MY other half is notorious for being difficult to buy for – but watch out, he’ll tell you different.
Each time I asked what he would like for his birthday (it was a very special one earlier this month), the response I received was: “A Range Rover Evoque.”
Whatever Trevor (his name’s John by the way, not Trevor).
“I think you may have to put up with a weekend away, somewhere exotic,” came my reply each time.
What we did want for his birthday was for it not to whizz by unnoticed this year. He works almost as many hours as God sends, so I decided a couple of days away in Liverpool (maybe not the exotic location he was expecting) would mark the occasion perfectly.
John has been to Liverpool a couple of times of jolly boys’ outings, explaining that he’d never been out in the city in daylight and he’d never seen the River Mersey.
Unbelievable, but I know what men are like on lads’ weekends away and I have a feeling a ‘ferry across the Mersey’ would be last on the ‘to do list’.
I first stepped off Lime Street Station in 1985 and absolutely fell in love with Liverpool from the moment I clapped eyes on the city. My adoration hasn’t faded, although I haven’t stepped foot on the streets for more than 15 years – shame on me, say I.
It’s incredible how much the city has altered in the past 30 years. Yes I know things change and nothing stays the same, but the transformation is simply staggering.
In the mid-1980s Albert Dock had been saved from demolition and a little titivation of the area brought in a much-needed boost in tourism – and it didn’t do any harm that This Morning was originally filmed there.
Come on, we all remember Fred and his weather map in the Mersey – although no-one speaks his name nowadays.
The weather map is no longer (well, I didn’t see it) and This Morning relocated to studios in London in 1996, but there is a real ‘wow factor’ in what is now referred to as The Waterfront.
The area is colourful and vibrant with a real lively and continental feel to it. It’s bursting with busy bars and restaurants, and to be honest we would have been more than happy staying in this area to enjoy the good food, drink and take in the energetic ambience.
Our bed for the two nights was situated at the Premier Inn, at Albert Dock, and we were allocated a huge room with great views looking out towards the River Mersey.
We could even see the Liver Birds on top of the Royal Liver Building keeping their beady eyes on the city and the river.
Contrary to popular belief – don’t believe everything you read on TripAdvisor – car parking wasn’t an issue at the hotel. The Premier Inn has a discounted deal with a car park close to the Echo Arena.
To be honest there are more parking facilities in the area than you can shake a stick at, starting from as little as £6 per day. We left our car in the small park opposite the hotel entrance and it was safe and sound for the weekend. It did cost a little more than £6 per day, but you can’t put a price on John’s birthday weekend of fun (you can actually but I’m not telling him that).
Right next door to the hotel is one of the city’s busiest attractions, The Beatles Story, which is a real insight to the lives of the Fab Four before, during and after the phenomena which was Beatlemania.
If you wander on up to Mathew Street there is a mural tribute sculpture with the words ‘four lads who shook the world’, and didn’t they just? This street is also home to The Cavern Club, but not the original one I hasten to add, which was shut down in 1973 and filled in. The club as it is now is a new design to resemble the original as much as possible, even using some of the original bricks.
However, I am digressing, as we didn’t actually manage to wander around the main streets of the city – and didn’t see anyone in a onesie, a shell suit nor sporting large foam rollers, which was a shame.
There are ample attractions around Albert Dock which kept us occupied during our stay: the Wheel of Liverpool, the Echo Arena, the Maritime Museum, Pier Head (home to the Three Graces – the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool building), Mersey Ferries and the Museum of Liverpool. The walk from Albert Dock to Pier Head couldn’t be lovelier. Fabulous views overlooking the River Mersey over towards Birkenhead, weaving walkways packed with maritime history and wonderful sculptures including one of Billy Fury – Britain’s answer to Elvis, some say.
On the list of 101 things to do before you die is surely to take a ‘ferry across the Mersey’.
On a December day (the weather was actually very kind to us, cold but no rain) you will have to wrap up, but the trip is definitely worth taking.
The River Explorer Cruise leaves Pier Head every hour on the hour, and calls at Seacombe and Woodside ferry terminals.
Tickets are valid for the day and therefore give you the chance to explore The Wirral including Birkenhead, the U-Boat Story at Woodside and Seaport and the Time Traveller’s Exhibition at Seacombe. To make the trip extra special there is a commentary aboard the ferry with intermittent blasts of Gerry and the Pacemakers’ hit song Ferry Across The Mersey. Marvellous.
I shall now be honest and disclose the real reason for choosing Liverpool to be the destination of John’s birthday weekend of fun – it was to see one of the city’s finest exports, Ken Dodd.
