Road trip Big cat on the prowl in Mersey­side

The Herald Magazine - - ETC | DRIVE - MARK PORTER

MY phone rang. The Lake District was now off the sched­ule. It was mi­nus 16 de­grees cel­sius west of Keswick, with the wind chill fac­tor, and the lane to my favourite B&B near Der­went­wa­ter had be­come a snow­drift. Plus the Range Rover I had been test­ing had been swapped for a Jaguar XJ, a lovely beast but not ideal for driv­ing through deep snow.

We were sit­ting in the Royal Suite of Black­pool’s Im­pe­rial ho­tel, in the very room where Harold Wil­son’s Cabi­net con­vened to deal with a na­tional crisis dur­ing the Labour party’s 1964 con­fer­ence. Churchill had also stayed here, along with every post­war Prime Min­is­ter.

It was also the suite where the Bea­tles had re­hearsed and slept be­fore head­ing down to Abbey Road to record A Hard Day’s Night. I bal­loted the troops, Pier­reMarie (11) and Alexan­dra (10): “Shall we drive to Hud­der­s­field to pay trib­ute to Harold Wil­son’s birth­place or shall be go to Liver­pool to see the Bea­tles mu­seum?”

Once I had ex­plained who The Bea­tles were the vote was unan­i­mous, so af­ter vis­it­ing Black­pool’s won­der­ful Sea Life cen­tre at shark feed­ing time we headed south along the Plea­sure Beach, par­al­lel with the splen­did tramway. We passed the South Pier and Yates’s Wine Lodge, a fa­bled con­fer­ence wa­ter­ing hole in the old days, about which I’ll maybe write an­other day.

We headed cross-coun­try to­wards Mersey­side. The back roads of Lan­cashire were not ideal for test­ing the full power of a 3-litre turbo, ca­pa­ble of hit­ting 60 in less than six sec­onds be­fore surg­ing on to 155mph. So we glided re­gally past South­port, Formby and Crosby be­fore hit­ting the out­skirts of Boo­tle with its fa­mous docks and acres of red brick ten­e­ment hous­ing. De­spite the re­gen­er­a­tion the car stuck out a bit (it’s the model the Prime Min­is­ter gets chauf­feured in).

Since there were no plasma screens in the back of the XJ the kids were es­pe­cially at­ten­tive to their sur­round­ings. “It is very dif­fer­ent here,” said Alexan­dra, who lives in Cannes. “But the houses look warm.”

Light snowflakes dropped and I was glad to be in the cock­pit of the XJ Port­fo­lio, with its heated soft grain leather “18 way” seats with their five dif­fer­ent mas­sage pro­grammes and a Merid­ian sur­round sound sys­tem that would chal­lenge the acous­tics of Liver­pool’s Phil­har­monic Hall. A small king­dom of pam­per­dom that made me feel a tad ashamed, given the poverty of this great city’s past.

Liver­pool it­self has changed dra­mat­i­cally since the days I used to visit when I was a stu­dent in neigh­bour­ing Manch­ester. Back in 1979/80 it was a down at heel sort of place and the docks were about as al­lur­ing as the vieux port in Mar­seille or Tiger Bay in Swansea. Now they are full of gal­leries, mu­se­ums and restau­rants. The grim old pubs where you were con­sid­ered a Nancy if you had a packet of crisps with your pint of Hig­son’s, have mor­phed into some­thing else. Foam­ing pints have given way to Dry Mar­ti­nis and Man­hat­tans and the rough hewn, home-brewed lo­cals are smartly dressed and up­wardly mo­bile.

We ar­rived as the sun set over the cob­bled en­vi­rons of Rope­walks, an

Liver­pool has changed dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years, and while the wa­ter­front ben­e­fits from a mod­ern sheen it’s still evocative of the city’s rich mar­itime her­itage. Be­low, Mark is pic­tured with the highly im­pres­sive Jaguar XJ

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