Sunday 29 April 2012

Look You, Boyo

As you read this, I'm not here.  This is an automatically scheduled post.

The reason I'm not here is I'm in Wales.  Last year's trip along the North Wales coast was so successful, so much fun, that I'm doing it again.  Five days of yomping over hills, across bridges, along beaches.

I'd looked for a while for somewhere that was sufficiently interesting.  This time, I'm heading to Mid-Wales: specifically, the Cambrian lines.

From Pwllheli in the north to Aberystwyth in the south, I'll be visiting all the stations and hopefully having a thoroughly good time.  The scenery looks breathtaking, the attractions varied, and the stations go from the small to the tiny to the practically non-existent.  All marvellous entertainment.  The only downsides are that (a) it looks like the weather will be awful, so no chance of a tan, and (b) I won't have the chance to visit any of the Little Railways en route.

Of course, I'll write it all up when I get back (and hopefully within a decent time frame unlike some people).  In the meantime, I'll be Tweeting throughout, because I'll have no-one else to talk to.

If I'm never heard of again, tell my mother I died doing what I loved best: arsing around under station signs trying to take photos of my nostrils.

P.S. for any would be burglars: I might be away, but the Bf has stayed at home, so don't try anything funny.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Arty Party

Art on the Network is back!  Yay!

To me, this is one of the Capital of Culture's finest legacies - an annual art prize, sponsored by Merseytravel, and now in its fourth year.  This year's theme - clearly preparing for the introduction of the Walrus card - is to design a "travel wallet".  There are two categories: one for adults and one for schoolchildren.

(I'm going to be a curmudgeon here and say that I hate it when there are child-designed posters and artwork around - those "stay off the track" posters on Merseyrail trains, for example.  The only people who actually like seeing a badly scrawled felt tipped illustration on the wall are the kid who designed it and their immediate family.  To me it's just a mess of badly illustrated primary colours.  I'd rather stare at a No Win, No Fee solicitor ad).

It's a £500 prize (though the money goes to the kiddie's school, not the child, so don't go counting on armfuls of Haribo).  More importantly, your design will actually be put up for sale across Merseyside.  You can enter at  If you win, my referral fee is 10%.  Cash only.

Hale Village 82a, by Laurence Langton
Hopefully, the competition will be more successful than last year.  I'm not criticising the winning artworks - one of which can be seen above, and more below; the winning entries were all excellent.  I was disappointed in the way the competition ran.

Discover Liverpool, by David Williams
Though I covered the opening of the competition in April last year, the winners weren't announced until January, and then in a very low-key way.  The prize seemed to have been downgraded as well.  The competition was themed around posters, so you'd have expected to be seeing these fine pieces of art all over the city by now.

No.  The designs merely appeared on the front of "limited edition Merseytravel publications" - posh bus timetables, in other words.  A much more transient and ignominious fate for all that hard work.  It means that the advertisements for entries to the competition received more prominence than the actual winners - that can't be right, can it?

Connecting People, by Daniel Lindsay
(You'll be unsurprised to learn the piece above was my favourite).

These posters deserved to be all over the Liverpool area - in stations, bus shelters, ferry terminals.  They're worth selling in the MtoGo stores, and the museums.  They're far more deserving of a spot on the shelves than Beatles frightwigs.  I hope this year's winners' designs fare a lot better.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Vengeance of the Tsars

I went to the library yesterday.  There was a particular book I wanted, but my usual library at Birkenhead Central didn't stock it.  Thanks to the excellent Wirral Libraries website, I found out that the book was at Upton, so I wandered over to get it.  Upton Library, incidentally, is wonderful.  Built in 1936, it's an Art Deco gem: small, understated, and undeniably charming.  The librarian was cheerfully helping a lady with the photocopier while I wandered the stacks, my feet clattering on parquet floor, breathing in the smell of books and polish.

When I'd collected Upton station, I'd been pleased to find that the Colour Tsars had slipped up.  The road signs pointing to the station didn't show the yellow and grey M logo of Merseytravel, but the old, green and white one: the representation of the Loop line which had been the original logo for Merseyrail.

Things change.  The roads round here have been reordered, and a new traffic light has been installed.  The Colour Tsars have seized the opportunity to change the road signs while they were at it.

