A brief tour diary from our rapid trip from Yorkshire to Merseyside and back again, taking in model villages, a family party and a visit to Moomin Valley.
We had hoped to leave early, but an arse about with a mattress delivery led to us waiting until after dark (and receiving no matress either).
We hit the Snake Pass just at a perfect time, rush-hour was dying down and there was no lights in the sky. You have no idea of the luminescent noise of the city until all you have in front of you is full-beam, cats eyes and the odd reflective sign.
After the usual trip across the A57, M60, M56 and M53, we arrived in Port Sunlight: model village and home to a lot of my childhood. It is a very proud village, with just cause. There are many bowling greens, tree and flower-lined walks and the kind of homes that people draw when they draw the kinds of home they’d like to live in. Its rich architecture is stringently upheld, and even now UML (Unilever Merseyside Limited) still make sure it is true to its roots.
We were there to attend my dad’s sixtieth birthday party at the Lever Club (everything in Port Sunlight is Lever Something). It has a bowling green, memorial and cheap bar. There were people, some dancing, familial handshakes, and a former Robbie Williams impersonator cum DJ/entertainer. There were stories of millionaire call girls and french pastries, attempts to blow up Harold Wilson and legendary fighting. A Welshman conned me into eating lava bread and cockles.
I said some sincere words about my dad over a microphone to the people present. I mostly said what I meant, but missed some of the nicer things out. I was congratulated on my ‘alternative comedy’ and my dad has mostly clammed up and ignored it. Manly.
He had a cake.
That is supposed to be my dad on his motorized tricycle, not a shopmobility scooter as has been suggested. I tried not to drink much because of being ill; I did okay. This is a big achievement in my family.
After cooking perfect poached eggs the next morning, we set off to Bury Museum and Art Gallery. This was a bit of a detour from our journey home (extra short sprints on M6, M62, M60, M66). Bury’s internal road systems are deeply fraught, and feel more like unmanaged Parisian street traffic.
Once parked (£3.20 for two hours), we looked up.
What a brilliant building. Catholics knew how to make churches. Far better than the modern community centre things being occupied in the name of Christ these days. Bury has an odd mix of fantastic gothic architecture — from a time of great belief — some nice art deco buildings — now JD Wetherspoon free houses — and horrific ’80s modernism. In the centre of the town, there is a place called The Rock. It is so dystopian in its name and creation, it is hard to imagine Bury can envision life beyond the city.
Which makes it odd that we were there for the final day of the Magical Moomin Valley visiting exhibition: a small, but brilliant, show of Tove Jansson‘s Moomin work amongst some of her other illustrations. Towns on the edge of major cities get a lot of arts funding to bring culture to their areas, I suppose they assume that cities create their own culture and don’t really need to import it. I am glad we contributed some out of town visits that will help attract funding for more things like this.
Can’t explain how giddy we were when we actually saw the sign.
Look how happy Moomin is to see people.
Once inside, the exhibition was an absolute treasure. Moomin showed us the way.
Dozens of small cells, no more than six inches square, of intricate Moomin beauty. Being able to see every single, dedicated ink mark and erased pencil sketch was stunning. The detail is really quite incredible, but always maintains simplicity in the image. No space is wasted.
The lighting was very sensitive so as not to destroy the images, which made it tricky to take photos. It’s probably naughty anyway.
Here is Moomin in another spooky place.
Tove Jansson did other things, including as an illustrator for magazines.
Jansson also did plenty of illustrations for JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
It was all over so quickly, but it was wonderful to see, first-hand, the work of someone who continues to delight adults and children sixty-five years after first being published. Still, Jansson doesn’t seem to get as much credit as she deserves in this part of the world.
Once we had looked and looked again at the cells, we pretended to be Moomin.
There was no gift shop, so we saved ourselves dozens of pounds. Now, though, we are planning a Finnish holiday which will take in Tampere, Naantali (where Moomin World is) and Helsinki. Any advice on making this less expensive is more than welcome.
After leaving the exhibition, we took tea and cake at The Hero’s cafe within the Fusilier Museum opposite. Then we left Bury, hit the M66, M60, M67, A57 and home. We again traversed the Snake Pass in absolute darkness.
That’s that. Lovely.