May 1 2011

A journey through red, white and blue

It is the day of the royal wedding. I had previously hoped most people immune but suddenly certain thickets of The North have become middle England and bunting spreads like Japanese knotweed.

We are in Rufford to go for a walk starting in its Old Hall. The Old Hall is closed. So then to the cringingly named ‘Owd Barn’, teashop, craft shop etc. It is also closed and the bunting in the window suggests why which makes it even more annoying.  We turn around to escape in a suburban cul de sac and there is a street party being set up with a bbq being wheeled out which is probably worth more than our house.  I suspect our U-Turn will be discussed for many weeks.

It’s my own fault-I should not expect too much anarchy, mayhem and cheap house doubles when perusing an ancient copy of Lancashire Tea Shop Walks when deciding what to do with the day.

We try to escape through miles of flatly pretty landscape but there still remains bunting, Union Jacks, smart lawns on detached post war houses with neatly manicured lawns.  I fear suspicious eyes, weak Pimms, Daily Mail headlines considered truth and to end up here bitching emptily until I die and even Neighbourhood Watch don’t realise despite the terrible smell. It is blandly terrifying and I am glad and relieved when I find evidence of witchcraft in the woods.

As the world gawps at posh people in terrible hats, I am looking at cairns and mini standing stones bedecked with curiously fresh wild flowers. It is the work of children I sadly conclude and continue to walk but the constructions, deep in Fairy Glen, near Appley Bridge become more elaborate. Here is the outline of a horse filled with leaves and now a human shape bedecked with bluebells and dandelions that have not yet withered in the unseasonal Easter heat.

It is exciting yet annoyingly unsinister here in this strip of well-managed woodland. Too pretty to be anything dark yet too well executed to be the work of children it is a beguiling mystery that is probably easily explained but I do not wish it to be. I suspect Emos on art foundation degrees. I want it to be ethereal sprites working whimsical mysterious charms in this snippet of ancient woodland besmirching suburbia. But I still wonder at why the flowers were not dead-we were there before midday and the art in the woods must have taken some time-it can only have been done at night. I hope I never find out.

Southport is in the throes of royal wedding fever but it is the sort of place I can’t imagine not being in fervour over moneyed gentility. A charity shops’ red white and blue wedding display has the cunning adornment of blue and red dog bowls presumably in the lack of anything more genteel and royal coloured.

Indeed, like the royal family, Southport is grandiose, fashionable but laughable as it keeps up its pretence of modernity. There is some amazing architecture here, art deco, Victorian, Georgian palaces, slums in varying states of decay and modern redevelopments shoulder each other along the boulevard which was the inspiration for Paris. Apparently. For a seaside town, the sea is kept at a distance, nasty dirty sea. We don’t even see it. It is finally tamed, entrenched, hidden politely behind ornate arcades of dying posh shops you are too scared to enter in case the proprietor is too enthusiastic and you know you can purchase it cheaper on the net but feel so bad about it.

We are hungry, have a baby and limited funds- there is a plethora of lovely looking places to eat in Southport but we find a vegetarian café/restaurant on the net and fly to it with a song in our hearts.  It is closed. So Pizza-Fucking Express is open on the day of the royal wedding but not a vegetarian café. And now the plethoras of places to eat mock me with their meagre vegetarian choice. I am in a sulk, we argue, a friendly scouser gives us a flyer for two courses for a fiver at a place on the promenade (which is of course a long way from the nasty sea) I scoff, having since Colne, resolved never to eat anywhere which has prices rather than the food as the main attraction advertised but then go past the place, an unprepossessing solid Victorian hotel and looking on the menu outside which looks suspiciously good for somewhere advertising all food for £2.50 we enter.

And immediately suspect we are in a trap. It is too good to be true. I was expecting some Blackpoolesque crumbling slum but we are in ‘The Dining Rooms’ a pleasant conservatory with women in big hats drinking champagne. The menu is amazing looking. The vegetables are apparently locally grown and there are many vegetarian choices that aren’t sodding goats cheese tart. We order and wait for the catch.

But it is better than we thought it would be. Far better. Scarily better. There are dabbles of balsamic vinegar, flitterings of salad, basil oil arranged provocatily around spinach and cheese roulettes and mixed bean pate on French bread with chilli sauce. It is too good for £2.50 and it makes me tense. I order a large house red and glumly assume it would cost £78.99 to make up the cost. The main courses are also worrying excellent, we both have crepes, filled with locally grown vegetables and they are divine, then fruit waffles with raspberry coulis and ice-cream which is of course also sublime and this three course meal for two comes to twenty four quid and a good proportion of that is me being greedy with the very good wine.

I assumed the people with hats and champagne was here for a wedding; they were- the royal wedding. I realised this when my baby cried and instead of the normal ‘isn’t he beautiful?’ we are given a dirty look, as his cries are louder than the BBC commentary about Kate’s dress.

It was a nirvana of a meal, and will spoil me forever, as I will live in fear of missing another such curiously priced oasis and be forever disappointed.

We are fatly lunging onwards however to Crosby and the Antony Gormley statues who stand in the sea there. Again reality exceeds expectation-there are so may more figures than expected dotted around the coast and with a backdrop of a hazy Liverpool docks. They are simple yet mesmerising, unpretentious and humane-the further out they go the more encrusted with barnacles they become, less flocked by children laughing at their sculpted genitalia until you can only see their simple yet oh so human silhouettes not outlined in wild flowers but clad only in sea and sky.