We left the b’n’b after a quite terrible breakfast.
Bright morning light bathes Blackpool, but we, instead, are in a dark amusement hall, playing bingo with the old ladies.
Casinos in Las Vegas, so I’ve read, have no clocks on the walls and pump fresh oxygen in to keep punters awake and gambling.
Here, Gavin goes round offering a free tea to anyone playing on the 10 penny games.
It tastes like milky sink water. I take three and never win the bingo once.
We leave, walk around the town once more, drink some more tea, and while it still seems a wholly freakish place – simultaneously hopelessly mundane and utterly crazed – the joke is starting to wear a little thin.
Shall we carry on Northwards? We discuss what lies beyond Blackpool. Girisroula tells me that one of the only places in Britain that she has seen already is the Lake District.
As she has already been there, and we’ve only just seen lakes and (bigger) mountains in Snowdonia and, more conclusively for me, as she went there with an ex Greek boyfriend, we decide on looking for somewhere else.
We had talked before of seeing Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ – the life-size iron cast figures (of Gormley himself) dotted intriguingly, incongruously, on an off-the-beaten-track beach near Crosby. So we head for there.
I check the published times of high tides and with the adopted style of some old salty, bearded seafarer deduce with pin-point accuracy, that we only have a few hours before the statues will be totally submerged.
We race to the car and hug the coast down south again past the seemingly endless golf lynxes, the gull-marked sand in the bunkers and an in-coming smell of seaweed and the mist of the sea.
Through sturdy, well-to-do Lytham St Annes and polite Southport – echoes of Llandudno’s ornate Victorian canopes, but also with a sense of a select seediness attached to it too.
I spot pampas grasses outside in some of the front gardens – the secret signal for people into swinging that this is the house for them – and can easily imagine the couple-swapping that could well be going on behind these respectable double-fronted houses. Naked couples rolling on upholstered settees bought from Sofa Warehouses. A great British pastime.
I tell Giristroula to put her foot down. I’m convinced the statue figures on the beach will soon be totally gone. Hassling her to such a degree that we zoom through a red light. The spectre of this ticket will haunt us for the rest of the trip.
Giristroula doesn’t understand. “There was no one there. I didn’t see a policeman…”
The concept of cameras positioned to capture every last miscreant detail is an alien one in the Greek world.
In Greece you are at the mercy of the lounging police captain. Mirrored sunglasses, stubble and cigarette. If he says you went through a red light, then you went through a red light. Nothing you can do about it (aside perhaps from a discretely handed envelope of bank notes).
The Greeks are appalled by the very idea of cameras positioned to track your movements. That the Brits are used to as second nature on every trip down every High Street.
We race through Crosby backstreets – never seeming to get any nearer the beach – with me, sure the water will have left nothing of the statues, throwing my hand in the air, telling my harassed driver “What’s the point now? All we’ll see is the sea.”
Finally we arrive.
A huge, open, exposed beach is laid out there in front of us.
The incoming tide I had so confidently predicted nothing more than a rumour out somewhere in the middle of the Irish Sea. Every figure is standing on bare, cold sand. The sea so far out you’d wear your legs down to stumps trying walk out to reach it.
We stare at the statues. We take the art in, meaningfully. As if shuffling in some gallery. Though no need to exit out via the gift shop here.
There is a peace all around us, as these dumb, inert objects stand here, under the silent-faced clouds, gazing at the vast openness before them.
We walk back to the car park, past the couples sat in their cars staring out at the huge sky, chewing slowly on sandwiches, refusing to leave the haven of their Vauxhall Astras.
We pass a mother and her grown-up son – she in a headscarf, him with flat greasy hair, in unfashionable trousers and a zipped-up kagool – sat on a bench, watching a child play in the pools in the sand. I listen in to their conversation.
“Oh look,” the old women says “He’s got a soggy nappy.”
“Mm,” says the son. “As the mayor of Nagaski said ‘there’s nothing worse than a soggy nappy.'” He says this in a dull low voice, as he turns his head away from his mother. A tone of mockery brewed in tense silence for years, I imagine.
“I know,” says the mother. “It’s such a shame…”
We head back for Liverpool, both of us thinking of the statues and the distances in space, and in life, and in relationships.
And thinking of the red light ticket.
It’s decided that we leave the road to the others for a bit, and to make our next long trip, heading far further northwards, in less agitated style.
Glasgow Central’s old dark wood-lined train station – designed with long flushed curves, to keep the passengers moving along.
We hail a taxi in the dark for the West End where we’ve booked a room for the night. I sit back and take in the ride, watching the unfairly maligned city passing my window, and enjoying in the reflection the agonised face of the Greek trying to understand the Glaswegians taxi driver’s conversation.
I offer no help to Giristroula’s pained looks in my direction. I couldn’t, help even if I tried.
He seems to be arguing with himself anyway. Some perceived slight, niggling away.
“And I says to him at the fitba, I says ‘Get tae fuck ya wee shite. Why ya havering oan, speaking oot of ya bahookie? You can chew ma banger, that’s what yous can do.’ That’s what I says to him…'”
Giristroula smiles and nods.
The city looks similar in its Victorian grandness to Liverpool. But larger. The dark brick of the centre giving way to redder buildings as we drive out. And then finally, in the West End, sand coloured – redolent in my mind now to those great Regency buildings back in Bath.
We get out the taxi. Giristroula thanks the taxi driver.
“Tha’s nae problem, hen. Have a guid evenin’. Don’t get too pished now. Heh heh heh…”
Giristroula smiles and nods again.
“Yes,” she says.
We walk around, past the Botanic Gardens, through a handsome district of privilege houses. It isn’t the Glasgow I’ve imagined or been warned about.
I realise there is a world of high-rise tenements in the city of course. And streets of cheap booze and loan shops. I saw them as we drove along. Men in tracksuits outside pubs containing no furniture, bars built unusually high so as to protect the bar staff from the occasional hay maker from one of the punters.
But there is a strong, proud, elegance to Glasgow too, and when I tell a very reluctant Giristroula that we must eat something deep fried in this city, I feel it may be me that has got it very wrong.
There are no deep-fried mars bars here but I do find a chip shop selling deep-fried pies and burgers. I tuck into one, trying to allay the Greek grimace with a mumbled mouthful of “It’s what they eat here!”
Three well-heeled young Glaswegian women arrive after their night out and frown with distaste at the counter.
“I mean,” says one in a gentle, soft, brogue “Who eats those things?”