Liverpool: Strawberry Fields Forever

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In 1963, I was thirteen when I saw the Beatles play at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Paul McCartney was my “favorite” Beatle (we all had one) and I was one of the screaming fans. But, no, I did not cry or faint from the hysteria of it all, but I have remained a fan for 50 (!) years.

I have seen Paul twice since 1963. Once at a University of Colorado, Boulder concert in the 80s when he was “Wings” and then again, as a solo artist in Seattle in 2005 on the night my daughter went into labor with my first grandchild. (I had asked her to try not to go into labor that night, so, bless her heart, when she did, she waited to call me until after the concert was over.). He’s playing Verona, Italy this year in a great ancient amphitheater I’ve visited and I can only imagine what a great concert that will be.

When I knew I was going up to the Manchester area to visit my cousin, I decided that Liverpool would be on my short list of side trips. I booked a tour with the “Magical Mystery Tour” bus for 3 of us, as, surprisingly, John and Denise decided to join me. But I understood why after hearing that when John was a young policeman in Manchester, he was one of the several officers designated to protect The Boys (from people like me, I might add) during their first commercially successful gig in Manchester in the early 60’s. He was up close and personal with the Beatles in their own neighborhood before they even came to the States.

We arrived in Liverpool with time to spare but ended up parking in a multi-storied covered lot further from the dock, rather than park in the garage the Mystery Tour had recommended. I think we thought this one was closer or that we passed the other one; it was a confusing area to negotiate. Then we had a tough time finding an empty spot for the car. Realizing we were now running late, we briskly walked with time flying by, and we were in danger of missing the Magical Mystery tour bus. There was a Ferris wheel I could see in the near distance and I knew there was no way I’d get a bird’s eye view of the area today.

Of course, as usual, I was trailing behind taking photos (quickly, as I was walking as fast as I could, since running was out of the question) as I was not going to miss the chance to get a feel for and photograph the shipping port where my grandfather, grandmother, and mother all docked for their trip to England from Shanghai in the early ’30s. My grandmother had contracted TB when caring for her sister who had died from it, and she was going to stay at a sanitarium in the area to recuperate while my grandfather and my mom, who was only about 3 at the time, stayed with his sister (John’s mother) and family in Darwin for 6 months. This area was not only part of the Beatles’ history, but of my family’s history as well.

We were lost on the wharf in Liverpool and asking people where the TI (Tourist Information) office was located which was the meeting point for the tour group. John disappeared in his quest to find the bus and so I suggested that Denise call the office to tell them we were on the way, which she did, so they held the bus for us. John found us, we found the bus, and we were only about 5-8 minutes late. It was about 3/4 full which, for off-season, seemed an impressive showing.

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As I took photos of all the famous Beatles-related locations, I was also absorbing a sense of the area and photographing buildings and landmarks which would have been there in the 30’s, too. The Beatles were starting to take a backseat to why I was even there. But the tour-guide was amazing with the shtick he had fine-tuned. Talk about INFORMED. He knew his Beatles’ history, and I was duly impressed. Plus they played a few Beatles’ tunes during lulls in the 2 hour drive, which was lovely.

We were able to get off the bus at some locations for photo-ops, all of which I gladly participated. John was sweet and would also get off to be sure he could offer to take my photo. We would also offer to take photos of other tour group members so they could be in a shot together. There was also one American couple from San Diego on board (there were people from all over the world)who were, like me, freezing our patoonies off. But we still got on and off that bus at the prescribed stops to take photos.

