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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Monday, 30 October 2017

How Fog Everywhere could clean up London's air

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK in order to reduce our impact on climate change. London's air quality is just not good enough - but how is the science shared with residents? Could a new play by teenagers at the Camden People's Theatre make an impact on decision makers? Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

The famous quote from Bleak House.
I'm used to hearing about London's air quality being bad. Scrap that. I'm used to hearing about London's illegal air quality. But I still try to put a positive spin on conversations I have with my teenage daughters. Turns out that Brian Logan, the artistic director at Camden's People Theatre is doing the same. Between rehearsals Brian, who grew up in St Andrew's, talked to me over the phone about how he teamed up with King's College air quality analysts to create a new theatre show, Fog Everywhere.

"We're partnering with Westminster Kingsway sixth form college. In this play the 17 and 18 year olds can articulate their response to growing up in a city with air pollution. It's a grim subject matter but we don't want to depress anyone. A lot comes from the fact that teenagers have an indomitable spirit. They don't want a big boo hoo about their lungs. So there's a spirit of resistance and it feels to me that the pollution agenda has a critical mass accruing behind a significant point for change," says Brian. who helped organise the collaboration and now hopes that "people in positions of power will come along" (he's thinking Mayor's Office, Department of the Environment and MPs), but it will also bring in a new audience of teenagers. One of them will be my 16-year-old daughter, Nell.

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FOG EVERYWHERE review by Nell May
My first memories are of doing to climate change marches with my Mum in London. I even made a YouTube video when I was about seven about air pollution. So I already knew a lot about the topic, but I found Fog Everywhere interesting. The best bit was the grime battle. I also really loved the cows. I'd heard about that incident (the Great Smog of 1952 when thousands of people were made ill and died from air pollution) watching The Crown (series 1, episode 4).

I've grown up in London too, and I liked the way the students had the opportunity to promote a serious issue. This city has a bad reputation for vehicle fumes and air pollution. My family don't have a car - I'm 17 soon and I'm not planning to learn to drive. I think more young people should go and see the play to learn about what it takes to reduce London's air pollution.

I'm going to recommend my friends go and see it!

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Fog Everywhere is at CPT. (c) Joe Twigg Photography
For those of us who follow the news, discovering that Brixton Road was so polluted by traffic fumes (diesel is the big problem) that it beat its annual pollution target in the first week of January 2017 was an unpleasant shock. But for Brian it was personal. "I've got small kids growing up in Brixton. My seven year old daughter's school is 50 yards from Brixton Road. You know that if you blow your nose it comes out black - it's hard not to be aware of air pollution. I'm sure parents of small children in London wonder if they might be doing harm to their child as they bring them up here."

That's why Fog Everywhere aims to help Londoners rethink the way they live. "The programme will have lots of links, further info and basic ways you can change your behaviour," says Brian. Ideas include taking routes away from main roads, not standing on the kerb, and avoiding cars especially idling by school gates. "I have an app my phone called City Air," adds Brian who gets around London by tube and walking.  But this isn't an instructional play, it's definitely theatre explains Brian, adding, "One of the things that is hard to resist in a play called Fog Everywhere - it's a quote from Charles Dickens' Bleak House - is using a smoke machine all the time. It makes it so easy to be dramatic, but it's a temptation you must resist."

Fog Everywhere (c) Joe Twigg
Fellow Scot, Andrew Grieve, ran workshops to help Brian and the teenage cast create the play. Andrew is senior air quality analyst at King's College London. His bike commute from Archway to a Waterloo campus involves crossing the Thames. On the day I spoke with him air quality wasn't impressive. "I came over the Blackfriars Bridge and it was weird the Shard not being there, it looked like someone had rubbed it out," he said.

But however much foggy days can echo Charles Dickens' original "fog everywhere" quote, it is Andrew's research measuring the growth of children's lungs that offers a shocking modern take on air pollution. "We spent six years testing the lung health of children in Tower Hamlets and Hackney. We found that kids in that area are growing up with smaller lungs than they should have because there is so much pollution," says Andrew. "I never imagine our research would end up as a play. But as a way of getting kids to think about pollution it is fantastic. They are so immersed in it, and they are speaking to their friends and family about it. It's generally more powerful for people to hear a message from people they know rather than academics writing papers."

