In My Liverpool Home
To the untrained ear, my accent sounds Liverpudlian. And to a certain extent, it is. Whenever anyone asks me where I'm originally from, if I'm giving the very high level answer, I tend to say "near Liverpool". Which isn't untrue; it's just maybe a bit vague.
Accents in the North West of England are very specific. In the distance from Liverpool to Manchester, you cross many different accents and all in the space of 40 miles or so. But if you're not from the area, you tend to just think of accents such as mine as "Scouse".
Of course, growing up I didn't think I had an accent. Just as growing up in a family where every household was a smoking household you become immune to the smell of cigarette smoke. Nowadays I can smell the smoke on my clothes long after leaving the smoky place, but back then it was just normal and as everything smelled the same way, I never noticed.
But nowadays I hear the accents up here, and then sound Liverpudlian to me. I'm sure that years of living Down South have tempered my accent and knocked off the rough northern edges. But to anyone who meets me from the first time, they guess I come from Liverpool.
The truth is, though, that Liverpool is nowhere near home for me. I've written before about the fact that I don't tend to have great attachment to the place I grew up; for me, London is "home". But Liverpool wasn't ever "home" for me. Despite it being the nearest big city, it's not somewhere I know well at all.
I came here a lot as a kid. Usually brought to visit the Museum with my Dad and feed my fascination for dinosaurs and the collection of geological specimens which used to be there. I used to buy little samples of stones and had a green baize shelf at home with little labels where I'd collect all different types of rock. Unlike my coin and banknote collection, neither the collection nor the fascination with the subject have followed me into adult life.
We used to come to the theatre in Liverpool. I saw the stage show versions of both "Doctor Who" and "Allo Allo" at the Liverpool Empire, and would annually go to the Rock and Roll Pantomime at the Everyman Theatre with my Mum.
Sometimes we used to wander around the shops. I remember a fascination for a little book shop just outside Central Station and a music shop where I used to go and look at the pianos in wonderment. This was long before the shiny malls had taken over the streets. I once got lost in Lewis's as a young kid and was given some sweets by the lady in the cafe whilst waiting to be found.
But since moving away, my visits to this area of the country have mostly been to The Wirral as I'd stay with either my Dad or my Grandmother when visiting family. Trips to Liverpool were rare, and I think I've only walked through the city twice in the past ten years.
But now - with both my Dad and Granny having died in recent years - I find myself staying in a hotel in the City Centre of Liverpool. And it feels strange. I've stayed in hotels in many cities - rarely in the UK - and never before in Liverpool. The thought that I must investigate the WiFi at the hotel to avoid running up huge bills on my mobile is driven by my habitual experience that hotels as usually "outside the UK". I don't think I need to tell Vodafone in advance if I'm just visiting The North, do I? I haven't brought my passport with me either, for that matter.
To a certain extent, my knowledge of Liverpool is still that of myself as a child. It's the magical big city with the revolving restaurant in the tower overlooking the shops, and the bombed out church at the top of the road. It's the place where the ferries leave from and where the trains run one-way around an underground loop. James St station with it's strangely un-renovated platform. Dark and forboding across from the well-lit modern plastic platform. The ghostly iron steps and closed grilles across the passageways, as though glacing across the tracks is like looking back in time. Central Station with it's escalators down to the deep world of the Northern Line. The line which - for me - ran from Liverpool Central out to Seaforth and Litherland and occassionally out as far as Southport.
And the other way, of course, those trains ran to St Michaels and the Liverpool Garden Festival. Back in 1984 (I think) it was transformed into a world of waterfalls and toy trains and the yellow submarine (or sumbarine as I used to call it) raised up on a hillock overed in pansies and daffodils. I remember going there quite a few times - including one school trip where I got to meet Roland Rat and too cheese sandwiches with me. Driving from the airport towards the city centre, there's a road which runs right through what used to be the Garden Festival site. Some of the buildings still stand. In decaying, part skeletal form. Rusting shadows of the gleaming heyday of tulips and turf.
And so for me, going back to Liverpool isn't going home. I may be going to the same place I used to go to as a kid, but in order to get to the Liverpool I know, I'd need to somehow step back around thirty years, too.