The M has won.  It's a little understated, and the road sign is extremely flimsy looking, but no matter.  Upton's been claimed by Merseytravel once more.  It's the same in the opposite direction:

Upton's become that little bit more homogenised, a bit more standard, a bit more dull.  I like the M logo: I actually prefer it to the green one.  That doesn't mean  I didn't like seeing this little piece of the 1970s still hanging on in the 21st Century.

But wait... what's this at the Ford Road junction, going unnoticed?

Shh.  Don't tell anyone.

Saturday 21 April 2012


MoorfieldsActon BridgeAigburthAppley BridgeAughton ParkBache
Bank HallBebingtonBescar LaneBidstonBirkdaleBirkenhead Central
Birkenhead NorthBirkenhead ParkBlackpool NorthBlundellsands & CrosbyBootle New StrandBootle Oriel Road
Broad GreenBromboroughBromborough RakeBrunswickBrynBurscough Bridge
Tarting, a set on Flickr.
I've said I'd visited every single station on the Merseyrail map, but you've just taken my word for it. The proof is in that link above - every shot of me in front of one of the stations.

Things to note:

1) I have had some awful haircuts.
2) I have put on a LOT of weight.
3) No, really, some of those haircuts are just awful.
4) Christ, I've got old.
5) Looking back over these pictures has not done anything for my ego. Trust me.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Don't Cry For Me, Merseytarters

So what happens now?
So what happens now?
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
Don't ask.  Anymore.
- from "Hello and Goodbye", Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice

Anyone who knows me is aware of my fondness for the film of Evita.  I saw it with my housemates when I was 20 and we developed a slight obsession.  While our contemporaries were sucking on bongs to Portishead, we were bouncing around the kitchen singing along to "Buenos Aries".  Of course, the presence of Antonio Banderas in his prime didn't harm things either.

(I am going somewhere with this).

Now and then little passages from the film will stick in my head and become mantras.  I was often struck by the phrase "forgive my intrusion, but fine as those sentiments sound/Little has changed for us peasants down here on the ground" whenever my boss would wheel out a new scheme or innovation that was like shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic.  And so it has been for the past week, as people have asked me, "so what happens now?"  The quote above - performed in the film by Andrea Corr, of The Beautiful Corrs - has been rattling round in my head like the last marble in the bag.  

So what happens now?

Firstly, I'm not going anywhere.  I love writing this blog, so it's going to continue.  It's just that it's going to have to change.  From now on, when I talk about Merseyrail, it'll be about those things that are changing, little snippets of news, projects.  Like Art on the Network, or the station refurbishments, or - fingers crossed - new lines and stations and trains.

Beyond that, I'm going to carry on exploring Merseyside's railway history, and its abandoned lines and stations, as I have done with the Birkenhead Dock and Overhead Railway lines in the last few months.  There's a whole cobweb of old railways all over the city, sometimes hidden, sometimes not, and I'd love to keep looking them over.  It'll give me a chance to explore places that are no longer on Liverpool's railway map - places like West Derby and Knotty Ash - as well as places that might be on it one day (Maghull North and Town Meadow, perhaps?).

There will still be me fannying around in front of railway station signs as well.  I've got a trip planned for the week after next, similar to my Welsh Odyssey last year, which will mean four whole days of walking, riding, and up the nose shots of me and a British Rail logo.  There are some other local stations I'd like to check out, and some just plain oddities I'd love to explore - the Manchester Metrolink, for example.  I might even go back to the Merseyrail stations again just to see if they've changed (though that would probably only be in a slow week).

In the longer term, I do have a vague idea for another map-based project, but it's very much a thought at the moment, rather than an actual plan.  It might be just too ambitious.

What I'm saying is, unlike Peron's teenage mistress being kicked out of bed by Madonna in a pencil skirt, don't go anywhere.  I'm not.  Well, apart from the fact that I am going to places, but when I've been there, I'll come back here.  If you see what I mean.

Monday 16 April 2012



It seems appropriate that my final journey started underground.  As you might remember from my forthcoming children's series, Hamilton Square is always feeling sad that it doesn't get to hang out with the cool kids; it's nice that I got to include it on this auspicious occasion.