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We were shown a side street where Ringo, or was it George, had lived on but which we couldn’t access, the church where Paul was a choir boy, the parks where they would have played ball in the neighborhood, the cemetery where it is said they got the name “Eleanor Rigby” off a tombstone, etc. Of course being in front of Paul’s old childhood home held a special place for me as well as seeing the house John Lennon had bought for his auntie. Both homes had historical landmark plaques mounted. How strange it must be to have lived in a house which was now a Historical Landmark just because you had lived there. My mother’s old apartment building in Shanghai is now a Historical Landmark but only because it is still standing in a city that was shattered by war with Japan and overcome by Chinese communist rule who destroyed most reminders that foreigners had once lived there. They also destroyed the cemetery where my grandfather was buried in 1942. It is pretty amazing my family’s old apartment is still there. It’s also pretty amazing my other “long lost” cousin is in China at this very moment and will be visiting a British man who is a historian on China, and who, coincidentally, lives in the same apartment complex. Very bizarre little coincidence. Or as James Redfield and myself believe, “There is no such thing as coincidence.”

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Then there was this red gate for Strawberry Fields where the boys got their song title of the same name. This was the gate to a charity organization which sounded similar to our USA Salvation Army.

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Pictured below is the building of the Arts college Paul McCartney bought and is expanding by purchasing the building next door. And, here is the venue where they hold graduations where he personally distributes diplomas. I remember a Seattle disc jockey talking about this years ago when his son graduated and he was bowled over, as a huge McCartney fan, to see his own son receive his diploma from Paul. Nice.

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This photo is of a new Catholic Church which someone, or group, voted as “ugliest building.”

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The tour was coming to the end of the “long and winding road” so I took more photos of older buildings, most of which were former gig venues The Boys had played. The guide pointed out where the Cavern was located as well as the new Hard Days Night Hotel, which was an utter surprise to me. When did THAT happen?!? Of course I would love to spend a night there for the novelty of it, but this seemed a bit OTT (over the top) even for me. I also never imagined the Cavern to be smack dab in the middle of the Liverpool downtown area.

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This venue shown below was pointed out as being where thousands of fans held a candlelight vigil for George Harrison when he died from brain cancer. I felt a bit of a shiver as we drove by thinking about both of the days I heard about John, and then George, were taken from this life too soon.

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The tour was over and we walked over to the Cavern passing the Hard Days Night Hotel along the way. Photo op…

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Into the Cavern where, even with the various modifications over the years, is still supposed to be in its original spot. The tour bus guide gave a very lengthly story about all that which made no difference to me whatsoever. It is where it is. And there is a ‘Sister Cavern’ across the alley.

But it was interesting to walk down the stairs of this famous music club to see what it was like. It was larger than I had thought it would be, and there were some great photos of performers who played there over the years. There was a musician setting up and I would have liked to just hang out and listen, but there wasn’t time for that. And we totally forgot to ask for our “free gift” for being on the tour bus and visiting the Cavern. We needed some lunch. So I clicked away as John and Denise patiently waited.

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Because I was lured by the “free wifi” sign in the window of this pub across the road from the Cavern, we went to William Gladstones for lunch. Later, we all agreed, that was the worse lunch we have had in, who knows, maybe forever. But I did dash into a souvenir shop nearby to pick up a few Beatles-related gifts. (We were hurrying to beat the rush hour traffic to get back to Congleton, aka ‘Bear Town.’)

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More walking and more old buildings and landmarks. The building with the birds is called the “Liver Building.” (Pronounced with a long “i” btw. Eventhough it is obviously a short for Liverpool, I suppose making it sound like an internal organ doesn’t have such a nice “ring” to it.)

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For years I had always heard that both Manchester and Liverpool were pretty much on the lower rung of the ladder when it came to so-called “class” and popularity. Apparently they both were dirty from industry, high crime rates from poverty, high unemployment, a lot of ‘riff-raff’, and both cities still have a long standing rivalry between their “football” teams (which the U.S. calls soccer) which I can only assume may have meant some rowdy games. From what I saw, both are interesting cities, with great old buildings, improved waterfronts, fascinating histories and which both looked like they were drastically improving their rough and tumble image. I was pleased to have had the opportunity to “meet” them both and would have no qualms with visiting again. Wonder if I could still redeem my bus tour ticket at the Cavern for that free memento I forgot to pick up. Plus, there is a massive Anglican Cathedral which deserves a visit, too.

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