Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Marigold looking especially glamorous today

Marigold Says...

You know what? I am frightened to open my mouth (G will be pleased about this) as being a sort of mouthy character, imprinted in my brain are words and sayings that were always commonplace. Now all over the papers people are being shamed for saying something that used to be quite normal. Soon we will be arrested and words will be deleted from history as being questionable. The English language is historic in its makeup and we should glory in it.

Shakespeare must be turning in his thingie. See what I did there. Not sure if grave or g…. is permitted by the word police. I can see in the future we will have to have another language which we all speak, like Esperanto, or make barking noises so that no one is offended. I have been called all sorts of names throughout my life, most of them warranted, and I haven’t needed counselling.

Holiday Monday. Why it is a holiday or what it is called I don’t know. Maybe we should have a Covid Bog Off holiday. As most days merge into one another holiday doesn’t really matter. The days of rushing to get your shopping before a holiday and everybody grabbing bbq food and ice cream, including us, have gone from our thoughts because if nothing else Covid has made us anti crowds and anti people nearby.

I ran into a supermarket the other day, leaving G in the car. He reported this time, he always reports on something, that out of 30 people going in only 6 had masks on. I don’t know if I was included in his list. He probably did another one for worst dressed and I would have been top of it.

A friend of ours, yes a shock I know, works from home, computer stuff that is all I can reveal, not because it is secret but because I don’t know what he is on about and switch off. Anyway, we were meeting up and he said he must keep to an hour and a half as they, whoever they are, even know when he has a toilet break. Let’s face it, that could be an hour then if you tag on a coffee and a telephone call or two, and you have to log out for lunch and log in again that adds up to not very much actual work. This malarkey sounds awful, worse than being in an office. I always try to think of ways round things, but can’t. Big Brother or Big Sister indeed.

I imagined the world of working at home would involve pressing a few keys at 8 o’clock, going back to bed, pressing some more at 10, making some porridge reading the paper, pressing some more at 12 and then having lunch and an afternoon kip and then logging out. Life is very hard with everybody watching what you do or don’t do. Glad I am retired.

Waitrose has a vast ‘Essential’ range, their unbranded version of lower cost ‘essentials.’ A quick browse revealed a few surprises. Cypriot Halloumi, strength 1 for instance. Very nice, but Essential? Humus. Is humus vital, deemed to be at the top of a shopping list? What about Grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese? Or Gnocchi? Is it me? Am I so out of touch I now have warped view of what the average shopper deems to be ‘essentials?’ It wouldn’t surprise me.


G Says…

Liverpool was the second most important city in the British Empire, after London obviously, at the turn of the last but one century and one part of South Liverpool in Victorian times was the greatest example of conspicuous wealth in Britain, if not the world.

Not my words but those of an eminent historian, but even now in certain areas of Liverpool you still get a reflection of the wealth that was once generated in this city.

One small village, not even assimilated into the city of Liverpool until 1913, is a serial winner of the ‘Best Large Village Award’ from Britain in Bloom and it’s one of my favourite places to visit. I’m referring to the affluent suburb of Woolton and we made a (very) late decision to go there recently, just because the sun came out as we were taking our rubbish out to the bin.

Woolton is really two villages in one: Much Woolton and Little Woolton. I don’t know how Woolton gained its two names, except that Little Woolton, which is mostly agricultural land, was already a separate manor at the time of the Domesday Book a thousand years ago and in feudal times Little Woolton was owned by Stanlaw Monks in the 13th Century. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First the lands were confiscated and then owned by a succession of Lords of the Manor, including a former MP for Liverpool, Bamber Gascogne an ancestor of the University Challenge bloke!

Woolton village itself is in Much Woolton and that’s where we ended up after a relatively easy journey, enlivened in the last mile by a battered blue van going the ‘wrong’ way around the roundabout we were already on. Well, it certainly woke Marigold up and I’m now even deafer in my left ear!

First port of call had to involve a coffee stop. It’s a rule. With so many places to choose from in what remains a relatively small village we ended up at Coast. It’s a café next to a road junction so there’s plenty of passing trade and inside was ‘rammed’ as one of the waitresses said. It’s quite ‘bijou’ on the ground floor but there’s a lovely garden area, also ‘rammed’ so we sat outside at the front. There’s an upstairs area as well, but neither of us ever fancy traipsing up cramped flights of stairs just to sip a cup of coffee.

Coast wasn’t our first pick. We liked the look of The Old Hardware Shop, which is a café situated in an old hardware shop. Yes, really. It’s a vegan café, so not our usual fare and I suspect Marigold worried that her carnivorous nature would have been inadvertently revealed, causing her ejection from the premises to widespread opprobrium. As it turned out, a passing examination of a ‘Full English’ breakfast being served to a diner was enough to send us in search of an alternative venue.
I’m sure it tasted divine, but that slavish mimicry of sausage, bacon, black pudding and all the rest always raises our hackles. It’s not meat, so why go to such lengths to pretend it is?