Yep, this is the story of how I finished off the Merseyrail map.  Accompanying me, for the first time in ages, was the Bf.  He wanted to be there for this important moment, even though he never even reads the blog (he's not a big reader).  Hopefully - hopefully - there would be people at James Street to join in too.

Obviously I was terrified no-one else would turn up.  The Bf tried to console me, saying that at least he would be there, and wasn't he the most important person anyway?  Which shows that you can be with someone for fifteen years and they can still not know you at all.  I can see him any day of the week.

I wasn't disappointed.  Yep, there were people ready to join me on the trip.  Six people, which is actually a nice amount to have - it's enough that you can chat to everyone, not too many, and enough to momentarily boost your ego.  Who were these fellow travellers?

From left: Gareth, Darrell, Lorna (doing her best to hide), Jamie, Robert and another Jamie.  Introductions were done, photo taken, station collected, and so it was into the lift and off to catch a train.  (Incidentally, the Bf was behind the camera, and therefore is in none of these shots; part of my plan to keep him as the Maris Crane of this blog).

Here's what happened.  I was so busy being relieved that people showed up at all, and trying to keep things light and amusing, that I completely forgot where I was going.  I just instinctively wandered out of the lift and straight to the Wirral bound platform, as though I was going home.  Even more weirdly, everyone followed me.   It was only once we were stood on the platform itself that it was gently pointed out to me that we were going the wrong bloody way.  Not the best of starts.

We scurried back up the stairs, ignoring Robert's constant complaints about having a sore knee, and made our way through the labyrinth of corridors to the Loop platform.  Unsurprisingly we were the only people there.  I don't know why more people don't use it to get back to the Wirral - it only adds an extra five minutes or so to your journey, but it means you're much more likely to get a seat home than if you board after the train's been everywhere else in the city centre.

A quick scoot under the city streets and we were out at Moorfields.  This was, of course, the station in the very first Merseytart trip, so coming back gave the whole project a circular feel - a loop, if you will (do you see what I did there?).  We ignored the homeless man crouched at the foot of the escalators, hacking into his glove, and collected the station sign.

It was time to walk to the next station, Lime Street (lower level).  The main line station was collected during that embarrassing time when I was in the Liverpool Echo, in the only example of professional photography on this website; the underground station remained uncollected.  Ignoring Robert's continued whines about his sore knee, we marched across town via the Queen Square bus terminal.  It really was a beautiful day, one of those great Spring moments where there's enough sun for it to be pleasant and not sweaty.  The city centre was throbbing, probably still on a high after the National, and we mixed and merged with happy, laughing Scousers.  Damn, but I love this city.

I'd decided that we'd get our photos outside the St George's Hall entrance to the station, so we'd be in the shadow of one of the finest Liverpool icons.  There were two pensioners already waiting there, though what for, I have no idea; I like to imagine they were Merseytart groupies, just here to catch a glimpse of their idol, and possibly touch the hem of my garment.  Or maybe they were just waiting for a lift home.

And so, to the final section of the Loop, and Liverpool Central.  I didn't quite know what to feel as we stepped off the train.  The weird thing is, it was so familiar, it didn't feel special; I was here only last Thursday, with my friend Jennie, so it wasn't like I was stepping into a new world.  It was the same old,  knackered round the edges Central.  But as we rose up the escalators, it started to dawn on me.  That was it.  That was all of it over and done with.

There was no fanfare, no fireworks, no dancing girls to greet us.  It was just another day at the busy station.  There were crash barriers piled up against one wall, not to hold back the screaming fans, but a relic of the Aintree traffic.  We whisked through the gates and gathered in the shopping centre for the final picture.  (I decided that as that was the entrance to the station proper, that should be the location of the shot).


Nice to see that Jamie was overcome with emotion right there at the end.  Not that Jamie, the other one.

How do you close off such an experience?  How else: with alcohol (except for Darrell, who was still recovering from an extensive drinking session the night before and was sticking to water).  We headed up Bold Street to Bier, the great little alehouse tucked into Newington, and ordered pints of imaginatively titled beers.  The conversation swept round a variety of weird topics (Gus Honeybun!  Upgrading Doctor Who to Blu-Ray!  Fag haggery!  Hooch vs Two Dogs!) but it was friendly, convivial, fun.

