beatles", who continue to be sold to death; and the football; and the Grand National.
In that way, Liverpool, for all it's oddity, is also much truer British city than many others - it has largely retained it's "take-me-as-you-see-me" character (which could also be interpreted as a negative); some foreign tourists have also been at the sharp end of that experience (more on that in a moment).

This leads me to the last icon of Liverpool to mention, which perhaps acts as a microcosm of all that is true of "good old British values" than any other in the city. "Fawlty Towers" was a British comedy icon of a bygone era; but one that still seems to exist, in spirit, in Liverpool's grandest and oldest hotel, The Adelphi.
As Liverpool has the distinction of having the highest rate of compensation claims in the UK, so it seems that the charming old Adelphi hotel has the distinction of being in contention for the most-complained-about "high class" hotel in the UK.
The complaints (which can be seen in all their glory on tripadvisor.com) fall into several areas: indifferent, unhelpful, incompetent and rude staff; dirty, unhygienic and broken fittings and funiture; noisy lifts and environment; hard pillows on tired, old matresses; bland food; being woken by cleaners; I could go on.
This all reminds me of the "good old days" of British hostelry: when service with a smile was an optional extra, food with taste was a novelty, and when the attitude of "mustn't grumble" kept all the lovely, appalling old British hotels in business for years on end.

Yes, I strangely love Liverpool. But maybe I'm a masochist, like many of the British nation.

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