As we sat down on the front terrace of Coast, I noticed two young women at the next table. It was hard not to notice them as their conversation could surely be heard from the other side of the road. One girl said to her friend, ‘I aren’t being nosy, I just like to know everything.’

It’s a fine distinction.

While we waited for the waitress to bring out our order, the same girl got up and went inside the café, twice. When she got back from her second excursion she said, ‘I’ve been to the far end of the garden twice now and still not got past 2,000 steps today’

Ah, we thought, the 10,000 steps tyranny. I suspect my far too smart for its own good watch, which counts steps while it’s checking my heart is still beating while estimating how many calories my relatively short walk from car to café has consumed is incapable of recording ten thousand steps. It’s certainly not praised me for reaching that artificially imposed daily target in the last few months.

Must be a software glitch as I’m obviously not prepared to accept my own lethargy as a contributory factor.

Coast is situated in a building which has been a part of Woolton since the 1700’s. With all that history to call on, no wonder it’s awash with character and charm. Original stone interior walls, a fireplace and extravagantly shabby chic décor, it’s a delight.

Outside on the terrace, a man wearing micro-shorts and a fluorescent orange Lycra top arrived on a bike and asked us if we’d mind keeping an eye on it ‘while I nip inside for a quick slash.’

We were just relieved he was going elsewhere for his call of nature. I moved his bike when the waitress appeared as it was blocking the route between the tables. It weighed about as much as a packet of biscuits! No wonder he had been concerned about its safety, it probably cost as much as a car.

On returning from a presumably successful ‘slash,’ the gaudy cyclist apparently decided we were in urgent need of both company and educational input. He said he had cycled here from the Pier Head in Liverpool, not very far in fairness, presumably with a burning desire to talk to anyone unwise enough to be sitting outside a café drinking coffee and minding their own business.

Amongst many diverse and seemingly random subjects he deemed to be of interest, he told us the clock faces on the Liver Building that graced the Pier Head are the biggest in the country at 25 feet, while those on Big Ben are only 23 feet in diameter.

I nodded, respectful of a man able to reveal ‘trivial pursuit’ style facts at a moment’s notice. Respect that grew substantially later when I confirmed his ‘fact’ to be absolutely correct. Many more facts were on the way. ‘Of course the River Mersey’s name means boundary river in Anglo-Saxon. Did you know?’

No, I didn’t know that, but I do now.

‘The river was a natural boundary between the Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria.’

I didn’t know that either. Marigold didn’t appear to care.

I did know that the Mersey has the second highest tidal range in the UK, after the River Severn, but as he didn’t mention that, neither did I.

Twenty or so minutes later, Marigold and I having contributed next to nothing to the ‘conversation,’ he abruptly stood up, said, ‘well, must get on, can’t sit round here all day’ and pedalled off.

‘He’s got some rattle, that feller,’ the step counting girl confided. She wasn’t wrong.

Two ancient boundary markers, presumably a demarcation line between the two Wooltons

Woolton, continued...

Woolton like its near neighbour Gatacre, is rather ‘posh,’ but we weren’t just there to mingle with the locals. No, this was to be a pilgrimage. I came here many times in my youth, often on my bike which weighed about two hundred times more than the one we’d seen outside Coast, but this was Marigold’s first ever visit.

You see, Woolton is much more than a well-heeled village full of desirable cottages and enticing restaurants. It’s where one of the greatest influences on my youthful self first came into being. There are many clues scattered about, but first of all we went to visit a graveyard.

Regular blog readers will know we do like a good graveyard, but this one has been attracting thousands of visitors every year for half a century now. I was pleased to see only a woman and her dog were in attendance. Some days there are dense crowds in here. Most of them, but not all, come to look at a simple headstone marking the last resting place of Eleanor Rigby.

Yes, of course you know that name…

Eleanor Rigby

Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been

Lives in a dream

Waits at the window

Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door

Who is it for?

All the lonely people Where do they all come from?

All the lonely people Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie

Writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear

No one comes near

Look at him working

Darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there

What does he care?

All the lonely people Where do they all come from?

All the lonely people Where do they all belong?

Eleanor Rigby

Died in the church and was buried along with her name

Nobody came

Father McKenzie

Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave

No one was saved.”

Surely, that’s one of the most poignant song lyrics ever written. When Tommy Steele was performing in a show in Liverpool in 1981, he made an offer to Liverpool City Council to create a sculpture as a tribute to the Beatles. His fee for the commission would be three pence (half a sixpence)*

If you don’t ‘get’ the half a sixpence reference, you’re obviously too young. In which case, you’ll be quite used to asking Google about this. Or even Alexa, if she’s not in tyrannical mood.

