Tuesday, 30 December 2008
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
Further along the platform, and the ribs are rising above the fence, as though the La Machine spider is making a return appearance. From this angle they actually look malevolent, like legs rising up ready to pounce.
Sunday, 14 December 2008
So a final Christmas shopping trip gave me the opportunity to have a shufti and see if I could find it. Since the cosmic significance of the 30th birthday trip was now lost, there wasn't much point, but it was nice to find it for completion's sake. If I can sound like an 80s American sitcom for a moment, I gained closure.
And there it is: Gawd bless you ma'am, and all that. Well done on your consumate unveiling skills.
Next to the plaque was a large copy of Centre of the Universe, Merseyrail's answer to The Great Bear (and which I still haven't got round to buying). It wittily associates notable Merseysiders with relevant stations, and my 007-head couldn't avoid pointing out that Chester's been appropriately renamed:
Please also note that Bache is replaced by Hugo Drax, which seems a bit odd at first, since Hugo Drax is in Moonraker and that was Roger Moore. However, it should be pointed out that in the novel, Sir Hugo Drax is originally from Liverpool, so this is a clever use of 007-Liverpool referencing (even if it's been placed in Cheshire). Strict Bond-geekery however makes me point out that Drax is in fact, not a Scouser at all, but is in fact the Graf Hugo von der Drache, a former Nazi hell bent on dropping a nuclear bomb on London. Even the most militant Liverpudlian hasn't advocated the atomic destruction of the Capital (well, maybe Derek Hatton).
Thursday, 11 December 2008
Friday, 5 December 2008
Thursday, 4 December 2008
Sunday, 16 November 2008
As it turned out, Seaforth & Litherland didn't have an ALF at all.
There's a wide, heavily used dual carriageway to the docks separating the station from the residential area, so I was forced to clamber over a vertigo-inducing pedestrian bridge to get there. As I descended the steps on the other side, it was as though the colour had been sucked from the view.
Christ, I look knackered.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
(Apologies for the blurring). Beautiful tiling, lovely ceiling details - just marvellous. I particularly liked the telephone booths: their symmetry, either side of the exit, was of course a definite pleasure for me, but they also summoned up 30s glamour: flappers calling cabs after nights of scandalous indulgence, monocled businessmen making terribly important international calls, journalists with paper stuck in their bowlers calling in a scoop at the last moment. It's a shame it's been allowed to decay. I know no-one uses telephone booths any longer, but it could be scrubbed up a bit, an old two-part phone could be installed for show, and it could be discreetly lit. A little bit of charm to distract the commuters on their way to the offices - or would it be wasted on the head down scurriers who breezed past me and my camera, oblivious to everything?
Eventually we had to get on with things, so it was out onto the street to tart the entrance - though I was surprised to see there's no actual station sign outside. If you squint below, you can just about see the name on the map by my shoulder:With the Bf off to work (ha!) I was left to my own devices, off to buy a Saveaway for my trip to Bootle. I considered stopping off at Sandhills, en route: it's been open since July. But one look at the mass of building work and scaffolding on the platform changed my mind. It was clearly a long way from completion, so I stayed on the train and carried on, through Bank Hall (where there were men on the platform looking befuddled at the art - what is it?!?!) and then off at Bootle Oriel Road.
It looked like the work was still carrying on here, too. The only people who got off with me were a load of builders in hard hats, who met up on the platform with other builders in hard hats, to discuss whatever builders in hard hats talk about - cement, or something. Bits of the station were still encircled by that plastic mesh fence that is put out temporarily while the tarmac dries, and it felt bitty, somehow. I crossed over to the other side and got the obligitary "I WOZ ERE" shot outside, then took a look at what £4.25 million buys you in stations these days.
The answer? Not a lot.
Let's be frank here: that's a mess. I feel disloyal for saying this, because I've ranted at length about money not being spent on stations, but that's all over the place. It's steps! It's ramps! It's lifts! I understand there's a Disability Discrimination Act to comply with, but this is ramshackle, and unfocused. There's no "wow!", which is a shame. After the mega "wow!" of James Street, this was retail park "will this do?" architecture. Is it asking to much for the station building to at least look permanent? It was a major disappointment, and genuinely dispiriting. It also made me pessimistic about the prospects for a good design at Sandhills.
