I’m sat here writing at a bench held together by ropes, that was probably made by pirates. It’s in Vale Park, just along the river from New Brighton looking across at Liverpool, and I’m perfectly happy. Here on a day off in the middle of the week. That best kind of a day off, on a holiday that feels a bit like skiving. And not before time.
And though I’m sat here writing that’s only because writing is one of the things I naturally do. Today I’m not writing for any particular purpose other than the pleasure of seeing which word might follow this one as I put each sentence together. I’m off work, off university, off academia, off somewhere on my own, writing in a park in New Brighton.
I’ve been reading too, reading “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. A great favourite which I last read to my daughter Clare when she was round about the same age as Mary Lennox is in the book.
And of course I’ve been walking, the other of the holy trinity of sacred activities I get up to when I’m happiest or in search of happiness. Writing, reading, walking, that’s me. Having a day off I decided to have the moment I woke up and saw the blue sky through my bedroom window.
“New Brighton” I thought. “That’s where I’ll go. A proper place for a proper day out. I’ll take a book that isn’t sociology and I’ll do next to nothing all day.”
So here I am. Walked down Bold Street, through to Cook Street, onto the New Brighton bus, then through the tunnel to here. In a secret garden too, though one that’s open to everyone, unlike Mary’s in the book. The secret in this one being that pirates have made it, to the delight of all the children who are already here. Two school outings and lots of smaller people making those particularly impressed noises that only children can about the collection of found magical creatures and objects scattered around the hillside here. A unicorn, a witch, a reindeer, fairy rings, tiny houses and all sorts else. All made of driftwood and imagination and looking very much like the work of the the same pirates who made the Black Pearl ship down on the beach. “Pirart” they call it, and call themselves. Art made by the people, for the people.
A word up while I’m here for the top quality Vale House Café too, where I’ve had a drink and an early lunch out on their sunny terrace.
Even if I went nowhere else this has already been a prefect day off.
Next, parents and yet more children were streaming down the hill around me to the field with the domed bandstand in it. To what turned out to be a school sports day, or more accurately a Summer Games Day. Cheering adults with prams and deckchairs, groups of jumping up and down children in different coloured t-shirts:
“Taking part in 9 games each!” as the teacher in charge of the whole happiness production informed us all from the stage.
So I rejoiced in its happening and then left, of course, for quieter reading and writing times in various other places.
Down back in the town later on a whole fleet of taxis had arrived, covered in balloons, for what I found out was the annual Taxi Drivers’ Day Out for the blind children of Liverpool. On the beach, in the funfair, eating chips, in the sunshine. New Brighton being all the things it was invented for.
Later in the day I walked up, through many a steep suburban avenue, to see another dome. I’d always known this one was there because you can see it for miles around, but I’d never given myself the time or wherewithal to see it up close until this day off.
“The Dome of Home” merchant sailors called it during World War II as their Battle of Atlantic convoys reached the safety of Liverpool Bay. Once they could see the dome of Saints Peter and Paul Church here, they knew that were nearly home.
Coming down the hill from the great church I found “Literally…” The kind of bookshop you can get lost in, run by someone who clearly loves books. Except I was having an out of doors kind of day so I’ll come back another time. (More or less opposite the railway station it is, in case you want to get lost in there too?)
Back at almost sea level I took time sat in my two final reading places of the day. By the bowling greens, then outside The Seaside Café. In the book by this time Mary has arrived in Yorkshire, through the darkness, across the wuthering moor, and:
“Has never felt so contrary in all her life.”
But we the readers know that outside in the unfamiliar darkness, waiting only for her to discover it, there is a secret garden. And you never know the day when you’re going to discover a secret garden do you? Or the day when you might wake up, see the blue sky through your bedroom window and decide to take the whole day off from whatever you were supposed to do, to walk around, as aimless as you might like, just to see what you might find? These can be the very best kind of days.
Writing this all down in a university library the morning after my day off I’ve decided to include it in the ‘Fieldnotes’ section of my blog, where all my academic writing goes. Not because this is academic, but as a reminder and an encouragement to me and all of us to have days off sometimes. Just because.