The offer was accepted by the Council, as it would be expected to increase the tourist trade of the city, and they made a donation of £4,000 towards its cost. The statue took nine months to make, and was unveiled by Tommy Steele on 3 December 1982.

Dedicated to ‘all the lonely people,’ the statue forms part of a bench situated in Stanley Street, not far from the site of the original Cavern Club in Matthew Street, Liverpool.

In the dim and distant past, back when we were in gainful employment, Marigold worked in a Barristers’ Chambers on Stanley Street and I used to sit next to Eleanor on the bench outside while I waited to collect her at the end of the day.

I must have been asked to move to allow a tourist to take a seat on dozens of occasions. I was also asked, many times, if I knew where the ‘Beatles Song’ bench was, to which I could reply, ‘I’m sitting on it. Meet my friend Eleanor Rigby.’

I’ve referenced my teenage visits to the Cavern Club elsewhere in this blog - look out for 'Brexit and Beatles' - but this trip today was to explore an even earlier period in ‘Beatles’ history.

The woman with the dog turned out to be an amazing woman named Mary. I don’t think we were properly introduced to the dog, but like Border Collies everywhere there was no need; her job was to round us up and herd us in a bunch to where we were going.

Mary was of similar ‘vintage’ to myself and her recollections of her early life mirrored my own in so many ways. We knew all the back streets of Liverpool from long ago, had both also lived in the pretty village that Huyton used to be before it expanded so drastically, and not in a good way. Fabulous company, we loved her gentle old dog as well.

She walked with us to the Eleanor Rigby gravestone and said she always came here on every visit to Woolton. Paul McCartney claims to have forgotten how his choice of the name Eleanor Rigby came about, but as a ‘local’ he certainly spent many hours in this area as the graveyard was a popular venue for young men of the time to meet up, drink beer and smoke illicit substances.

We agreed Woolton was a special place, one of the very few surviving villages of ‘old Liverpool’ and had lost little of its appeal over the years. Yes, it’s got vibrant bars and cafes, several of the millionaire footballers playing for Liverpool and Everton live here, and it’s undeniably ‘upmarket ,’ but it’s still a village with all of the charm that word conveys.

Mary was also a Liverpool FC fan of long standing. Not as long as me, very few can reach that level of devotion over almost an entire lifetime, but she had at least half a century of constant support behind her. It was gratifying, therefore, to be able to take her just a bit deeper into the maze of gravestones to find the other place of pilgrimage for which this burial ground is famous: the grave of one of the greatest former Liverpool Managers, Bob Paisley. Mary was thrilled and said she would bring flowers next time to add to those decorating ‘Sir’ Bob’s grave.

Two huge ‘attractions’ in one graveyard, but St. Peter’s Churchyard wasn’t finished with us yet. Also here is the grave of George Toogood Smith, the uncle, through marriage, of John Lennon.

George Smith married Lennon’s Aunt Mimi and they set up home in a semi-detached house called ‘Mendips’ at 251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton. John lived with ‘Uncle’ George and his Auntie Mimi for the majority of his childhood, and George was a big influence on the young John, reputably taught him to read, draw and paint, and bought him his first mouth organ.

Thank you, George.

Opposite the graveyard is the church hall and it was here that John Lennon first met Paul McCartney on 6th July 1957. John had formed a skiffle group called the Quarry Men – because Woolton was surrounded by sandstone quarries, and Lennon attended Quarry Bank school.

The Quarrymen played outdoors at the St. Peter’s summer fete, then again in the evening at the church hall, where Paul was introduced to John by a mutual friend; within a few weeks he had joined the group. George Harrison, a younger, very shy lad from Speke later joined as well and the line-up that included three of the future Beatles performed at the Village Club in the centre of the Woolton in 1959. The events that would change the lives of many millions of teenagers, including me, were set in motion.

We went for a walk around Woolton, it’s not a very big place so not too arduous a task. Lots of restaurants, the Istanbul Bistro was full with people queuing outside, many independent shops and cafes, very much our sort of place. This village is ridiculously pretty with lots of lovely cottages bedecked with flowers. There was a wedding party filling the street outside the church, all shapes and sizes and all dressed to the nines. We shuffled past feeling a bit scruffy amongst all those peacocks.

Woolton Picture House is a real old school cinema with a garish red entrance. It opened in 1927 and its Art Deco styling is unmistakable while the public baths displayed a notice advising us that both John Lennon and Paul McCartney swam there. Both attractions are under threat of closure and making full use of the Beatles connection.

