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A return visit to the city of Liverpool after 13 years

I hadn’t been to Liverpool for some years – I went a couple of times as a novelty a year or two after I graduated from university, simply because I’d never been there before. Liverpool Lime Street was, at the time, just over two hours from London Euston. It probably still is, but with ticket prices being what they are, the looming possibility of industrial action on the railways, and Avanti West Coast still running a reduced timetable, I opted for the coach out of Victoria instead. I had the option, given to me at least twice, of getting a coach that was going to take somewhat less than the five hours and fifty minutes the one I insisted on boarding, but I had a reserved seat on the slower coach (which called at Birmingham Bus Station, thus going in and out of Birmingham city centre, which the ‘other’ coach apparently didn’t).

By the time I got on the coach I was originally instructed to board, there were no window seats left, and people had done that thing where they place their bags and/or coats on the aisle seats. It also seemed very cramped, and so I refused the faster coach. I have no regrets, even if the drivers of the slower coach must have thought I was mad. I couldn’t check in to the studio I’d booked until 3pm, so a 9am departure and a 2.50pm arrival suited me just fine. Perfect timing, even, although most if not all of my fellow passengers would disagree, given the amount of time, perhaps half an hour, added on to the journey time as traffic in Liverpool city centre moved very slowly indeed. That said, we were timetabled to arrive at 2.45pm, so technically we were only five minutes late.

I experienced the other side of the gridlock as a pedestrian after I got off the coach – the traffic signals seem to be very much in favour of pedestrians, with lights changing far faster after pushing a puffin crossing button than they would at a pelican crossing in the capital. (Yes, I looked it up, and if you care about the differences between a puffin and a pelican crossing, feel free to do so as well. I shan’t bore the rest of your good selves with further particulars.) I had originally booked a poshtel – that is, a posh hostel – affordable as it was, they cancelled on me, and forced to look for alternatives, I came across Stanley Street Studios. No meals provided, but there’s a hob, oven, microwave and sink – and so I slinked off shortly after checking in to the nearest Tesco Express, and tried their ‘Finest’ meal deal – a main, a side, a dessert and a drink for £12. The drink options included an entire bottle of wine – and, of course, one could easily pay more than £12 for a bottle of wine on its own. It tastes absolutely fine, and far better than the horrible plonk certain London theatres serve their customers.

I wasn’t asked for my ID at the checkout – I won’t dwell on it, because the only times I’ve been asked for identification have been occasions when everyone was asked for it, such as a nightclub or the Eurostar. Took everything back to the apartment, only to discover the lasagne and chips I bought could only be cooked in the oven. So I turned on the oven. Nothing happened. It turns out there are switches, hidden behind the microwave, labelled ‘hob’, ‘oven’, ‘cooker hood’ and ‘fridge freezer’ – no prizes for guessing which one was off. But then I didn’t understand what the symbols on the oven meant, so had to look those up. It really is a rare thing for me to cook for myself! Well, I’m still here to tell the tale, so I evidently hadn’t given myself food poisoning. The chips were marginally undercooked but otherwise all went well.

The only thing that slightly spoilt this Liverpool trip was a particularly judgemental and negative couple sat a couple of rows behind me on the coach on the way up, who didn’t have a positive word for anyone (except, of course, themselves). Even people crossing the road were deemed to look like they didn’t have a brain cell between them (untrue, else they would have been run over, or at least beeped at). Had I known they were going to be all smiles when greeting their relatives at Liverpool One Bus Station, I’d have recorded their expletive-filled ramblings and played them back to their folks.

To return to an earlier point, the last time I came up to Liverpool, it wasn’t in a good place – the Great Recession (2007-2009) had hit the city hard, and there were hoardings up in various places with shops and other facilities closed permanently. It was very sad to see. This time around, the place was buzzing – and while there may yet be trouble ahead for us all, to see central Liverpool bustling on a Saturday night was pleasing – and there didn’t seem to be, from what I could see, any kind of trouble by any stretch of the imagination.

I’d come up as I failed to cancel a ticket for Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell the Musical purchased pre-pandemic: at the time of purchase the touring production had only confirmed a handful of venues, and my general aim was to try to get to each of them. I failed to get to Oxford as ATG messed up my (re)booking, and cancelled Birmingham, getting a refund eventually after refusing countless offers of vouchers from ATG. Economically, it made no sense to have kept Liverpool in the diary – the hotel room I had booked with the Hotel Ibis had a credit voucher that couldn’t be redeemed as the new BOOH dates were too far off into the future that my accommodation voucher wasn’t valid for them. Non, rien de rien, as Edith Piaf used to sing.

As for Bat, I continue to be increasingly impressed by Glenn Adamson’s Strat. I was, as BOOH fans tell me, rather critical of his early performances – anything short of total confidence and assertiveness simply doesn’t suit the character. The interactions with the audience he does these days add extra sparkle and humour to proceedings, and the self-assured swagger and stage presence are pleasing to see. He’s come such a long way since featuring in a concert produced by his partner Shaun McCourt, called West End Live Lounge, in which he was so nervous during a rendering of ‘For Crying Out Loud’ he was visibly trembling. Now, he’s nothing short of extraordinary. And I don’t say that to all the boys.

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