Somehow, by the Fates, we had booked a weekend break away to Liverpool for a rare sunny weekend! This summer has been by all accounts pretty crap. It basically rained for the entirety of August, so this early weekend in September, with its glorious sunshine, has felt like a revelation! Everything always looks better in the sun, but I think Liverpool would still be quite special in the rain.
I’d really wanted a break away with my partner. Wee won’t get a full holiday away together this year after I used most of the meagre annual leave up on 16 days in Canada with my Mum, so we’re trying to scatter a few short breaks in where we can.
I’d never been before to Liverpool and I’d never really thought about it much as a city (I associate it with football which is of no interest to me!), but a few friends and family have made trips there recently and enjoyed it, so being not too far away from home it was a good option for our mini-break.
I feel stupid that I didn’t know it was a designated UNESCO World Heritage City!1 It is full of beautiful buildings from its time as a powerhouse of maritime industry. I had of course heard of the Liver Building, but I didn’t know it has such an incredibly grand Museum, Gallery and Central Library! The Albert Docks area is also really nice and has clearly had some money put into it in recent years.
So here are a few of the things we did!
Liverpool City Sights Bus Tour
We decided to get a “lay of the land” bus tour to start our Saturday off. Unfortunately, we could hardly hear the tour guide because he’d stayed downstairs on the bus and his microphone was too quiet under the roar of the bus accelerating and street noise. The bits I did catch were interesting, but I’m disappointed I couldn’t get it all!
It was still a good ride around to see some of the highlights, including the f***ing massive Cathedral which we will definitely visit next time we go! It’s immense.
The Beatles Story was a bust
I’m going to preface this by saying that I am not a Beatles fan. I don’t actively dislike them but I don’t like them, by which I mean I’d never choose to put on any Beatles music, and I have been known to skip it on playlists! I don’t know what it is but I just cannot hear whatever it is that other people respond to. I don’t enjoy any of their singing voices (I think on some songs they actually sound bad). I also don’t particularly like Oasis either, so there is something in that type of sound that does not jive with me.
My partner made me listen to almost 2 hours of Beatles on the drive to Liverpool so I had a lot of time to think about how and why I do not enjoy their music!
Anyway, this is just to say that this activity was not my choice but I was happy to go because my partner was interested! And he was going to replay the favour by visiting the Tate with me!
I was quite confused when I was researching things to do before went because there is The Beatles Story and The Beatles Museum which are two entirely separate attractions that aren’t affiliated with each other. I decided on The Story because I thought it might be more enjoyable as an experience, but I think now with hindsight the Museum would have been significantly better…
The Beatles Story was, in my opinion, a complete ripoff of £19 (each) and just a bad experience. It’s an audio tour for a start, which is never my favourite. I prefer to go at my own pace and be able to talk to my partner about what we’re seeing/learning. You’re given a headset and smart device to play audio and video clips on and then sent off down a corridor of sets. This is a narrow hallway, and this place is very busy with tourists (especially on a Saturday) so what you end up doing is uncomfortably queuing the whole way around, jammed in narrow spaces with strangers who are all, like you, standing around listening to the audio tour.
There are a few things to see on the walls – a handful of artefacts – but not much. It’s mostly set recreations of things like the exterior of the club in Hamburg they played at in the early days, a recreation of The Cavern Club and a Yellow Submarine. It really reminded me of queuing for a theme park ride in Florida except the queue was the ride.
The information you get from the audio tour is also very basic and surface-level. As I already said, I am no Beatles fan and I have never sought out information about them, but I don’t think I learned a single thing that I didn’t already know through the cultural osmosis of living in the UK all my life! It’s recycled audio and video clips you probably have seen before at some point. Any of the interesting – real – parts of the story are either totally glossed over – how and why they split up! – or omitted (like what a dick John Lennon was, and all of the drugs!).
I would skip this attraction if you ever visit Liverpool! My partner – the actual Beatles fan – said he thought it was crap before I started my complaining about it!
But we did at least get a photo in the corridor of mirrors.
The Tate Liverpool
Tate is Modern Art, so it was always a gamble but it was free and nearby!
I love an art gallery but Modern Art is extremely hit-and-miss for me, and it’s mostly miss. I generally don’t understand or respond to (and often feel vaguely irritated by) a lot of modern installation art and video art. I prefer decorative art like paintings or sculpture, and I like to be able to see and appreciate the skill that went into creating the piece. Sometimes Modern Art can feel either too overtly political or just lazy to my personal sensibilities – like the effort and skill that went into crafting the pretentious bullshit to explain it rather than the piece speaking for itself.
I didn’t find anything in there that resonated for me. There were a couple of cool textile pieces I snapped in case of embroidery inspiration, and some abstract paintings that sparked a little something in me but mainly I was happy to speed through it! I will say it is quite sparse, there are three floors but there isn’t a lot actually in there.
I much, much preferred the Galleries I visited in Canada this year in Montreal and Ottawa. In hindsight, we should have gone to the Walker Art Gallery instead but there is always next time!
This museum is on the 4th floor of the Maritime Museum, and it is well worth visiting! If I was a little down on The Beatles Story and The Tate, this museum was the attraction that saved the day.
Liverpool was at the centre of the Slave Trade and all the commerce that grew from it. Liverpool ships transported millions of slaves and the goods they were forced to produce. This makes the location of this museum, on the docks where this trade happened, very powerful. As a British person, I know that my country grew itself off the back of slaves but because those slaves were (majority) transported to the Caribbean and the Americas it always feels very much like the real horror happened in faraway lands. This museum can remind us that while those poor men, women and children did not work on our home soil, the profits of their labour very much flowed through our cities, made us rich and paid for the grand buildings I’d been so admiring.
I thought the museum did an excellent job of conveying the context for the slave trade – the huge profits for Europeans, and the greater cost to the African nations and generations of descendants – in a way that was concise and accessible. It makes me feel so sick when I read a price list of the sale of slaves. It really chills me that women were worth more, and the implications in that.
The whole time I was walking around I was thinking about Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. That book is so powerful as a work of history, as much as it is fiction (time travel element aside) there is nothing in that book that didn’t happen.
They had this photograph from a bloody Christmas card that was taken in 1923 in Badagary, Lagos, Nigeria for the African Nut Oil Company and Miller Brothers.2 It will haunt me.
Again this was taken in 1923! A fact that I missed when I was looking at it in the museum. I can’t imagine what was going through the minds of these men. They all look so tired, and angry. The white couple on the bottom right at least have the minor decency to look a little uncomfortable.
The rest of the Maritime Museum we had to speed through because it shut at 4:30pm.
We’ll be back!
We agreed we’d definitely make another trip back one day to do the things we didn’t get around to! I hope we also manage to pick another perfect blue-sky day!
- I’m confused as to whether it still has the title after reading this. I can’t find for 2023 if it ever got the title back, I don’t think it did? ↩︎
- I believe the photograph itself is in the Bristol Archives. ↩︎