The day after boxing day and everyone is feeling a little woozy and bloated – even the dog. It has been a relaxing and comforting Christmas in Liverpool in which the presence of Ella in VB’s city centre apartment has encouraged us to get out and take regular exercise during the festive break.
Christmas day included a trip to Formby Beach, where we were pleasantly surprised by the number of dog walkers getting a breath of sea air instead of lazing in front of the TV while another significant member of the family cooked the roast. I had been led to believe that we might see Footballers and their Wives walking in the dunes. Instead, the beach was brimming with regular scousers with their dogs – which came in all shapes and sizes, from air-headed setters to a suave black Labrador called Max who took quite a shine to Ella, who flirted outrageously in return. Elsewhere there was a dachshund who trotted around on the sand quite happily till it saw any other dog, trundled up to each one in turn and barked in their face (well, more at their ankles really). In human terms, it was the equivalent of running up to strangers in the street to stadn in front of them just shouting “FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF!” over and over again. It did not phase Ella (or any other dog, for that matter) and she just looked slightly bewildered. She probably didn’t understand the accent.
On the 28th, the morning walk for Ella requires either a nip across the road to a patch of sodden, litter-strewn grass (which Ella is not keen on) or else a ten minute stroll up to Liverpool Cathedral where St James’s Garden sits in a former quarry-cum-cemetery underneath the hulking presence of the cathedral. We visited it a few times in September as we waited in vain for Josh’s recovery. Then, we even lit candles for him in the cathedral. So returning to the garden is a bittersweet moment, like so much of our stay in Liverpool.
It goes without saying that exercising the dog in an urban environment is very different from home, but she adapts well. She is good on the lead, but is incapable of getting any of her “business” done while on it. So the ten minutes it takes to get to St James’s Garden is a very stiff-legged walk for the Labrador. When she is finally released she runs to squat with demonstrable relief. After that she is quite happy trotting around the tombstones, Huskisson Memorial and trees that populate the garden.
It is peaceful, as one might expect, and the morning of the 28th it is still gloomy and pre-sunrise as we wander around. A blackbird is singing in one of the trees, seemingly for the simple pleasure that it brings for singer and listener. I stand and listen for a while before moving on, passing a robin which I read recently is probably singing to defend its territory from European migrants. Who knew Robins might be Faragists?
As we climb the slope from the garden we see a Peregrine flapping quickly and low overhead. It completes a circle before returning to its perch high on the West face of the cathedral where its mate is screaming. It is a moment to treasure. The Peregrine is a bird that entranced me when I was young – not because I ever saw one (apart from perhaps once in the lake district) but because of their reputation as record-breaking speedsters and brutally percussive hunters. To see them in Liverpool was special for me. I still get a buzz from seeing them and for some reason I thank Josh for the appearance of this one. Anything that lifts the gloom is a moment for which to be grateful, and I feel that somehow Josh continues to provide them for me.
Ella and I continue our walk and head down to the docks. The sky is brightening and is now tinged pink as the sun slowly rises towards the horizon. The dank waters of the Mersey don’t hold the light but the clouds instead take on a rose tint. A rainbow shows faintly to the West, its base resting on the Liver Building, the two Birds standing guard, one looking to the sea (Liverpool’s prosperity) and the other over the City (its people). There is a peace and stillness about the place and the few locals that are out are amenable and friendly – as is the default position for most Scousers. I can see why Josh loved Liverpool.
Everywhere in the town evokes memories of our boy but they are, for the most part, happy ones – turned bitter post-September. But the simple act of walking along the waterfront and taking in the views settles and calms me. I return to Verity’s apartment with my head cleared and thoughts straight. Just a little bit sad.