By ‘eck missus, how tickled were we that we had tickets in the fourth row of the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall? We were all full of plumptiousness and gertitude! Now old Doddy makes no secret of the fact that if you go to see his Happiness Show, it’s best to be prepared for a five-hour rollercoaster ride of tickletasticness.
Not only do you watch the maestro fly from one joke to the next, he is also an ambassador of keeping variety alive.
Doddy was joined by a myriad of entertainers, including Zooka the eccentric magician and illusionist, together with his assistant Suzie Q; classical pianist Anne Jones (who is also Doddy’s fiancée); 23-year old mezzo soprano Danielle Thomas, whose mellifluous tones lit up the theatre; multi-instrumental group Andante; Elvis tribute Ian Williams; Norman Barrett MBE, ex-ringmaster of Blackpool Tower Circus whose world-renowned budgerigar act put a smile on everyone’s face – especially John’s; a random woman who wandered around in a waitress outfit (not really sure what that was all about); and finally, each half of the show was opened by a guy who could certainly sing swing, with a troupe of dancers – although I am not too sure their fancy footwork was that fancy.
At one point I did believe I was in the middle of a psychedelic 1960s film, but it proves that variety was alive and well that evening and living in the North West.
The theatre was packed to the rafters. Dodd may be 86, but he’s as bright as a button and loves his fans as much as they love him.
A special man who I am sure would have been knighted, if only it wasn’t for the small incident of the Tax Man Cometh!
Another highlight from our evening with Doddy (apart from both John and I being ‘armed and fabulous’ with a tickling stick of course) was my first taste of Liverpool Gin.
A lady standing next to me at the theatre bar had a huge glass goblet filled with ice, a large piece of watermelon, a handful of juniper berries and some kind of clear liquid.
She was more than happy to let me know what it was and that it tasted delicious and I must try one.
So I did. Well, it would be rude not to.
So a measure of Liverpool Gin, along with all its accoutrements including a bottle Fevertree tonic, was served – and away I went.
Absolutely delightful. I just wish I’d had time to pop to the Belvedere pub in Sugnall Street to buy a bottle of the gin. This is where the organic, micro-distilled gin is made by landlord John O’Dowd.
Ah well, it’s as good an excuse as any to return to the city sooner rather than later.
John wasn’t so keen on the drink, though. He doesn’t like gin at all and claims that if all alcohol tasted of this, he would be teetotal.
Now enough about drinking – what about food? There are plenty of restaurants around Liverpool Philharmonic for pre-theatre dining, and just across the road is the dazzling and flamboyant Philharmonic Dining Rooms.
Commissioned between 1898 and 1900, it is a showpiece in the style of a gentleman’s club.
The gents’ toilets are something of a crowd puller – although I had to take John’s word for it – constructed in ‘a particularly attractive roseate marble’ and have featured on many a TV travel programme.
In fact the entire building is amazing, and full credit must go to Nicholson’s Pub Company for keeping its unique character. Well worth a visit, even if you aren’t eating there, as there’s a great range of beverages including an eclectic range of real ales.
Although our stay was only for a weekend, Liverpool has always been, and always will be, a thrill to visit.
I may not have graced her streets for a while, but the city is still as dear to me as it ever was.
It’s steeped in history, packed with people who are fiercely proud of their roots – and friendly to boot.
She’s a wonderful city and I applaud the person who has been kind to the old gal and invested money wisely, making our city stay one to remember.
I can’t wait for the next visit.
For more information about Liverpool and all its attractions log on to www.visitliverpool.com
Caroline and her partner stayed at the Premier Inn, Albert Dock, Liverpool, with prices starting from £29 per night. All-you-can-eat breakfast is charged at £8.25 per person. www.premierinn.com
The Beatles Story (nextdoor to the Premier Inn, Albert Dock) charts the history of how Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr formed Liverpool’s most famous band. www.beatlesstory.com
Mersey Ferries operates from Pier Head seven days a week. The River Explorer Cruise travels from Liverpool calling at Seacombe and Woodside. www.merseyferries.co.uk
See the city sights aboard a hop-on, hop-off open-top bus guided tour which runs seven days a week. www.cityexplorerliverpool.co.uk
The Philharmonic Dining Rooms is situated within a short stroll of Hardman Street, Myrtle Street and Hope Street. www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk
For those who love to shop until they drop, Liverpool One is the place to go. The shopping, residential and leisure complex has reinvented the city as one of the best shopping experiences in the country. www.liverpool-one.com
The Merseyside Maritime Museum, The Museum of Liverpool and are all situated at The Waterfront. The walks around this area are simply sublime – and look out for the ‘locks of love’. www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime
The awe-inspiring Wheel of Liverpool is situated at Albert Dock and offers a fabulous bird’s eye view of the city. www.freijwheels.com