Traipsing through the University of Liverpool campus on a bright Saturday in July, I had completely forgotten I was slap bang in the middle of graduation season. Determined to get a photo of Abercromby Square for nostalgia’s sake, I found the gates locked, and had to twist my hands through the railings to get a half decent picture. Inside the square, a vast canopy covered much of the area, ready to welcome the new graduates relinquishing the reins of student-hood; some striding forth, others tottering more anxiously. If anything could make the two years since my graduation feel like a long time ago, it was this.
I was up on the Mersey for two days, just enough time to refresh my memory of the city. Even the train journey up from London Euston, a path trodden so many times in between terms, had a bolstering familiarity for it. You know you need to re-evaluate your emotions when you’re sighing at the nostalgia of a trip with Virgin Trains, a luxury rarely experienced by us luckless commuters in the South East. Before long I’m catching up with my fellow Bido Lito! alumni, music connoisseur and all-round-good-guy Laurie at Bold Street Coffee, and the ball’s rolling like nothing has changed.
There was an actual occasion for us to experience- the Liverpool Biennial, the largest contemporary art festival in the land, transforming the city’s landscape across ten weeks every two years. There were all kinds of exhibits dotted around Liverpool’s centre, but the highlight had to be in the Oratory at the Anglican Cathedral. Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s “Rubber Coated Steel” was minimalist in its approach, a shot of a corridor with hooks dragging forward startling images, the only audio being the cold, blunt mechanisms, and subtitles along the bottom.
But an unexpected treat was to be found in the ABC Cinema on Lime Street; not just in the films on display, but in exploring the Grade II listed building itself. Closed since 1998, the downtrodden exterior can be a bleak greeting when you arrive into Liverpool’s train station, yet inside it truly feels like a capsule from another time. On leaving, the only downside is your longing to restore it to its former glory. Biennial is great at tapping into moments like that, but more than anything it gives you the impetus to explore some of Liverpool’s best kept secrets, with a real sense of the past and the future colliding, especially at the cinema.
The next morning, I decided to check out a few sites I had missed the day before, with Sefton Park being the biggest draw. Ah, Sefton Park. Such a huge open space, so many things to different occasions. Serenity. Open-minded exploration. Slacklining above the pond. Obscure but oh so brilliant reggae bands in the tropical conditions of the Palm House. Any way you want to relax and unwind, it caters for the occasion. Following this, a catch up with my favourite past reviews editor of Bido Lito! (that pink magazine was imperative to shaping my Liverpool experience) did much to prove that no matter how much time passes, friends will always be up for a laugh.
Granted, it was good to see some of the Liverpool landscape is changing for the better- strolling down Penny Lane for sentimentality’s sake, it was a relief to see the long-neglected shelter in the middle of the roundabout is finally being resurrected- something I always thought was one heck of a missed opportunity- and also the school at the top of Smithdown Road opposite Toxteth Cemetery, having been the site of barren patches of nothing for so long. Change, where needed, is incredibly healthy for an area, and it was good to see Liverpool was showing no signs of slowing.
It sounds predictable, but Liverpool was such a formative experience for me, and not just at university. My first steps into the world of employment saw me pushing leaflets through letterboxes around Toxteth and Kensington; not the most strenuous of work, but you got a decent amount of exercise and I had plenty of time to listen to podcasts or bands I would be reviewing that evening. Working behind the bar at Chester racecourse, or stacking shelves at the Anfield Asda while dabbling in community radio at KCC Live, and the odd street team shift at Juice FM. All of that defined me so much more as a person.
Well, at least I can confirm it’s official: one and a half years away from your university city is enough to make you feel nostalgic when checking out the old haunts. As much as I love my new home of London, there’s an intimacy that gives Liverpool so much spirit. More chummy than cosy mind; excitable to the last, and always up for a laugh. But then, Liverpool was never just somewhere to study; it filled me with confidence that my own independent mind was not something to shy away from. I hope it keeps changing, but only for the better, and never so much that I fail to recognise while I fell in love with you in the first place.