Andrew studied environmental science at Sterling University.

Back in 1989 his dissertation was measuring nitrogen concentrations inside and outside cars - even back then it was higher inside than out. But one of his motivations is that feeling you get when you struggle to breathe. "I had really bad asthma as a child," he says. "Some of my earliest memories are of waking up in the night and grabbing my ventolin."

Nell and Nicola campaigning for clean air in London back in 2012.
Fresh insight
Here's hoping that Fog Everywhere plus:

  • January's record breaking air pollution figures, see here
  • The huge increase in stories and headlines about air pollution in newspapers, including the London Evening Standard, and 
  • The science from King's College which has found that children - who do not drive - now have smaller lungs than they should... 

will help focus decision makers minds to prioritise action on air pollution. Moves like the congestion charge, ultra low emission zone and the new T charge (brought in to target the most polluting older diesel HGV lorries and vans on 23 October 2017) are a good start. But clearly more needs to be done and perhaps Fog Everywhere which combines a teen perspective with King's College facts will take those decision makers closer to being able to make effective changes to sort air pollution.


Astonishingly scientist Andrew Grieve is just as positive as Camden People's Theatre's artistic director. Andrew adds: "I see such enthusiasm to deal with air pollution. London is like a petri dish; it has 1,000 ideas  - green corridors, green spaces, green benches to sit on, freight consolidation to there aren't so many individual Amazon (or supermarket) deliveries, nice streets to walk down and encouraging people to keep away from busy roads."

Do book the show - and take the kids.

  • Fog Everywhere is being performed from 31 October - 11 November at the Camden People's Theatre as part of the fortnight-long Shoot The Breeze festival on climate change and the environment see here to buy tickets and find to about talks/events.
  • Camden People's Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, NW1

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Sugar & slavery at Penrhyn Castle

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK in order to reduce our impact on climate change. No one likes being told they're hurting the planet through their holidays, school run or woodturner but a trip to a National Trust castle, just outside Bangor in Wales, made us talk about the 19th century elephant in the room - slavery. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Wish you were here: Lily, Nell, Nicola, Pete at Penrhyn Castle
The driveway is about a mile but it’s worth the long walk, especially when you reach what seems like a Medieval castle. In the right light the turrets glow like burnt caramel and from the windows the views are across the lawns to the estuary. Magical, except this is a mock castle completed in 1838 for an English lord who made his money from sugar, slavery and slate mining.  Actually the story is worse than that. In 1833 slavery was abolished and British slave owners – like Pennant– were compensated. He received more than a million pounds for freeing 764 people from the sugar plantations in Jamaica that he’d never even visited. The ex-slaves got nothing. Nothing!

Touring the castle it’s obvious what Pennant spent his ill-gotten gains on – fixtures, fittings and a knockout art collection.

In 1949 Penrhyn Castle was passed to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. It opened to tourists a few years later.  These days the slavery isn’t a dirty secret – it’s made clear from the moment you go into the entrance hall. But even now the Welsh locals aren’t big fans. I'm told they don’t like to volunteer, and on the bus ride back to Bangor we were shown a neat terrace of mining cottages still called Traitors’ Row, because that’s where the sell-outs who worked for Lord Pennant lived. 

Who knew a day out at a National Trust home, just for the cream tea and a garden stroll, would turn out to be a lesson in keeping uncomfortable situations under wraps?

  • If you want to visit the castle - and it's certainly a good place to visit with spectacular views - then look at the National Trust website here.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Climate Change: HRH, scientist & fashion voices in London

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK in order to reduce our impact on climate change. So how do you get people to do something about their impact on the planet? Compare and contrast methods by HRH Prince Charles, climate scientist Dr Emily Shuckburgh and Pacific Islanders from Fiji, Samoa and Papua New Guinea. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).
PNG style, model with London Pacific Fashion
Collective designer (r) Sarah Haoda-Todd
thinking clothes and climate change.
(c) LPFC
Give Dr Emily Shuckburgh a TV show.