Crashing on. Next stop is Bootle New Strand, so I hoiked myself onto the main road and headed north. It's years since I'd been to Bootle. Mike - my Bond sharing friend - once worked for the Inland Revenue here. They're housed in a building with the not at all terrifying name of The Triad. If you want to house a Government department, why not choose a building named after an international criminal gang? I'd come out here to have lunch with him in a Yates' at the Triad's foot (we're all class), and so I'd got a look round the infamous Strand shopping centre while I was at it. It was dispiriting to say the least. Grey, unpleasant shops, low end chain stores, covered vacant fronts: I haunted the artificially lit malls for a while before I burst out onto the street in search of a bit of sun and freedom. I believe it's been refurbished since then, expanded, re-energised, but I didn't fancy poking my head in to find out. The shopping centre turns its back on the road outside, presenting an ugly concrete face to the traffic, with the only colour being a grim looking pub squatting in the corner. It almost seems to resent Bootle, but in fairness, Bootle seems to resent it right back.
I don't want to sound down on Bootle. Before I got to the New Strand, I'd passed the new Health & Safety exec building: modern and vibrant and exciting. Opposite the shopping centre, there's a tall block of apartments under construction, and new shops, so it seems that there is money coming into the area. All I can say is that I was able to travel between the two stations in less than fifteen minutes, and I had no desire to linger.
Anyway, a bit of positive about Bootle New Strand: it was another rebuilt station, but for some reason this one seemed far more charming than the other one. Perhaps it was the clock (though it could do with a clean), or perhaps it was the little newsagent by the entrance. An old lady hobbled up to it ahead of me to buy her Daily Post, which I found sweet. I wondered if she'd been doing that for decades, right back to when the station was called Marsh Lane & Strand Road in the 60s, before they built the shopping centre. There was meant to be a bridge, going directly from the station into the shops, but it was never built, and now you have to cross the busy road to get to the centre and the buses.
Another plus about Bootle New Strand was that it gave me the closest thing to an Attractive Local Feature board all day. OK, it's basically an advert, and it's only half the size of a proper one (a semi-ALF? A quasi-ALF?), and let's face it, it's not very pretty, but I'll take what I can get, quite frankly.
The next station was Seaforth & Litherland. All I know about this area is there was once a Sunday night tv drama on BBC1 called Seaforth: it starred Ken Barlow's son and it was the kind of thing that Grannies like, and I remember there being some sort of vague controversy when it was cancelled after one series because it had got loads of viewers but the BBC1 controller just thought it was shit. Perhaps, to commomorate this gone-before-its-time series, Seaforth & Litherland's ALF would be a picture of Linus Roache crying, or perhaps a pile of burnt TV licences. Or perhaps everyone else in the world has forgotten about this show, and Seaforth & Litherland would have its own charms to capture my attention. Who can say?
Saturday, 25 October 2008
The climax to this part of the story was achieved on 25th October 1978 when the new lines were officially opened by H M The Queen. A plaque at Moorfields was unveiled followed by a trip to Kirkby...Now leaving aside the fantastic mental image of our Sovereign sat on a yellow and green MerseyRail seat to Kirkby of all places - perhaps nipping off at Rice Lane for a Maccy D's at the outlet by the station - the cosmic coincidence of the dates was staggering. The following Saturday would be the thirtieth anniversary of MerseyRail's official opening.
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
Well, sod that; getting up for work at 7am is bad enough, without being crammed on a Green Line full of grumbling commuters in a traffic jam outside Runcorn. So I dashed back down the escalator (and incidentally, fat woman with suitcase: IT SAYS STAND ON THE RIGHT. Thank you for your time) and caught a Wirral Line train to Chester for the Arriva shuttle to Crewe.
My favourite architectural feature at Chester, though, isn't Victorian might or Noughties glamour: it's beautiful, traditional, evocative British Rail. If you head towards the East Car Park, there's a barely used platform which still retains its old fashioned light features:
Wonderful thing. It smells of steam trains, and tea urns: it shouts drab fashions and powdered eggs. It's British Railways, and I love it, and I love that for all the Chester Renaissance gubbins, someone, somewhere has recognised that these seemingly mundane light fittings are actually part of our heritage.
