Tuesday 24 July 2007

Islands In The Stream

An island platform when you have no idea where you're going is such a tantalising thing. One platform, two routes, and each is equally open to you. That's how I started today, at Bidston on the Wirral Line. I had decided that today was just going to be a day of MerseyTarting, but I didn't know which way to go. At Bidston, there's one island platform: trains to Liverpool one way, trains to West Kirby the other.

I decided I would just take the first train that came along. What was the first train that came along? One to Wrexham. Yes, even though this service is a frequent as a pleasant smell in a sewage works, a Wrexham train turned up before anything else. This train forms part of the Borderlands Line. How do I know this? ALF Alert!

The Borderlands Line is so called because it goes from England to Wales. This is rather disappointing, as a name like that sounds like it should be in East Germany, a hotbed of spies and skullduggery, with people being shot up against barbed wire fences for listening to 99 Luftballoons. It does have a couple of stations on the Merseyrail map, at Upton and Heswall, but I'm afraid that if I visit them I'll end up in a Stasi cellar somewhere being tortured with Men of Harlech.

The ALF, incidentally, depicts Bidston Observatory, which is on a hill not far from the station. This was once home to an Oceanographic Laboratory but is now seemingly destined to be (yawn) luxury flats. How imaginative.

Bidston station itself is thoroughly odd. As you can see, it's not exactly state of the art; but within a few hundred yards are a Tesco the size of Bridlington, a large retail park, and a junction of the M53. You could have a great big park and ride here, with a decent bus interchange, and links into the retail units, but they don't seem to have bothered. It just sort of sits in the middle of a field, difficult to get to, with pedestrian crossings taking you across big dual carriageways into nothing. It could be a proper transport interchange.

Anyway, a Liverpool train turned up, so off I went to Liverpool Central to change to the Northern Line. I was careful not to leave the station, hence the lack of pics of it - that's for another day. Instead, I went to the Northern Line's island platform and boarded the first train I saw - one to Kirkby.

I had a vague plan in my mind. I didn't intend going out to Kirkby, but I had seen on the map that Rice Lane and Walton were quite close to one another. I figured I would go out to Rice Lane, then walk to Walton and get the train back again. Simple enough. So here's Rice Lane collected:

The station itself was utterly unmemorable; just crammed beneath a bridge. I trotted out the exit, then turned left, with a vague idea that Walton was somewhere that way. It was. In fact, I could see it down the road, about twenty yards away! How ridiculous is that? There can be no possible good reason for having two stations that close to one another. It must be a hangover from the days of privatised railways, when stations were inefficiently placed purely to satisfy shareholders instead of passengers (any satirical tone detected in that sentence was entirely deliberate).

There's the sign anyway. A bit up the nose, but there you go. I was concerned about taking too many pics as the prison is just over the road, and I didn't want a load of burly men to suddenly wrestle me to the ground because they thought I was planning a mass break out.

Incidentally, regular readers may recall that I wondered what the ALF at Walton would be (http://merseytart.blogspot.com/2007/07/its-pronounced-baytch.html). Sadly, they don't have one at all, which is missing a trick, surely. I think I may write to Merseytravel and suggest something sawn off shotgun related.

Back into Liverpool I went, with a swift change at Moorfields for a train to Hunts Cross to take me further south. The train took me through Liverpool Central, and then through old, rocky tunnels with occasional gaps of sunlight to carry me to one of the newest stations on the network: Brunswick. This was built as a regenerative tool for the local rebuilt docks and office villages, and was opened in 1998. I've always had a sneaking fondness for this station for two reasons: (1), it has a large sandstone wall outside which is nicely ostentations and modern- viz:

The second reason is it has a connection to that most wondrously named of Liverpool districts: Dingle. Knotty Ash and Tuebrook come close, yes, but how can you say "I live in Dingle" and not smile? Actually, how can you say, "I live in Dingle" and manage to resist the urge to dress like a gnome? It's lovely.

I have however gone off Brunswick a bit as it has the most boring ALF I have seen yet.

What's wrong with Brunswick for Dingle, eh? Eh? I'm outraged. Especially since there are plans to demolish that business park and build an enormous tower on the site instead. A Business Park is most definitely not an Attractive Local Feature, and I'm shocked that they can pretend otherwise.

Since it was a lovely day, and since I hate to go back on myself, I wandered along the riverside to get to my next destination. The road here is wide, and empty, and all along it are brick 90s style developments, interspersed with car showrooms and odd retail units. It's all a bit random, and doesn't look like much thought has gone into the planning - it looks like the council were just glad that anyone wanted to build something round here, and so weren't too picky about what they threw up. The route also has two sad reminders of Things We Have Lost.

This is a genuine piece of transport history; under that arch was the terminus to the Liverpool Overhead Railway, an elevated railway that once ran from its station here at Dingle past the Liver Building and all the way past the docks. Sadly, this is one of the few remaining signs of the system. It was heavily bombed in the war, and then the iron supports were found to have corroded to such an extent that repairing it would have cost a fortune. The "Docker's Umbrella" was closed in 1956 and replaced with a (gah) bus service; the rest was sold for scrap. That makes me genuinely upset, that such a useful, innovative transport system was allowed to die through lack of motivation and investment. If it were still here today, it would be a tourist attraction in its own right.

