Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Not Grim Up North, Part 3: Full English Breakfast

[Originally posted on http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=35079360; I refer to comments made there, which I cannot reproduce here]

I tried unsuccessfully to find any kestrel strangling going on. Unfortunately the closest I could get was a little pigeon-slapping at MOSI. The North has changed, Audere; as shown by the sad fact that the "Myth of the North" exhibition at Manchester's Lowry Museum (a later chapter) tried but was unsuccessful in finding a stuffed whippet to display. Flat caps and Vera Lynn 78s, sure, but no stuffed whippets anywhere in the north of England.

Thank you, Flanner, for untangling the hash I made of the Ship Canal history. In my defense, all of my reference material from the trip is still on a slow boat making its way around Cape Horn, unless a striking Royal Mail employee has just chucked it into the harbor.

The basic point to take away is that the Ship Canal was an attempt to avoid the Liverpool Docks.

I understand your antipathy towards your great commercial rival to the east, but I have to say I can't agree. I thought Manchester was terrific. The only thing I would have liked better would be if they had left the beautiful coat of grime on the buildings, both there and in Liverpool (the Liver Building is gleaming white, not brooding black, these days).

Flanner will not agree, but Manchester is clearly the Capital of the North these days. Their downtown revival is ten years further along. Liverpool is one of the great cities of the world, but it's at a bit of a dead end, a terminus; it's not really a gateway to anything anymore, not even Wales, while Manchester is the gateway to the entire north of England.

But the rivalry between the two makes for spectacular entertainment, and has for two hundred years. We will be returning to Liverpool.

As an example of the dispute between the two, we ended up not having enough time to visit the Lowry during our Manchester stay, and returned with our Liverpudlian friend (Mrs. Fnarf's old boyfriend from her time at University there several centuries ago). The amazing thing was, he had not been to Manchester FOR TWENTY FIVE YEARS, and even then only as an away supporter of Liverpool at Old Trafford.

He continually muttered that his mates would never believe where he'd been -- to MANCHESTER, clearly a less likely destination than the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. The Lowry is within sight of Old Trafford, which clearly upset him.

My wife has another old friend who lives in Wigan, halfway between Liverpool and Manchester, who in her fifty years on this earth has NEVER VISITED LIVERPOOL, something like twelve miles from her home.

If you read an excellent little book called "Pies and Prejudice" by Stuart Maconie, who grew up near Wigan right on the border between "Scouse" and "Woolyback" (Lancastrian), you will find much more on this topic of northern town and city rivalry and insularity.

Unfortunately, you can't borrow my copy, because British Airways apparently dipped the suitcase in which it had been packed into a pond of standing water, soaking the entire contents. The book, now dried, is now larger and fluffier than Don King's head, and all the pages have fallen out -- it's more of a pile than a bound book. Thanks, BA!

Josser, I did not get a chance to see the Anderton Lift, nor Pontcyssylte Aqueduct, nor Ironbridge, nor any of a dozen other landmarks that were on my list. Bizarrely, my wife believes that she should have some sort of input into our itinerary, and even more bizarrely didn't want to see any old boat lifts. Unaccountable. My arguments, even though they prominently featured detailed statistical and historical references, all went for naught, defeated by a simple "do they have an H&M there?"

Sarge56, I AM a writer -- I wrote all this lot, didn't I? Not by profession, though.

Anyways, on the Full English Breakfast.

Our hotel was right next to one of Britain's most charming contributions to civilization, the chrome cafe. The Abergeldie Cafe, by name, it is essentially unchanged since it opened in something like 1970, and features a high counter and lots of booths done in well-used wood and orange leatherette. Not as glorious as the New Picadilly in London, but charming nonetheless. And they serve breakfast.

Now, the details of a Full English have even more partisan disputes than Liverpool v. Manchester, and every one I tried was slightly different. The biggest area of disagreement seems to be on the inclusion of fried hash-browns or fried bread. I believe the correct answer is "both", but here's what I had at the Abergeldie:

Four large slices of bacon, each as big as my hand -- meaty English back bacon, not American streaky bacon; four sausages, containing a guaranteed ten percent or more of actual meat; two black puddings (sausage made of pork fat and beef blood); two eggs; an ocean of baked beans, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms; a bit of hash browns; six slices of toast; and a pot of tea.

I believe staff were standing by with the engine running and a pair of jumper cables in case my heart stopped beating.

On the subject of black pudding, I have to say that I have previously in this forum maligned its deliciousness and authenticity, and been corrected by Flanner. I was wrong, extremely wrong, utterly dead wrong. Black pudding is unbelievable, and is now my favorite food, though it is unclear when I will ever be able to enjoy the one I have in the freezer, since Mrs. Fnarf objects to the smell of it being cooked, and she unaccountably has power in our household, which extends even to the cooking of foodstuffs. Seriously. If a man can't even fry a little something in his own house without being told off, just because he might "ruin my good pan" and "fill the house with stinky smoke" and "almost burn the house down again", well! Honestly!

But at least I was able to enjoy my full English at the Abergeldie. She liked the Abergeldie even more than I did, I think, even though she didn't have any meat products at all with her chaste eggs. I could seriously spend the rest of my life sitting in a cafe like that one, eating my black pud and reading about the Rugby World Cup in seven different newspapers.

Brits sure do like their newspapers. Aside from the seeming dozens of titty-full tabloids, whose articles take up less space than their headlines or their ads for weight loss and hangover cure, and the dozens of right-wing tabs that lack the naked ladies but have even tinier articles, all of which seem to be about sending the darkies back to wherever they came from, there are a variety of serious papers matched in the States as a whole but not in any single place. Even in relatively obscure places you can gather up the Times and the Independent and the Telegraph and the Gaurdian (Grauniad), and have more seriously thought-out and investigative reportage from all parts of the political spectrum, than you could get anywhere in the States unless you lived next to a specialty newsstand in a very large city. Most people in the US can't just walk into their local 7-11 and choose from the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, or Chicago Tribune in addition to their local papers.

The "quality" papers were full of long, multipage articles about this place called "Iraq", which I remember hearing something about a few years ago but has seemingly dropped out of American news more recently. It sounds like a dreadful place. I can't imagine why anyone would want to go there.

(Forgive me, I'm an American, and thus my sarcasm muscles are atrophied; this is the best I can do).

And of course there's still hundreds of pages of Britney Spears news in the next stack over if you should need it.

One problem with a Full English Breakfast is that it can rather deaden one's resolve to get up and get moving. It can in fact make it difficult for the untrained physique to pump one's blood all the way down to the lower extremities and back up again. So the answer to the question "so, what are we doing today?" becomes "um. I, uh. The uh, we could. Is there a train? I wanted to, uh. Look, this girl is naked, right here in the newspaper."

The passage of time in this report is a little chopped and compressed, so some things will be covered on the wrong day. For the sake of the story, we got on the train and went to Blackpool.

Next: Blackpool.

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