Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Liverpool - Which really only means one thing

Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!

George, Paul, Ringo and John

I grew up in the sixties and can’t apologize for loving The Beatles.  I sang into that hairbrush just like the rest of you. With Dippity-do setting my side curls, I spent hours writing out their lyrics longhand. And years later, when I still could, I jogged hundreds of miles with Beatles songs setting my pace (thank you, Maxwell's Silver Hammer).  So when we moved to England, a trip to Liverpool was a must.

Ringo's childhood home halfway down on the left
As soon as we got to the city, we bought our tickets to ride the Magical Mystery bus tour. It was two great hours of Beatles history with stops at Fab Four family homes, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, and otherwise obscure spots had they not become part of Beatles lore. And there was the occasional sing-along.

St. Peter's Parish where Eleanor Rigby is buried, 
along with her name.

 The tour ended at the world-famous Cavern Club where John, Paul, George and Ringo played more than 290 times. It was heady and loud and hot and just as I imagined. We tipped a pint in honor of those lovely lads who are solely responsible for me knowing all the words to No Reply forty years later -- though I can't remember if I left the iron on.

The city is a mecca for most of our generation. For many visitors like us, Liverpool is synonymous with The Beatles so it's no surprise their presence is everywhere. In candy stores:

The Beatles in Jelly Beans
 In shopping mall windows:

Store Window Display at HMV
 And just promoting Beatlemania: 

Liverpool’s music scene still thrives because of The Beatles, but I was happy to discover more to the city than just the lads.

Liverpool, The City Itself

This hilly coastal city was chartered in the 1200s by King John because he wanted to invade Ireland and needed a place to launch his attack. Centuries later the city grew rich spinning American cotton into thread. When the 19th century potato famine hit, over 9 million English and Irish immigrated to Ellis Island through Liverpool’s port. Today, Liverpool's main income is tourism and for good reason.

The early 20th Century buildings known
as the Three Graces
Standing at dock's edge are the "three graces," the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool building. 

You can see one of the two cormorants perched on top of the Royal Liver Building (far left). It's looking out to the sea to protect all the seafarers.

These four friendly guys are down at the Albert Dock in front of the Tate Museum. They're part of the bananalama sculptures tucked around the city.


Bananalama sculptures. Is it just me or is there
a little Blue Meanie in them?

Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral,
second largest in the world
The imposing Anglican Cathedral sits high on a hill overlooking the city. It's the largest Anglican church in Europe and, as a boy, Paul McCartney was not allowed to sing in its choir because his voice wasn't good enough.  

Years later, he not only gave a concert here, but invited the old choir master to attend -- which he did. When Paul chided him for refusing to let him sing in the choir, the old fellow retorted that if he had, Paul would never  become the man he is today. Cheeky. 

It wouldn't be a Saturday night in the UK without a Hen Party downtown. Similar to American bachlorette parties, the ladies wear sashes letting everyone know what they're about. This one was relatively tame. We saw one in Glasgow where the bride-to-be was carrying around a 3-foot inflatable phallis. You gotta love what you do.

Hen Party!

Here's a little clip of what we experienced at The Cavern Club:

For more pictures of Liverpool and what we saw on the Magical Mystery Tour, click right here.


It's the Little Things . . .

Sometimes it's not the huge buildings or famous denizens that give a city it's heart. Along the docks near the Mersey River are dozens and dozens of padlocks put in place by people remembering a loved one, a birth, a promise. They were the sweetest surprise we'd seen in weeks.

The beginning of true love

"Heidi's First Birthday"

"Memories are like keepsakes, never forgotten. 
Missing you today and loving you always. Megan."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Soccer From the Stands

Southampton Saints in red and white
Soccer's a big deal in the UK.  And they call it football here, not soccer. This much I knew.

But when I attended my first Premier League game last Saturday - Leicester City vs the Southampton Saints -  I was  unprepared for some of the subtle differences in major league sports between our two countries.

Southampton on the coast in November was cold and rainy, though it didn’t deter the enthusiastic sold-out crowd of 32,000. And I had on four layers so I was good. But for the record, this was not the sunny short-sleeved soccer I’d seen on TV.   

The first difference came via our host Jack, a sports nut extraordinaire and especially devoted to Southampton. He not only gave us to the team's 129-year back story, listed managers, star players and stats, he actually named the team's creditors (now that's a fan). Southampton’s football club dates back to 1885, has been in the Premier league, was relegated down to lower leagues, then recently fought its way back up into Premier. Imagine your favorite baseball team getting sent down to the minors, then having to  win its way back to the bigs. This was the first difference I noted. 

Local pub honoring Southampton's famous ocean liner.
We got to town early enough for a wander-about, as Jack called it. Southampton is a lively port for cruise and cargo vessels, and still prides itself on two ships that set sail from here decades ago: the Mayflower and the Titanic. 

We had a quick lunch before heading to the match, which was smart since there were only a couple food vendors at the stadium – and none that sold food or drink up and down the aisles. So that was different.

Then there was the Orwellian separate-but-equal distinction of fans. My ticket was marked Home Supporter, I had to enter the stadium through a Home Supporter turnstile then sit in a Home Supporter seat. Rival fans, meanwhile, entered through different turnstiles and were corralled into a small area at the other end of the pitch.

"Home Supporters Only." Rival fans do not enter the stadium through the same gate.

All those empty seats meant nothing - even 10 minutes before the game.
At ten minutes before start time the stadium was barely half full. No sooner had I thought spectators would just wander in and out at their leisure then the seats filled to capacity. As Jack explained, people know their pub, pint and game routine. Time and distance are calculated down to the minute. And once in their seats, they pretty much stayed put. Another difference.

Other things that struck me odd: When the ball was inadvertently kicked into the stands (which happened several times), the game stopped until a fan threw it back onto the pitch. Then the match resumed. None of this "dead ball" business.

Also, when a goal attempt failed, the player still got a big old “nice try” round of applause from the crowd. I can’t imagine an NFL kicker being applauded for missing a field goal. Maybe I'm just cynical.

But the absolute biggest difference, the one that really set things apart, was the singing. Right from the start the crowd sang their way through multiple versions of When the Saints Go Marching InAuld Lang Syne, For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, and Hey Jude’s nah-nah-nah-nah chorus. And the loudest singers sat next to the rival fan section specifically to drown those guys out. This ground-swell of non-stop singing was purely organic. No one orchestrated it, it wasn’t hyped by big business, sponsor, or supertron. It just happened. And since the majority of spectators were male, I had the pleasure of listening to a mens choir roughly 20,000 strong for almost two hours.

Sounds of the game (apologies for the poor picture):  

But back to the game.  First half wrought no score. Second half, no score – mostly. Then finally, after 75 minutes of game time, Southampton  put one into the net

Four minutes later they scored again and that was all she wrote. Southampton won 2-0 bringing their season’s record to 8-2. Go Saints!

At the end of the match, the happy crowd broke into a rousing round of Chelsea Dagger, which - as if I didn't know - is also sung at the end of other British sporting events like professional darts. If you want that earwig, you can find it here.


Lunch before the game on the high street.

St. Mary's Stadium, home of the Southampton Football Club


My ticket designating me as a Home Supporter