This was the entrance to the International Garden Festival that was held in 1984. This was a wizard wheeze by the Tory Government at the time: rather than help a city by giving it jobs and assistance, bung a few flowers in and that will sort it out. To be fair, this massive site was a success back then, turning a landfill site into a thing of beauty - I can still remember seeing items about it on the news - but unfortunately, it was all temporary, and there was no money provided to keep the thing going. It fell into disrepair and ruin. Bits of it were moved off elsewhere (the "Yellow Submarine" from one of the gardens is now at the airport, and I believe the giant Blue Peter ship is now outside the Police HQ) while the large Festival Hall was turned into "Pleasure Island". I visited it years ago, and it was a mess - a bowling alley crammed into a derelict site. Unsurprisingly it went bust.

There are plans now on the table, which are apparently going to move forward, to build (guess what?) luxury apartments on the site, with much of the gardens restored as a new public park. Does any developer ever build bog-standard apartments, instead of luxury ones? And what happened to flats? Whatever they build, it would certainly be welcome for the site to at least be opened up, instead of CCTV and razor wired up.

Anyway, I turned away from there and went somewhere a lot nicer: Lark Lane. This is a boho district of the city, and I love it - lots of little cafes and restaurants, with big Victorian villas leading up to Sefton Park. One of my friends used to live near here with his (now thankfully ex-) fiance, and I was so jealous; I wanted to live that magic life of waking up on a Sunday morning and wandering down to one of the lazy cafes with wooden floors for a quiet coffee and the papers. Perfect living.

Once I was done wishing I was living in an advert for a building society, I turned back to get the train into Liverpool from St Michael's station. This was another place I had fond memories of from visiting Mike, and I wasn't disappointed: the little country station building and feel were all present and correct. It's tucked down a back road, surrounded by trees, and is quite lovely - please, go and visit it. Nice stations should be encouraged wherever possible.

I turned back into Liverpool, but disembarked briefly at Moorfields for a quick tart of the Old Hall Street entrance to the station, which has its own ticket office (and even a shop). Sadly, the whole thing was in shadow, so I couldn't get a decent shot of the main entrance - but I spotted this sly little entrance round the side, and I was in there!

Have it!

And the final train home to Birkenhead Park brought a wonderful surprise. Regular readers (plural?) will remember that last time I visited, they were fiddling with the ALF boards so I couldn't get a picture. At the time, I bemoaned the inappropriateness of telling visitors to Birkenhead Park that this was the station for the Docks. Well, they have listened - the reason they were fiddling was they were installing this:

Yes!!! And what's even better, they've left the orginal as well:

Two ALFs for the price of one! I was too excited, really. In fact I was so excited I threw caution to the wind. It had always slightly bothered me that my first tart had been represented by the platform sign, rather than the exterior. Well, I was so buoyed by the Double ALF Experience, I dashed out across the road and took this:

Who cares if I look slightly disturbed? Who cares if the local scallies looked like they were about to rip the camera out of my hand and shove it into an orifice of their choosing? Birkenhead Park is properly tarted and I'm so pleased. That's another five stations off the list, and I had a nice wander around. The project's moving along!

Monday 16 July 2007

It's pronounced "Baytch".

I had a horrible morning. It was a Monday, for starters, and in a truly unoriginal way, I didn't relish it at all. Plus I was just feeling down generally - post holiday blues, I guess. So I decided to go into work a little bit late. But even on the train in, I was feeling despondent at another day earning minor ducats in a thankless task. What could possibly cheer me up?

It's Bache, the second to last station at one end of the Wirral Line, and the place where I have been disembarking for work the last year or two. Though I work in Chester city centre (the real end of the line - in so many ways), I have a single stab at physical activity every day; I walk the mile and a quarter from Bache station into the city. It takes me twenty minutes, and I usually end up all sweaty, but I like pretending it's proper exercise.

I was going to leave this one until later on. Firstly, it's unbelievably easy for me to get, since I'm there every day. Secondly, it's in Cheshire, and so isn't part of Merseyrail proper (though it is owned and run by them) - please note the lack of yellow M's on the sign. Third, and most importantly, it has no ticket office.

Now call me a sentimental old fuddy duddy but I think a train station should have a ticket office. A public transport area without one is a bus stop. A ticket machine on the platform is no replacement; I want a ticket office, with a man behind the counter with unfeasible sideburns and ruddy cheeks smiling as he charges me an ridiculous fee. A waiting room would also be nice, but in our hoodie infested times, where "waiting room" is another way of saying "public urinal", I understand this may be wishful thinking.

I finally caved in because Bache gave me an opportunity to get my first ALF, and it's a goodun:

A GIRAFFE! How fabulous is that? Alight here for wild animals! And it's such a cute little Attractive Local Feature as well. Look at its ickle brown eyes!

