Liverpool is one of the wonders of Britain…what it may grow to in time I know not. Daniel Defoe 1708
Once we were outside Lime Street Station, Diane got out her map. She needn’t have bothered, because before we could say, “Which way?” a friendly Liverpudlian voice asked, “Are you lost? Where are you from? Are you here on holiday? Where do you need to get to?” Putting down his broom and stabilising his rubbish container he began gesticulating towards a main road. We answered his questions, thanked him for his help and muttered to each other about the lack of that kind of friendly help in London. We found the hotel in less than five minutes and once again we were very pleased with our choice. The Nadler is centrally situated for the town and the docks and we soon experienced the unusually friendly and helpful staff. Having left our cases in our rooms, we headed off to find the docks knowing we only had about an hour of good light left. As we approached Albert Dock, cameras at the ready, we were suddenly caught in very high winds coming off the water. It was almost impossible to keep the camera and lens steady. Out of the corner of my eye I could see three men in red. They were Buddhist monks enjoying the views and the wind. It seemed a little bizarre to have just arrived in Liverpool and to be focussing my lens on monks. They were moving quickly and my first few shots were blurred. Determined to capture the glorious red, I followed them to the water’s edge, where finally, they paused and I took several shots. They didn’t seem to mind. By this time there was a stunning pink sunset but it disappeared so quickly I only managed to capture some of the larger buildings. Diane and I paused to look at a statue. She asked me who it was and I answered confidently “It looks like Elvis,” to which she replied, “Oh yes of course!” It was just after this monumental mistake that I suddenly realised my Olympus was stuck on manual focus. I fiddled with it to no avail. I just couldn’t work out why the menu said it was on AF when actually it wasn’t. As we wandered back into town we saw a camera shop and as both Diane and Lowie needed ND filters for the proposed trip to Crosby Beach, we decided to have a look inside. A very helpful shop assistant, who also shot with an Olympus, pointed out to me, without laughing, that I could alter the focus on the lens itself. In my defence I would like to state that it is not an obvious switch like it is on the Canon, but a well disguised ring that covers the display! I must have moved it by accident whilst trying to keep it still in the wind.
By now we were hungry and as we walked back towards our hotel I caught the eye of a lady sitting in the window of a restaurant. She smiled and I mouthed, “Is the food good?” She jumped up closer to the window and nodded and with her fingers outstretched, she told us how inexpensive it was to eat as much as we wanted. There was so much food laid out, at least forty hot trays, everything from crispy duck to oriental beef with cakes and jellies to finish. We ordered our first glass of wine and tucked in, going back for seconds and thirds!
We had forgotten to order breakfast, at the Nadler it is ordered in from local partners as there is no restaurant. Lowie decided it was far too early to eat, so Diane and I headed off to find a breakfast venue. As we left the small cafe, the weather had deteriorated further and it was hard to keep upright in the winds and the sky looked an ominous dark grey. We headed into town back to the camera shop so Diane could purchase the whole ND system. Unfortunately we couldn’t find it. As we stood discussing which direction to take, once again we were approached by a gentlemen who asked us if we were lost, where we were from, where we were staying, how long we were staying and what we thought of Liverpool. He showed us a short cut through the Bluecoat Cafe and asked us where else we hoped to visit. He looked up the train station for Crosby Beach on his phone and told us where to walk to get the best pictures. Once again we were amazed how helpful and friendly he was, he even walked with us to the entrance of the cafe. We found the camera shop and as we entered we met Lowie. By now the rain was pelting down, bouncing off the pavements and swirling around as the winds howled and turned umbrellas inside out. Thank goodness the Olympus is weather sealed. I grabbed the opportunity to take some street shots but once again it was difficult to hold the camera steady in such high gusts. Sheltering in the doorway of the camera shop we managed to set off a loud buzzer and were finally asked if we would move on!
Lowie went off for some late breakfast and Diane and I made our way to the Tate. As we got there the sun came out. Once again we began to take some pictures around the dock instead. Diane was keen to find the cathedrals, so we set off towards, what she thought, looked like a church steeple. Having walked about two miles we realised we had found the Town Hall. As we looked up at the buildings two gentlemen approached us. “Are you lost? Where are you from? Where are you staying? How long are you here for? What do you think of our city? We answered the questions soon realising that the two gentlemen were not actually together. They tried to compete with information and historical facts interrupting each other and telling us the best places to visit. They were also keen to tell us the cathedrals were on the other side of town, near our hotel and advised us that a visit to the town hall would be interesting. As we entered the imposing building we were informed it was closed for two days. We wandered down some of the original, narrow, cobbled streets pausing only to take a few record shots. By now the rain had eased and there was yet another sunset. We approached the ‘Elvis’ statue with the aim of capturing the strange cloud formation right behind it. It was then I suddenly realised Elvis was actually Billy Fury. Why would it have been Elvis we asked ourselves? “Don’t put that in the blog or we will look a right pair of idiots!” Sorry Diane. As the rain started again we made our way to the Man Ray exhibition at the Tate, stopping off at a portrait exhibition and the museum. We were a bit disappointed with the exhibition as there were only a few photographs but it was interesting to study his use of textures on black and white pictures. We had some fun in the projection room trying to capture shadows of each other gyrating around, but generally our photographs were unsuccessful!