I did enjoy romping through the station, now that it had been shorn of associations with That Bloody Job; I'm especially pleased that it slices off the foot of the Wirral Line from the MerseyTart map. In fact, there are now only three stations left on the Wirral Line (apart from the Loop, which doesn't count). I almost don't want to go and get them, to be honest, because that will mean the end of a chapter. Everything west of James Street will be finished with, and I don't want it to be: I like it too much. When I started romping round the railways I thought I'd polish it off pretty quickly, but as I'm getting near the end, I'm realising I don't want it to stop. There have been a few times when I've thought, "Ooh, shall I go and collect some stations?" but have put it off because... well... I don't want it to end. Being the MerseyTart has brought me a good deal of pleasure, and I'd like to think there's a lot more tart in me (oooh, cheeky! Etc, etc).
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
I saw this when it first aired, and I adored it. And I just found out that they repeated it on BBC4 last week and I missed it. And they haven't put it on iPlayer. And this person has posted only the first six minutes on YouTube.
You cannot beat a bit of Victoria Wood. Or even a lot of Victoria Wood. "Whenever I take an Intercity, I always end up sat opposite the woman who is eating the individual fruit pie by sucking the filling out through the hole in the middle." That's not in this documentary, it's in As Seen On TV. (That's not a documentary, it's a women's cocktail bar - sorry, once you start quoting Victoria Wood you can't stop).
Monday, 29 September 2008
which gives access to a stairway, which allows you to get down to the unused, unloved platforms. Even though they haven't seen a passenger since crinoline was in style, the area is sort of kept in use; it's a handy access point for workmen to the tunnels, and, in the event of some emergency, it could theoretically be used as an escape tunnel.
Thursday, 4 September 2008
Apologies for the blurring. These have the effect of cordoning off the platform from the new retail area - but the platform is now only about six feet wide. I came off the train tonight, and things have progressed a bit more, to the extent that the whole centre area has been blocked off - but it makes the space for passengers to alight really narrow. As all the bodies moved down towards the exit it was slightly claustrophobic (and bloody annoying when the dopey tart in front of you decides to just stop in the middle to attend to her wailing brat, thereby blocking everyone from getting away). They'll have to hold the passengers in a waiting area, because there was no space at all for people to get on and get off at the same time. The plus side is that as Lime Street's a terminal station there's usually a bit of a breather before the train moves off again anyway.
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Saturday, 16 August 2008
...which seems fair enough; we've all seen the tourists staring at the boards and leaving their rucksacks cluttering the concourse. This one, however, grabbed my attention:
This raises a few issues for me:
1) Are French and German children not worth bothering with?
2) It should never be two ! or ? marks. Either (!) or (!!!), and the latter should be used only in times of extreme duress or panic e.g. "Zut Alors! Leetle Pierre 'as fallen onto ze railway tracks!!!" Someone send Lynne Truss to Rail House.
3) Do they mean "who's watching your children and stopping them from running amok and injuring themself while you are gawping at this timetable?", or do they mean "watch out, watch out, there's a paedo about?". Sadly, a part of me rather suspects it's the latter, and that this sign had been planted on the timetables by a News of the World reading Network Rail employee. I fully expect the next edition to feature "Watch out!! An asylum seeker is spending your tax money on booze and fags!!" and a picture of Jordan's tits.
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
MerseyRail's contribution to the SuperLambBanana festival, and fabulous it is too. (And map aficionados please note: that's not a FUCKING SQUARE on there!). If anyone out there feels like buying me this one in the SuperLambBanana auction, please feel free: I will be eternally grateful.
(See: http://www.gosuperlambananas.co.uk/ for the whole story).
Much as I would have loved to sacrifice myself in front of the 10:32 to Manchester Piccadilly as a way of truly memorializing William Huskisson, I thought it was better to settle for a peek from the nearby road bridge. I wondered how many people even noticed the memorial from their train window as they passed, and, if they did spot it, if they knew what it was. Probably best not to know, really; you don't want to be reminded of railway fatalities as your high powered train is burning through the countryside. Sort of like reading "Alive!" on an aeroplane.