As I sat there I realised: five years ago, I didn't know any of these people.  Well, obviously I knew the Bf, and I used to work with Lorna years back, but we'd lost touch.  Everyone else I knew just because of this blog.  We'd become friends - yes, friends - just because I'd looked at a Merseyrail map and thought "I'd like to go to all of those stations one day."  The Internet is a wonderful thing.  People are pretty wonderful too.

(Yes, I've just got an iPhone, so yes, I have Instagram, so yes, I had to take a couple of pretentious looking pics.)

I slipped to the loo and changed into the t-shirt Jamie had brought me (not that one, the other Jamie).  Emblazoned with the 1970s Merseyrail picture, it also had the dates of the whole blog on it: 17 June 2007 through to 15 April 2012.  It was a bit like wearing your own obituary.  He gave me some Merseyrail flip-flops as well.  I didn't put those on, because the toilet floor was suffering from a flood.

So, thank you.  Thank you to everyone who came - Darrell, Lorna, Robert, Jamie, Gareth, Jamie and obviously, the Bf.  Thank you to everyone who's read this blog over the years.  Thank you for commenting, suggesting, criticising, correcting, laughing and enjoying this project.  Thank you to Merseyrail and Merseytravel for tolerating my eccentricities.

I'm not going anywhere yet; there are a few more closing posts to come, and I've got a trip planned for a couple of weeks time.  But this is undeniably the end of an era.

And thank you again.

Sunday 15 April 2012

The Finish Line

That's it.

I've done it.  Every Merseyrail station.  Every one.

I'm a little drunk.  I'm a little bit sad at the end of all that.  I'm sad at the end of a surprisingly important part of my life.

I'm also extremely happy.  I'm happy to close off this little quest.  I'm happy to have some pints with good friends in a nice pub.  I'm happy I got a free t-shirt out of it.

Thank you to everyone who read, discussed, insulted, talked about this blog.  Thanks for all that.

I'll write it up properly when I've had a nice glass of water and perhaps a bit of a sleep.  Till then, I'll say it again: thank you.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

The Big ALF Post

SandhillsBirkenhead CentralFazakerleyNew BrightonBebingtonPort Sunlight
AigburthMoretonWest KirbyLeasoweBrunswickBidston
Birkenhead ParkBirkenhead ParkBacheHall RoadFormbyFreshfield
HalewoodHooton ALFMossley Hill ALFOrmskirk ALFSt Helens ALF #2St Helens ALF #1
Remember ALFs?

The Attractive Local Feature boards were one of the main objectives of this quest. It's appropriate, then, as I reach the end, that there's a post showing you the whole collection. One of Merseyside's unique features, these are distinctive signs designed to get you to alight and visit the nearby attractions. Sometimes they're pretty (West Kirby) sometimes they're bland (Fazakerley), sometimes they're just plain freaky (the scary identical twin birds of Leasowe and Moreton with their STARING EYES OF DEATH).

Some of them are no longer with us. Sandhills' ALF is now some stickers in the window; they've got quantity instead of quality. Birkenhead Central lost the Tranmere Soccerbus, and its ALF went with it; it seems Birkenhead town centre isn't an attractive option on its own.

St Helens, Birkenhead Park and Ellesmere Port have two, which is just showing off, and quite unfair on, say, Conway Park, which should have at least one. Merseytravel must really hate Birkenhead.

The only one I missed was Southport. It had a nice representation of Pleasureland, but then the fair went under, and the town decided to go upmarket when the station was rebuilt; I refused to photograph the replacement signs because they just weren't proper ALFs.

My favourite? Possibly the red squirrel at Freshfield - awww! - but it's probably Rainhill. Commemorating the Rainhill Trials, it's a unique ALF for showing you what was there, rather than what is. Plus the train looks great, zooming out of the sign towards you.

If I've missed any, please let me know. And I'd be interested to hear your suggestions for ALFs for the stations that don't have one. One day, my friends, all of Merseyrail will have an ALF; and then my work is complete.