13 November, 2005

Suburban skies

I spent a year of my life living in a house just off Penny Lane.

I didn't intentionally seek out a property at that location; it was more a question of expediency - it was coming to the end of the university year, I was about to be kicked out of my hall of residence, and me and three others needed a house to live urgently. This was the first one we found that was cheap and available to let. It was an absolute dump (no central heating, dodgy gas fires, appalling plumbing, dirt and crap everywhere) but it worked out at something like £30 rent a week and that was all that mattered. The landlord was later prosecuted for fraud, or trying to pollute his tenants to death, or probably both.

Anyway it was just round the corner from Penny Lane, and hence this mythological location became just another street, the one where I bought my newspaper and did my washing and got emergency groceries and, at the top of the road, where I got my hair cut. The place lost all significance. I didn't notice this at the time. I only realized it retrospectively, and it still saddens me that I put myself in a position where I allowed it to happen.

It wasn't that the Beatles associations weren't ever-present. Bus loads of foreign (usually Japanese) tourists regularly turned up to ask me if I knew Paul McCartney. The hairdressers' had loads of Beatles photos up on the walls, together with an incongrously positioned group shot of the staff meeting Jason McAteer and Jamie Redknapp. One day a giant film crew arrived and closed off the whole street to shoot the video for 'Free As A Bird'. Dovedale Junior School, which George Harrison and John Lennon attended, was a few hundred metres away.

Instead I just blocked all this out, not wishing to seem unduly smitten by my environment and preferring to maintain an air of steely detachment. Plus I was preoccupied with just surviving in such a terrible house (fellow residents included - well, almost all of them).

But even though I now live much further out from Liverpool City Centre, I still get the bus over to Allerton to get my hair cut at the same place (10 years this autumn). If only circumstances had been more conducive back then to enable me to appreciate where I was. Or perhaps that was impossible. Perhaps you're not supposed to live in such places, merely visit them briefly and treasure them as memories.

Certainly two musical pilgrimages I made with my best friend to Stretford, Manchester in December 1993 and London in April 1994 continue to resonate today. Both were day trips, both inspired by our shared interest in The Smiths and The Beatles. The former we honoured by trudging round the area near Kings Road, speculating as to the whereabouts of an old grey school or some cemetery gates. The latter witnessed visits to Abbey Road and Macca's house in Cavendish Avenue, before ending up down at Clapham Common (Morrissey again) and then to Oxford Street for shopping.

Both occasions were a bit like those episodes of Grange Hill that followed characters during the course of a Saturday to see what kind of good-natured shenanigans went on away from the classroom: full of high-spirits, unexpected discoveries, amusingly doomed endevaours, and exhausting treks around unfamiliar territory in the hope of chancing upon that elusive end of the rainbow. Because of that, and because we really didn't do much together outside our hometown, these experiences were effortlessly joyful and will stay with me forever.

So much of my life spent dwelling off Penny Lane was a struggle, however, that I can't bring myself to recall it with anything other than regret. Streets and houses which become famous for being lived in are fine if the people in residence are always unique. The magic fades as soon as you move in yourself, and the placename instantly switches from the lyric of a song to the address to which your council tax is sent.


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