Magritte and welcome to it

Well, it’s been kind of a rollercoaster week. I did virtually nothing until Friday morning, when I came down with fever and chills of a major variety. I was very upset about this, as on Saturday we were due to travel to Liverpool to see the Tate Liverpool Magritte exhibition. We were to travel with our friends Daniel and Pei, and then meet up with our friend Nicky from Manchester at Liverpool Lime Street Station. Nicky was happy to travel to Liverpool that day as Manchester Pride was on and he wanted to avoid the congestion.

So, I thought good thoughts and prayed some prayers and woke up on Saturday morning a bit woozy, but fit to travel. We discovered before we left the house that the Bank branch of the Northern Line was closed for maintenance this weekend, so we took a 168 bus which flew (nearly literally) direct to Euston Station. We got on the 0907 Liverpool train and settled into First Class, where we were expecting some analogue to breakfast.

Well, there wasn’t much in the way of breakfast. We got free coffee, biscuits, and WiFi, but nothing more nourishing. Daniel and Pei are splendid travelling companions; Pei with his iPad2 (a WHITE iPad, no less!), Daniel with his smartphone looking up questions we had about the areas we were travelling through, and HWMBO for being, well, HWMBO. We won’t waste money on first class next time we travel in Virgin Trains. I suppose they’ll put up the fares so that Branson can rebuild his Caribbean hideaway home.

Now I have taken a day trip to Liverpool with Nicky a couple of years ago. We did the Anglican Cathedral and the RC cathedral and walked through the historic areas. But there wasn’t much else to recommend it. So we were going to go directly to the Albert Docks area, eat lunch, then hit the Tate.

Whatta pain it was walking there. The route is pretty direct, but about every five minutes the heavens opened and it pelted down buckets. We’d shelter, and then stumble on when the rain let up. Standing in front of John Lewis, we were waiting for a momentary lull when a rather obese woman stood there, tapped her feet a few times and said, “Can you please step away so I can walk through without stepping into the puddle?” We duly stepped into the puddle to allow Her Highness to waddle through.

It was Street Music weekend in Liverpool city centre, and every so often there was an upright piano in dubious tune that were available for street performers to play either as soloists or with a group. We urged Pei (who is a concert pianist) to tickle the ivories but he strongly resisted the urge to tickle, unfortunately.

In the downtown area there is a Liverpool One development that has a “restaurant row”. We were glad to find it, but dismayed that at 1145 hardly any of the restaurants were open. I hankered for a burger, and a Gourmet Burger Kitchen beckoned. The info was that it was open from 1100, but there was only us and someone forlornly tapping at the window. So we soldiered on through the mists and rain, and through a bus station, until we arrived at the Albert Docks. By this time we were desperate for a respite from the intermittent storms and wanted our lunch before venturing into Tate Liverpool, so the “World-Famous Pump House Inn” beckoned We went in, found a table, and ordered.

Well. I don’t know what it was world-famous for, but perhaps it was dyspepsia. Pei had a curry that was quite forgettable. Pei and Daniel shared “Duck Spring Rolls”. Well, one would expect 4 or 5 spring rolls but the only reason they could advertise it as “Spring Rolls” is that there were two of them, and both Daniel and Pei were of the opinion that they were not great. Daniel had a Steak and Ale pie which seemed to be OK, according to him. HWMBO had roast chicken, and gave it 5 out of 10. Nicky had ham and eggs, and said it was OK. I had a Burger Platter, which advertised 6 “mini-burgers”, some onion rings and fries/chips. I also got an order of deep-fried dill pickles (no, I’m not expecting). The burgers were dry and made from English beef, which does not taste right to me. Overall, a forgettable “culinary” experience. Oh well, live and learn.

On to Tate Liverpool. I have always been ambivalent about Magritte. Some of it is very deep, and even philosophical. The work “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, which consists of those words written under the image of a (tobacco) pipe, says a lot to me about what exactly a picture is. It’s a very Lewiscarrollian idea, somewhat like Humpty Dumpty’s opinion about the meaning of words.

And some of it, such as the one I call “Raining Men”, doesn’t say much to me.

Magritte had a bowler-hat fetish, it seems.

In any case, if you can get to Liverpool, the Tate Magritte exhibition is a good one to see. There’s even some smutty pictures, which the Tate terms “challenging”. The one of the Sacred Heart was quite interesting indeed. A perceptive review of the exhibition is here.

So after the exhibition, which was free to four out of the five of us through our Tate membership (I bought one ticket for the fifth member of our party), we had a quick coffee in the Tate café, which was as unfortunate as many of these cafés are, and then walked around the little enclosed wharf area to escape the rain. There are lots of twee shops and restaurants there, some of which might have been better lunch destinations. Then, back to Lime Street station and onto a train at 1619.

One additional observation about Liverpool: it is probably one of the lung and throat cancer hotspots in the British isles. Liverpool-football-club-shirted men spilled out of every pub with fags hanging out of their mouths. The sidewalks were littered with cigarette stubs gently marinating in the rain puddles. Even in the railway station, where smoking was officially banned several years ago, an old hag wandered by with a lit cigarette in her hand looking for and eventually finding her grandson. No doubt he’ll be coughing up his lungs when he turns 16.

Now when we got back to London, there was the question “What shall we do now?” It’s always difficult to decide where and whether to have lunch or dinner when you’re in a group. This is made less difficult, but still challenging, when you have two couples trying to decide those questions. We finally decided on a family-run Italian restaurant around the corner from Great Ormond Street children’s hospital. They said that we could have a table at 1915 if we promised to vacate by 2030, which we duly did.

Now the starter was good (my usual Italian restaurant starter, Insalata Tricolore: mozzarella, tomato, and avocado in olive oil and balsamic vinegar), but ordering spaghetti and meatballs was a mistake. Mother Hansen’s Spaghetti and Meatballs was miles better than that. The meatballs were veal, which doesn’t particularly appeal to me, and the spaghetti, which was somewhat more dente than I like, was seemingly dipped in sauce then drained, so there was hardly any sauce left on it. Oh well.

Home and to bed.

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