Reflecting on it I may have actually shot my load a bit early, so to speak. I very much doubt that there will be many other ALFs that can meet the Bache Giraffe's high standards of cuteness. Certainly I think Walton (most prominent local feature: a prison) will have problems competing. In fact, now that I've written that, I'm wondering what they do have on their ALF board - a portrait of Ronnie Biggs? Prison bars? Those pyjamas with the arrows on them? Maybe they just don't mention it. Or maybe it's like Birkenhead Park, and they just go for something surreal, like the local abbatoir.

(I have just realised that it looks like you can get a train to Chester from my ear. Note to self: try and position yourself a little better next time).

Friday 6 July 2007

First off the mark

Yes! Finally! I've got round to actually taking some pics! I'd like to pretend this was because of my hectic, fast paced life, but actually it was because I am vain, and I decided to wait until I was nicely tanned from my holiday in Cyprus (very nice, thanks) before I went plastering my face all over the Interweb.

So today, I tarted my first two stations. This was on a trip into Liverpool to shop - nothing exciting, just some work clothes, but none the less, it counts. I started out from Birkenhead Park station, which is closest to my home, but not by much. I am half an hour's walk from about four different Merseyrail stations, which is actually some achievement, really.

Birkenhead Park station is named after the park (like, duh), but actually this is semi-interesting. Birkenhead Park was the first public park in the world, and was the model for Central Park in New York; it's about 160 years old. It's just had a major lottery funded tarting up, and now there's a load of in-keeping fences and gravel-esque walking surfaces and a big new visitor centre/cafe to keep you entertained. Patricia Routledge just reopened it, in fact (yes! The Patricia Routledge!).

The station, however, is less exciting. To quote Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birkenhead_Park_railway_station), "The station building is not the original. The first station was destroyed by a bomb during the Second World War." I'm quoting that verbatim, because it's the bit I wrote. Due to the high propensity of scallies hanging around the entrance, I didn't feel comfortable fannying around outside the entrance with my camera (WARNING: this may be a recurring theme) so I finally took the pics on the platform. Are you ready?

Odd smirk, present and correct, but as you may notice, the nameplate is obscured by my fat head. The reason for this is apparent when I show you the pic which did include the station name:

God, I look like I am mid-stroke. Just pretend it doesn't exist, will you?

Birkenhead Park does have an Attractive Local Feature board. (I called these something else in my first post, but I can't remember what it was, and Attractive Local Feature abbreviates to ALF, which is pleasing). For some thoroughly odd reason, the feature at Birkenhead Park station, which travellers should be interested in, is not he 160 year old park; no, it's the docks. Eh?

Anyway, I couldn't take the picture as there were some workmen there taking the ALF boards down. Either Merseyrail have realised their error, or they are being repainted to try and remove the name "Birkenhead Park" in case you mistakenly wander that way. I will have to go back when they have completed their efforts and try again.

After that, it was a short hop onto the train to Moorfields in Liverpool. I wasn't going to do the loop stations under Liverpool until the end, because frankly, they're too easy; it feels like cheating. But Moorfields has a very special place for me - it was the first train station I ever visited in Liverpool. I got off there, way back in 1995, for my first exploration of a city which I subsequently fell in love with.

Also, Moorfields is memorable for a whole load of dirty reasons too. (Sensitive readers may be advised to skip the following section for its mentions on dirty man love). Yes reader, I'm a homo, and my very first kiss was with a lad named Colin in Liverpool back when I was 18. I'd met him in the Lisbon (my favourite, favourite gay bar in the city; if you are ever there, you have to visit - it has a listed ceiling which is pink and gold - honestly!) after beginning a conversation about Two Dogs vs Hooch alcoholic lemonade. Both brands are sadly no longer with us, which shows how frigging old I am. Anyway, Colin and I got on famously, to the extent that we both ended up snogging each other. Until we had to get the last train home - me on the Northern Line, and him on the Wirral Line - and we dashed off to Moorfields station. We kissed all the way down the escalators to the platform, and reader, it was fantastic. It was like a storm hitting me and showing me that this gay stuff - maybe it was a great idea. Maybe it was an amazing idea. Maybe it could make me very, very happy. I will always be grateful to Moorfields for that.

This is how it looks, by the way:

Note that, even though it's an underground station, you have to go upstairs to get into it. This is because of a frankly insane plan Liverpool's city council once had to make all pedestrians walk round the place on elevated walkways instead of pavements. How any right minded individual thought this was a good idea, is beyond me.

You may notice I look a little freaked out. That's because this is on the opposite side of the road:

In case you can't tell, that's an office building, with a giant revolving piece. This is ART, and frankly, I think it's fantastic. I couldn't stop staring at it. The central circle twists and revolves inside a decrepit, crusty old building which is scheduled for demolition. Suddenly I don't want it to go; I want it to stay there, twisting and turning and mucking up the minds of innocent passers by. It's called Turning The Place Over, by Richard Wilson, and you can see it move at http://www.biennial.com/ttpo/. Can you imagine a whole street of these? Fantastic. Richard Wilson should be hired to slice pieces out of all decrepit buildings, just to keep them interesting. I love it to bits!

Two tarts in one day; I feel so dirty. God knows how I'll be once I get to the really trollopy runs...