That’s my verdict after hearing the British Antarctic Survey scientist, who measures trapped bubbles of carbon dioxide in million-year-old ice cores, describe the thinking behind the Ladybird Expert Book For All Ages – ClimateChange which she co-wrote with Prince Charles and former director of Friends of the Earth, Tony Juniper. The 24-page booklet, which crams in 200 words per page, was published in January this year (2017) and has become a best seller.

“We wrote the book to appeal to normal people. People think there is much less scientific agreement about climate change than there actually is,” says Emily who is an unusually plain-speaking professional climate scientist. “This is fuelled by the media and the way the BBC insists on [reporting it with for and against so climate change deniers are given airtime] and Daily Mail headlines.” 

She’s also able to make the science simple to follow. It’s not just the Ladybird book, which condenses many 3000-page reports, it’s also her ability to tell it as it is. She tells the Archway with Words audience that scientists are in agreement that the climate is changing, and that it is man-made.  She then explains that there are three major risks from the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  1. Coral reefs are dying (she is very negative about this, “coral reefs are dead”)
  2. Extreme weather
  3. The collapse of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet.

“If the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed it would be irreversible. The sea would rise by two metres and change coast lines. This would bring the sea into London and up to Cambridge. Ely might be an island again,” says Emily. She has a way of speaking that talks truth, but without hammering it home with an explosion of facts. The risk is high – there’s a 1:10 chance. To make her point she explains that “When I was pregnant a 1:20 chance was high risk medically. You could say the world is in a high risk category of disaster.”

Scientists calculate that the maximum amount of carbon dioxide our atmosphere can hold is 3,000 billion tonnes. Two-thirds of that budget has already been used.

She’s willing to speak out because she’s also a mother. “It’s precisely because I’m fully aware it’s going to impact on my children’s future [they are 2 and 4 years old]. I don’t want in 20 years time for my children to say ‘You knew! Why didn’t you do more to communicate that risk?’. It’s a sense of duty.”

Emily Shuckburgh talks climate change at the Archway Methodist Church
(c) around Britain no plane
So who’s turned up to the Archway with Words Festival to hear this talk? The wrong generation, that’s who. Most of the audience are grey headed. Admittedly it’s a Saturday talk, kicking off at 6.30pm when families with young children are busy making dinner and those 20- and 30-somethings with jobs are Whats Apping their evening out plans. My teenage daughters have also found something better to do – one has just moved into new uni halls, the other is on a sleepover to Netflix binge. 

Behavioural psychologists might draw other conclusions, as George Marshall makes clear in his book Don't Even Think About It: why our brains are wired to ignore climate change.

“It’s quite demotivating,” admits Emily adding that "Martin Luther King didn't give an 'I have a nightmare' speech. “So in the book we wanted to emphasise that it’s not necessarily doom and gloom. Responding to the climate change challenge can bring huge opportunities. A low energy lifestyle could be an improvement. It could improve air quality which is good for people’s health and it could drive new technologies, for example electric vehicles.”

I’ve worked at Friends of the Earth in the past and know that stuff. But so do we all. What I hadn’t realised is that people measure the increases in climate change from 300 million years ago because that was the time of “the greatest mass extinction ever.”

Winnie Kiap, PNG High Commissioner. (c) LPFC
Despite the warnings from Emily Shuckburgh too many of us do too little. But that’s not the case for Pacific island countries.  “For us it is a matter of life and death,” says Winnie Kiap, the Papua New Guinea High Commissioner when I met her at the first fashion show I've attended.  “We already have climate refugees in the outlying islands of Bougainville, the Carteret Islands [1.5m above sea level see here ] . In PNG we use funds for building early warning systems and infrastructure to build resilience,” said the high commissioner.

Pacific art and fashion both include hashtag climate change.
Winnie was speaking at the London Pacific Fashion Collective which used their London Fashion Week runway to highlight #ClimateChangeInThePacific . At the far end was artist Rusiate Lali’s absorbing picture, Shark Attack (metaphor!) and against this fabulous outfits by designers Pania Greenaway (New Zealand), Robert Kennedy (Fiji), Warlukurlangu artists (Australia), Sarah Haoda-Todd (Papua New Guinea/PNG) and Lucie from Samoa displayed their work.