There were numerous mansions in the area, this has been a haven for seriously wealthy people for a century or more, all constructed from sandstone taken from the many quarries that surround the village with demand for stone being constant throughout the Victorian Age. One Woolton quarry supplied the stone to build Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. Now that’s a lot of stone!

‘Is that it now? No more Beatles stuff?’ I can always tell when Marigold is flagging. I instantly assured her the rest of the day would be devoid of Beatles references; a pledge I was (somewhat inadvertently) forced to break within half an hour.

We were on the way out (a phrase I suspect doctors mutter to themselves every time they see my name on an appointment list) of Woolton when I realised what road we were driving along.

Avenue is a very long, very busy road, made even busier by tourist buses doing the ‘Beatles Tour.’ Fortunately, today, outside number 251 we were the only gawpers.*

*Gawpers. I’m reasonably confident this has been the first time I have ever written this word. I say it out loud quite often, Marigold says it even more frequently, but as for writing it down, never.

We noticed a house for sale in Menlove Avenue, rather grander than number 251, with a guide price of ‘offers over £2,200,000. Well, that takes us out of the running.

‘Mendips’ was bought by Yoko Ono in 2002 and donated by her to the National Trust. They opened it to the public on Saturday 29 March 2003. Paul McCartney’s childhood home was not far away, number 20, Fortlin Road in neighbouring Allerton, but we’d done enough ‘gawping’ for one day.

Well, not quite, as it turned out as I found myself singing Strawberry Fields Forever and took this to be a sign! We went to the top of Woolton Hill – officially the highest point in Liverpool – where there’s a water tower and from this vantage point it was easy to get to our own high spot of the day.

I used to do a little light trespassing in the grounds of the former ‘Sallie Army’ home at the age of about 14. Most of my distinctly dubious mates from Inner Liverpool were no strangers to this area and the Salvation Army Home was the main reason for coming.

John Lennon had been a frequent visitor to Strawberry Field, both on official visiting days and otherwise. He wrote the song as Strawberry FIELDS and everybody I knew in my youth used the same term - always Strawberry Fields, never Strawberry Field, despite the self evident fact of those famous gateposts bearing the words ‘Strawberry Field.’

Those red gates were never, as far as I recall, locked and the ‘Sallie Army Kids’ were often out and about in the village and mostly went to local schools. Despite it being a place we were told to stay away from, hence making it even more attractive.

The ‘inmates’ weren’t offenders, this place wasn’t a Borstal, they weren’t orphans either, just children from the poorest areas of Liverpool whose parent’s couldn’t afford to feed or clothe them. I played football with boys who didn’t own any shoes and actual poverty was a reality back then in the early 1950s, unlike the alleged paupers of today. Not owning a Play Station doesn’t mean you’re poor.

My friends and I made friends with several ‘Strawbs’ and a couple were even allowed to join ‘our’ gang. Obviously this was a great honour.

‘New gates,’ I said to Marigold on arrival. Nothing stays the same and the big old house I remembered so vividly has long gone, but the new gates were still the same intense shade of red.

The Salvation Army’s children’s home at Strawberry Field was in existence from 1936 until 2005 and the young John Lennon, like most of his contemporaries (and a few years later mine too), used to play in the grounds, often being told off for this when he got home.

He referenced the vivid imagery used by his Aunt Mimi whenever his many transgressions came to light and I’ve always assumed this explained the ‘nothing to get hung about’ reference in the song lyric.

Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields.

Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about.

Strawberry Fields forever.’

Strawberry Field is still owned and operated by The Salvation Army, but nowadays, like so many areas of this city, it’s part of ‘Beatles Tourism’ and visitors are welcome. Not for us - best part of £30 to wander around the grounds and visit a gift shop – no thank you. We prefer young Lennon’s system of nipping over the back fence.

Not that we did that today, of course. Marigold frowns on such antisocial behaviour. I told her she’d have struggled to be accepted in our gang. She didn’t appear crushed by the revelation.

Marigold much happier now refreshments have arrived

We prefer a bog standard latte to all this mucking about. Even so...

A Vegetarian Full English. Yes, I'm sure it's delicious, but...

You have your niche. Fill it. Victorian wisdom

Life size, outside a church

Woolton Baths.

The 'Pictures' - nobody ever said 'Cinema' when I were a lad

Marigold and the lovely Mary

There's Eleanor

G cluttering up a graveyard

Sadly, can't find the pics of Marigold or myself on this bench. Just Eleanor then.

Another great man forever associated with Liverpool

Schoolboy photo of John Lennon. I had a very similar 'quiff'' hairstyle

Very rare Lennon songs, recorded posthumously. No, I won't be selling it. Yoko Ono chose the title as homage to John's early life

Has there ever been a more vivid shade of red?