Saturday, May 23, 2009

Doing the Duck - Liverpool style

Is it a Yellow Submarine? Or a little yellow duckie?
No, its The Yellow Duckmarine - a tour bus with a difference!

Today broke a beautiful sunny day with the forecast of a brighter day and 18°C. So we are off to do a tour cruise that leaves from the famous Albert Dock, Merseyside. We got here just before 10 am and as the next duck tour that we can get seats on leaves at 11:35 am, breakfast sounds good. Starbucks for juice, breakfast paninis and coffee and the chance to browse through Beatles books while we eat. Then it is off to take a swim!!

The Yellow Duckmarine is a former amphibious army truck and the one we travelled in was used in the D-Day landings at Normandy - this impressed Michael tremendously! The steps up into it are impossibly steep and as we drive off to the crashing of gears, this battle weary old girl groans - but keeps going. We begin with a road tour through Liverpool past many of the City's famous sites. Our tour guide, Chris, has a wonderfully Liverpool irreverent slant on most things and warns that his jokes get worse, not better. Still, with a full load of 22 people, it is a change to the open topped bus tour - every bit as fun, perhaps even more so. We are certainly seeing the same attractions as the bus but in a different light.

We complete the obligatory tour that includes the three graces, the two Cathedrals, the Liver buildings, (Q. Where does a Liver Bird come from? A. An egg - and the jokes didn't get better!), the Chinatown Arch, many of the Beatles hangouts and most of the 22 pubs owned by Mr Cain of Cain's Brewery that Chris seems to have very personal knowledge of! At the Christ Church Catedral, the four bells are officially named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but are known locally as Paul, Ringo, George and the largest one is John!

Then we head back to the docks where our driver John tells us that we all need to scream loudly as we barrel on down the ramp and into the water. Thankfully it is a good group on board and so, screaming, hands a-flapping we startle more than one on-looker before we collapse into giggles once we splash down. The duck (less than gracefully) swims around the South Docks - via Wapping and Queens Docks to Coburg Dock before travelling back to circle the Albert Dock before driving straight out of the water in front of the Albert Dock buildings.

Now if driving in was a laugh, picture this - a group of 22 various tourist from different nationalities and different age groups plus an exuberant guide and a hapless driver all emerging from the water loudly singing "We're all sitting in a yellow duckmarine" to the tune of the yellow submarine - over and over and over. What a blast. We even got applause from the dockside audience!
So with a great morning under our belt and our mood matching the warm sunny day we head off to Stoke-on-Trent. 'Kate' is connected and puts us very directly right on the doorstep of the Holiday Inn Express Hotel. Next stop is the closest Tesco Plus to stock up on some necessities such as sparkling water, soap, rechargeable batteries and try to get (unsuccessfully) a case for Kate. We will have to go find a Currys store.

But we did manage to buy a beautiful bunch of tulips for Muriel and Dennis who we are dining with tonight. We managed to chat briefly to Mick this afternoon and let him know we were visiting his sister. He gave us the news that their oldest brother is in hospital after a heart attack and as he could not get on to Muriel, could we pass on the news in case she has not heard. Gee, what terrible news to bring someone.

Again, Kate is employed and gets us safely and without incident to Muriel and Dennis' home - a short minute drive from where we are staying. Muriel has heard the family news about her brother so I do not enter the house with bad tidings (phew). Muriel is lovely and very welcoming. Dennis arrives soon after we do - he has done a dash to the supermarket. You know they have not aged a day since we first met them back in Australia some years ago. But my, how you can see the family resemblance between her and Mick!

Muriel explains that she has invited some good friends who they dine with often over for dinner. Before long, Muriel and Derek arrive, followed not long after by Bridget and John. We begin with glasses of wine (and coffee for Michael) in the dying rays of the day's sunlight in the sun room. Muriel soon dictates that we move into the dining room where we are served a veritable feast that was absolutely delicious. Beef and sausage hot pot with jacket potatoes, peas, beans, broccoli, lashings of gravy and plenty of bread - some garlic. Washed down with generous helpings of red or white wine and lemonade. The conversation was lively as we all discussed the perfect and not so perfect holidays and things we must try to see.

And then, well, then came dessert - OMG how lucky can I be - Rhubarb Crumble with clotted cream, pouring cream and/or custard, strawberries and hazelnut roulade. I had the Crumble and custard while Michael went with the roulade and strawberries. It was absolutely as though we had died and gone to food heaven. Muriel is a fantastic cook and the servings were enormous more than generous!

Following dinner we all adjourned to the parlour where came whisky, lemonade, coffee and chocolates. Gosh, talk about hospitality! And it was here that we solved the current disgrace that is the abuse of privileges by members of parliament. Why is it that people are out to get the 'most for me' all the time? We also spoke about corporate greed and what it is doing to industries that have been in operation locally for hundreds of years - like Spode and Wedgewood. And Michael got some more information on the grave of the so-called witch of Burslem, Molly Lee and we will go find her final resting place tomorrow.

It is 11:30 pm before we say our goodbyes after inviting one and sundry to take the plunge and come visit us in Queensland. The goodbyes are more friendly and warm than the hellos and we can very honestly say we have had the lovliest night. Thank you so much Muriel and Dennis for making us feel such a part of your family.

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