Winnie Kiap, PNG High Commissioner introducing the
London Pacific Fashion Collective designers with
Fiji's Robert Kennedy on the left. (c) LPFC
“Was it just lavalavas (sarongs)?” asked my eldest daughter imagining a collection suitable for humidity and the beach. The answer was absolutely no. London Pacific Fashion Collective – in particular the designers from Samoa and PNG – used their love of their country to create striking designs. The repetition of PNG’s national emblem, a bird of paradise, and patterns borrowed from weaving and cultural tattoos was a winning collection from Sarah Haoda-Todd.  Given the endless criticism of fashion shows that it’s a monoculture of anorexic white beanpoles, an added bonus was that almost all the models were women of colour and several were plus size.

London Pacific Fashion show focusing on #climatechangeinthepacific
 at the Lloyd George Room, National Liberal Club.
(c) LPFC
So who was at the London Pacific Fashion Collective show? All sorts – men and women of all ages, hopefully with some purse power. In contrast to the dour, worthiness of the audience at the Ladybird books (it’s ok I’m only thinking of me) the Polynesian and Melanesian islanders have played an excellent trick. Take the people what they want – beautiful clothes – add national pride and a dose of cultural chic, and then add on the awareness raising about #climatechangeinthepacific. 

“The most important thing you can do is vote. Environmental issues are not high up the political agenda so they don’t get addressed,” says Emily. And of course we all need to inspire people to get involved in the solutions. Bludgeoning us with facts hasn’t been a game-changer. But like the Pacific island nations Britain is an island – and one that has been increasingly blighted by flood damage - and that ought to make us all pay a great deal more attention to tackling climate change.  

In Prince Charles, Tony Juniper and Emily Shuckburgh's Ladybird Book the simple wins include turning down the thermostat (or using the timer effectively), using public transport or low-energy transport more often, take less flights (just one transnational flight uses all of your annual carbon 'budget') and eating less red meat. All of these changes also save money… and go a small way towards saving the world. 

And not just your world, but people living on the coastline like so many people in Pacific nations.

The public scepticism about whether climate scientists are in agreement or not has to be resolved, fast. So perhaps the take home message should be read and share the book. Or get it ordered for your library. And yes, several people have sent a copy to President Trump, and, just as importantly, ordered a copy for sceptical friends and family.




Saturday, 16 September 2017

How the Sun Rain Room beats Falling Water

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post looks at inspiring new ways architects are making city buildings lessen their environmental footprint and creating spaces you just want to be in. and yes, I admit my knowledge of architecture is low so this is inspired as much as by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright as an Open House 2017 tour to the Rain Sun Room in Islington. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

The Sun Rain Room roof from the staircase window.

 How beautiful houses can be if you can add water. The Sun Rain Room is just a room, and it may not be over a waterfall, like Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water (1935 Pennsylvania), but this unusual indoor/outdoor space at Wilmington Square, WC1 is a magical extension to a Georgian town house making maximum use of light, shade and the local weather. 


Look up and you see the back of the Georgian house with
a curving grass roof above.
In the Sun Rain Room the modest courtyard space has been transformed into three multi-purpose spaces, a glass indoor room; a covered wall-less outdoor spot with BBQ and a paved area. Indoors has a distinctly meditative feel that would be a happy place whatever the weather, or season. And architects Tonkin Liu already use it for relaxing, reading, to display cuttings, for meetings and to reinvigorate the spirit. Clever use of sun tubes through the sedum roof turns the indoor space into a dappled wonderland when it’s sunny. Equally imaginative use of the Georgian butterfly roof (sometimes known as a valley roof) siphons off the rain water into an elegant tank which runs along the side of a brick wall festooned with ivy. Press a button and the tank releases a small flow of water to create a reflection pool that covers the dark granite slabs the Sun Rain Room looks over. It’s only millimetres deep but it’s clearly a pleasure to sit cosy inside, lost in the reflection of the Georgian building ruffled by ripples. At night the effect must be an even bigger show-stopper when the twinkling lights power up. Or when you want to surprise and pad across it as if walking on water.