Memorial snapped, I returned to Newton-le-Willows, along its pretty high street, in search of Earlestown. I was getting really wet now, so drenched that I had to take my glasses off; the refractions through the water on the lenses made me feel like The Fly, so I considered it safer to just squint through the drizzle instead. The social scale took a definite slide as I walked. Newton's street of hair salons became Earlestown's road of Bargain Booze. It culminated in this glorious wreck of a cinema, opposite the station; somehow, I like it more as a shattered husk. There's something so evocative about it. I'd rather it stayed like that than be turned into an evangelical church or a bingo hall; I like that it's a reminder of the past, and an era that's gone forever. (Of course, I may be in the minority in this).
Earlestown station building was unimpressive from the street. In fact, possibly the most impressive thing about the shot that follows is my hair. The non-stop precipitation had turned me into Gareth Gates.
The platform buildings were much more interesting, which was fortunate, as I had to wait there twenty minutes for the next train. Earlestown holds a significant "first"; this was the first railway junction in the world, formed when the line to Warrington crept up to meet the Liverpool line, and it's now a large triangle with platforms on each side. (For a time it was even shown on the Merseyrail map as three seperate interchange circles). The platform building, meanwhile, is one of the oldest railway buildings still at an open station in the world. It's long been bricked up - leaving us passengers to loiter in the rain for our connection, as there were no waiting facilities on platform 3 - but the station's operators have at least put a brave face on this, decorating the closed building with heritage-type decorations:
"For Town Centre and Market"? Yawn. Nice to see anyway.
Finally the train arrived, and I was able to leap on board. This isn't an exaggeration. Because of the curve of the railway, the gap between the train and the platform was about a foot; I had to grab hold of the rail and drag myself across. Having risked life and limb, I was able to settle down and dry out a bit before I hit St Helens Junction.
St Helens Junction, incidentally, is a dump. I can usually find a bit of beauty in all railway stations, but this was a dull, uninspired building surrounded by industrial estates. In addition, I almost cracked an ankle slipping on the steps down to the pavement; I was therefore not in the best of moods when I snapped the station shot. I didn't care that you could barely see the sign, I just wanted to get on to somewhere more interesting.
The road to Lea Green, my next stop, was theoretically through countryside. There were fields clearly visible on one side of the road, but the lumbering roar of the juggernauts put paid to that St Mary Mead atmosphere. And then the rain got even heavier, long, hard, driving raindrops that weasled down the back of my neck and slicked my jacket against me. "July" was just a theoretical; outside St Helens, I was in Autumn.
Worse still, there was a hill to climb to Lea Green, and my sense of direction deserted me halfway up it. I remembered from my map that it was a long, straight road from one station to the other, yet I was sure I'd made a right turn. And shouldn't I have encountered the station by now? It wasn't that far. With the rain pissing on me, I pulled out the map and tried to get my bearings, but I couldn't see any of the local roads on the map. Swearing like a member of the aristocracy who's just caught his knackers as he dismounts his horse, I did a volte face, thinking I must have missed a turn. But after a hundred yards, I was filled with doubt again, so the map came back out, and I found where I was. Yep; I'd been going the right way all along, and all my doubt had done was start my road map on the route to papier mache and ensured that I would miss the next train.
Angry with myself, I continued trudging up the hill until the yellow and grey shed that was Lea Green appeared on the horizon. Though the watchword for today's trips was "history", here I was bang up to date; the station dates only from 2000. I arrived at the railway bridge in time to hear the train rev up and leave the platform without me. It was therefore a somewhat grumpy MerseyTart who found himself posing under a nondescript park and ride sign.
What cheered me was a combination of three things:
1) The rain stopped. Okay, now I was under cover, so it didn't make any difference (besides, I couldn't actually get any wetter, short of chucking myself in the Mersey) but it was a pleasure none the less;
2) Lea Green has an ALF. I don't know where Sherdley Park is, but I'm glad it is commemorated in this way. Can I point out that the paint hasn't flaked off that duck? The white spots are part of the artist's interpretation. I checked out a couple of other signs to be sure. It's another boring bird, but it's better than Earlestown's market stall by a long chalk.