By now we were starving so we dumped our cameras in the hotel and set off to find the recommended pub, ‘The Royal Philharmonic’ where we enjoyed a great Christmas beer and a huge shared plate!
The following day we spent the morning in and around the Anglican Cathedral. The graveyard contains the graves of hundreds of young children, as well as some Americans who died whilst bringing goods to Liverpool. It is a quiet place with few visitors. We were standing reading the gravestones when we were approached by a gentlemen who asked us where we were staying, where we were from, how long we were staying and what we thought of his city. By now our responses were well rehearsed and once again we explained how much we were enjoying the city itself but that our real love was for the people as we had never known such friendliness. He didn’t have time to chat for too long as he was on a walking tour but he pointed out some graves we might want to look at and advised us to go inside the cathedral. Inside the huge dark red building we were clothed in a wonderful yellow light. We listened to a prayer and I took pictures of a few interesting characters, four of whom were media students.
The weather forecast for the afternoon looked great. The sun came out and according to Diane’s weather App the winds were going to drop to 10mph. Lowie had booked a hair appointment so Diane and I set off together to get the train to Crosby Beach and ‘Another Place’, to see and photograph Anthony Gormley’s famous statues. It was to be the highlight of the trip for me and I hoped for a fabulous sunset and little or no wind. Neither of us were sure whether it would be preferable if the tide was in or out but another App informed us that the tide would be in by 4.30 and the sunset would take place at 4.08 so hopefully we would have time to get some long exposures.
As we got off the train and walked towards the beach it was obvious the weather forecast was way off. There was at least a nine force gale blowing as we fought our way to the beach. Sensible photographers would have given up and gone home, not us, undeterred and determined we clung on to our gear as we walked. I was worried about just getting my camera on the tripod, never mind taking any pictures. The wind snatched our camera and tripod bags and banged them hard against us. We took some shelter behind the public toilets.There was no welcoming cafe on this part of the beach. Sitting on my trusty stool I began to assemble my kit whilst Diane had difficulty altering her settings, never mind assembling the new filter and holder. It was difficult to help her as I couldn’t leave my tripod as the wind was so fierce. The wind swirled around us and the grey skies darkened to such an extent it was hard to read the settings. As Diane began to set up the filter kit we both realised she had been sold the wrong adapter ring. She was now constrained to taking short exposures, whilst I wondered how I was going to keep my flimsy travel tripod still enough to take long exposures.
As we wandered along the promenade we were in awe of the scene in front of us. The statues looked like real people about to bathe. The closer we got to them the more majestic and stunning they appeared. We climbed down some steep steps and set up alongside one of the tallest statues. I clung on to my tripod and kept the strap of my camera around my neck. Concentrating hard to sort the settings I was just attaching my shutter release cable when out of the corner of my eye I saw Diane running up the beach. For a minute I thought the wind had caught her, but she was frantically chasing her stool cover which had been caught in a huge gust of wind. As she approached it and was just about to grab it, it blew away again. So much for 10mph winds! As she returned, bag in hand, I took my first long exposure. However it was to be my last at that spot as suddenly we were both encircled by water as the waves in this area of the beach came in much further than anywhere else.
We grabbed our kit and made our way towards a drier area of the beach trying to keep our feet on the sand as the wind threatened to take our legs from under us. We stopped by the side of a legless statue that appeared to be half buried in sand. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for but we started to set up again as I was determined to get one picture at least. There are moments in life when a personal shutter speed creates a slow motion event alongside the accompanying expectation it can be prevented, when in reality there is no hope. Without warning a huge gust lifted Diane’s tripod and camera into the air and forced it hard into the sand. I felt sick. Thank goodness she had her lens hood attached. It was covered with sand but her lens was undamaged. At this point I finally realised how really mad we were. I took three more long exposures and Diane removed her camera from the tripod, took some hand held shots and we made our way back to the station. If anything, the wind was even stronger and as we left the beach the clouds fell in on us. The needles of rain hit us with a ferocity I have never experienced before. My face stung and the hood on my jacket filled with wind and almost pulled me backwards. As for a sunset we had to dream on! We finally saw the funny side of it all as we found the station. Desperate for the loo Diane disappeared. As she returned laughing she explained that a very nice gentlemen had advised her to vacate the toilet as soon as possible. As she had looked around her feet she had seen a lot of debris. Wondering where it could have come from she looked up, and there, almost grinning at her, was a huge hole in the roof. She was lucky to survive! We stumbled off the train and headed for the nearest bar. Having ordered fish and chips and a large glass of wine we began to thaw out and relax.
Liverpool is a stunning, exciting, interesting and creative city which captures the imagination and the heart. People smile and engage with the visitor in such a rare and wonderful way that ensures they will want to return. It is a city of contrasts bright, new and shiny, old, cobbled and mysterious. I can’t wait to visit again.
The city from the late seventies onwards could be bleak and dark, colourful and volatile, deprived derelict and strangely poetic. Then, as now, there was a sense of imminence, expectation and possibilities. Peter Clark, artist, 2009