Greg Storarr talks Open House visitors through
the thinking behind the Sun Rain Room. The
trees have deeper root ball pots tucked ut of sight.
Guide Greg Storarr, who works at Tonkin Liu, took groups around the Sun Rain Room during Open House 2017. He explained that the house had been subdivided into flats but was now used both as offices by the practice and a place to live.

Creating the Sun Rain Room gave an opportunity to transform the basement. Work took a year and the result is transfixing. It was also very hard to photograph (blame the mirrors, the group, and my own inability to find the spot!).

The tour started in a basement kitchen done with great simplicity and a lot of bleached wooden panels. There’s an internal office lit from above and then a stunning curved 2nd bedroom, with walls and door made from plywood, echoing the curving Sun Rain Room above.  This bedroom is well-thought out. It has a neat mirrored area behind the double bed for storing belongings, as well as a bathroom. Everything is small – because it’s London – but done with such rectangular abandonment and strategic mirror siting that the place expands and expands. And of course it’s not that small because Greg was showing around at least 15 people, many with bags, and we all fitted in fine.

Architect Anna Liu in red and white. The
mirrors make the space confusing to photograph.
Architect Anna Liu, resplendent in an amazing red outfit topped with white lace, shadowed the group. She lives in the house with business/life partner Mike Tonkin and laughingly explained she was: “the madness behind the brains.” But this is an architect’s dream, altering a house so it becomes a place she, (and definitely me) really want to live. Her pride is obvious and it was good hearing how much she “loves the light you get from the reflection and the ripple effect.”

A courtyard space transformed.
So could you do this at home? Some of the materials are very affordable, eg, plywood (albeit with a beautiful grain). There was also an external spiral staircase linking the basement floor to the Sun Rain Room – its only drawback being the usual for spiral staircases, they are very narrow. But there is also some amazing technology to keep the Sun Rain Room roof floating over a long stretch of what used to be courtyard. And there’s a super expensive and very skilled creation, a glass staircase that floatingly links the Sun Rain Room with the main house kitchen high above the basement courtyard.

Apparently the work cost around £2,000m2. Social housing is around £1,300m2 and high end projects around £3-4,000m2.

One of the Open House visitors reckons this was where Aubrey Beardsley – the illustrator famous for his “bizarre sense of humour and fascination with the taboo” worked. If correct, then clearly the house keeps inspiring.

Energy reading metre - get yours from your energy supplier so
you know how much power your gadgets are drawing.
Turns out it’s been rentable on Airbnb for lets over the summer. I’m gutted I never thought to nose around looking for starchitect mini breaks. Now it’s going to be used by a more permanent tenant, who I hope adores the place. Maybe they  can occasionally visit Exmouth Market, but mostly I’d like to think the new tenant is drawn back to the Sun Rain Room basement and courtyard for inspiration, fulfilment and a chance to feel properly in touch with the weather. This may be its first winter, but it’s clear Anna and her colleagues are looking forward to new reflections because this the Sun Rain Room is truly a living space for all seasons.


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Monday, 11 September 2017

Neighbours bring the taste of Bangladesh

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post looks at ways neighbourhood swaps bring the taste of other places into your kitchen - perhaps this will give you inspiration about what to plant or how to deal with the gluts? What feasts could you share with your neighbours? Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).


My windfall apples went to one family; bantam eggs to another couple. While the snake
bean and cucumber were very pleasing gifts received by my family.
This was originally written in May 2016 about autumn 2015. It's now September 2017 and I've just had a knock on the door with a lovely neighbour presenting me with a bag of green and purple runner beans. Not long after another came with some books to share at the secondary school... and a few days earlier another offered to take anything I wanted to the dump (recycling centre). Thank you so much to all of you.