3) I got to watch a game of human MouseTrap. Being a new station, Lea Green is fully Disability Discrimination Act compliant, and the route up from the platforms (which are in a cutting) to the street is marked by a long series of ramps, rising upwards slowly. A train pulled in as I was photographing that scabby duck, and all the passengers began their steady climb up the ramps; back and forth, back and forth, like they were on a roller coaster building up to a big drop. It actually got funnier and funnier as they rose - it seemed so laborious, and silly. Sadly, I was too busy smirking as people passed one another again to take a picture of their steady ascent (or even better some video), but hopefully you get the idea. I should also point out there was a flight of stairs which no-one seemed to notice.
The half hour wait meant that I was a lot drier now (though not my shoes; they still squelched), and by the time I got off the train at Rainhill, I actually looked like a human being again. And the Attractive Local Feature board provided me with a handy one-two; not just another ALF for the collection, but also a handy reminder of this historic spot.
(Look how wet it is!). Rainhill was the home of the Rainhill trials which, as the sign points out, took place in October 1829. With the railway nearing completion, someone actually had the bright idea of scrounging up some locomotives to run on it, and a competition was organised to find the right engine for the job. Rainhill, with its long straight stretch of level track, was chosen for the job, and the entries lined up to complete the course. The idea was that the locomotives would complete ten trips over the mile long course, and the one that performed the best would win £500 and be the locomotive for the railway.
There were ten entries, but only five actually made it to the course. Four were called the Cycloped, the Perseverance, the Sans Pareil and the Novelty. If I tell you that the fifth one was called Rocket and was designed by George and Robert Stephenson, have you guessed the winner? Though really the names should have been a bit of a giveaway. The thrusting, white hot future of technology could hardly be represented by the Sans Pareil, could it? Rocket was the only one to finish the trial, and so the contract for the engines for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was given to the Stephensons.
I had all this in my head when I got to Rainhill, so I was even more excited to see that there was an exhibition on the trials. A noticeboard on the station informed me that it was housed in the local library, so off I went, keen to get that bit of local colour.
I was hoisted on my own petard. The reason I had been able to gallavant all over Merseyside was because I was a local government worker on strike. And what are librarians? Local government workers. Oh dear. A closed and barred Rainhill library stopped me from furthering my knowledge of Novelty and friends. I will have to make a return visit sometime.
Instead, I trudged back through the village (which is very pretty, incidentally) and I was away. I crossed the railway bridge (interesting fact: this was the first railway bridge in the world to be built at an angle across the tracks. Ok, I'll stop with the factoids now) and walked towards Whiston.
Just one more station to go, but I needed to make another diversion first. Not historical this time; quite the opposite in fact. My good friends Mike and Kirsten have recently had a baby, and as they live in Whiston, I needed no further excuse to pop in and coo over little Ella. Also, I wanted a free cup of tea.
Fortunately Kirsten was more than accomodating, and allowed me to sit and stare at her absolutely adorable child for an hour. Really, she is a lovely baby. Look:
Sweet! Bless her and her little smiley face.
Recharged with Typhoo, I was reluctantly dragged away from the baby and sent on my way to Whiston station. This is another new one, built in 1990, and tucked away inside a council estate. I apologise for the badness of this pic (as opposed to the badness of all the rest, of course); but the train was literally just coming down the tracks as I arrived, so it was a make-do picture, snapped in a hurry before I headed for the train.
Second, we've learnt that Ella is one of the loveliest babies in Christendom, and that despite my gruff, cynical exterior, I can melt at the sight of a smiling child just like a 94 year old woman.
Third, we've learnt that Merseyrail isn't just a commuter network; it's the ur-network, the one that started it all. The map shows this line going from Liverpool, and a tiny arrowed box indicates that it heads to Manchester, but really that box should say London, Paris, Delhi, Vladivostock, and all points beyond. This is where railways began, where they started to change the planet and the way we behave and act and live. The railways drove the world forward, and this line made Liverpool (and Manchester) right at the front, riding Stephenson's Rocket into the future. And as a passenger in the future, in a world where railways are taken for granted at best and rubbished at worst, it's nice to be able to ride the same rails and pay homage to the people who built it, and to try and stop people from forgetting just how fantastic a train ride can be.