Where I live, and like so many London streets, there are many people who are now Londoners but who were born elsewhere - Essex, Yorkshire, Bangladesh. So when it's harvest time (September)  there's a real buzz in our street as people share things that remind them of home recipes often using things they've grown over the summer.
For Essex this could be jam from the street tree pears - an echo of Tiptree jam perhaps? For Yorkshire it's the size of your marrows that counts. And in Bangladesh many families are expert gourd and bean growers.
While giving away a few of my windfall apples I met a Bangladeshi lady and her daughter coming back from their allotment with the most amazingly long fat beans. I know them as snake beans (or serpent gourds) that are hard to get fresh in London - unless you know a skilled gardener. I probably admired too much because the pair then gave me a chunk of their bean which had broken on the way back from the veg plot.  In return I gave them a couple of bantam eggs as my lovely new bantams are doing some great egg production at the moment (ie, one a day, so not very prolific).

This is the blackbird that pecks a hole into most of my apples. However his
lady friend is a fine snail eater and he is the best singer in town...
Snake bean in breadcrumbs for four.
I lightly peeled the snake bean and was able to use it in two meals. First lightly coated in bantam egg and breadcrumbs, which I then fried and added to the top of a noodle dish I was reheating (see photo). This turned out to be a really successful meal, partly because it was something different. The following day I made a spicy ratatouille using the last portion of snake bean instead of courgettes.

The snake bean peel was also enjoyed by my two bantams. No surprise, except that they can be ridiculously fussy thanks to being in such a small flock.

How lovely it is to share things you've grown with green-fingered neighbours who share their garden deliciousness too.

Places to find snake gourd and Asian veg seeds, as quoted in the Guardian newspaper are:

Over to you?
What goodies have you been swapping or sharing with neighbours?

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Liverpool: the place to get you thinking about ships and slavery & the Beatles

This blog looks at ways of learning about the world without having to get on a plane (in a bid to reduce our carbon footprint). While a friend sails from Liverpool to cross the Atlantic twice (respect!!) mum and daughter explore a city where travel can be a force for good or very, very bad. Words from Nicola Baird.

Clipper Race 2017 - 12 boats lined up for
display and tours at Albert Dock.
(c) aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com
1 “Thousands of ships must have left from this dock,” said the man taking photos of the Clipper Race as the first of the 12 boats headed out of the Albert Dock and towards the start line in the Mersey. As the 20 crew members, including my friend Nicky, waved excitedly to their landlubber friends and family, I found the site of the Sanya Serenity beginning her first leg of the around-the-world leg made me cry. It wasn’t just saying goodbye to Nicky, but also the thought of all those goodbyes that had happened here on the Liverpool docks.

There’s something about waving off a ship that is potent with the past. Of course some ships made their fortune in a good way, although Nicky’s goddaughter, Nell, and I had already seen a display at the Museum of Liverpool about the way hundreds of Chinese sailors, many with Liverpool families, had been compulsorily repatriated – with no warning – in October 1945. And of course we knew something about Liverpool’s slave trade history. But going to sea has the potential to be a make or break move… we know our friend is really looking forward to the challenge, but as her boat put up its sails and turned into a tiny, sleek dot on the River Mersey it felt very sad.

The bigger story
Liverpool played a key part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. But because the enslaved were taken from Africa to the Caribbean slave markets and plantations – what’s now known as the Middle Passage – it was, at first, easy to avoid, ignore or even justify. At the Museum of Slavery there’s a huge amount of information about the slavery and forced transportation of Africans, a voyage that invariably saw many people die thanks to the terrible and cramped conditions they were kept in for the 30+ day passage.

Slavery implicated so many people. Even the foods that today we are either struggling to avoid, or may even claim we are addicted to, such as coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate (and possibly rum) were all brought to the home market from the Caribbean because of the work the slaves did. What we did was sickening but I really only heard the term “middle passage” earlier this year. A short film from the poet Benjamin Zephaniah shows him calling it a “holocaust”, which seems exactly the right term.

The exhibition also contains a section about modern day slavery, which is thankfully becoming better reported than it was, and thus easier to tackle. During the summer I’ve read about the Filipino mother abused by her employers who over worked her and refused to give her pay or her passport; the Vietnamese girls sold to be Chinese brides; the East Europeans trafficked into prostitution; the Nigerian teenagers tricked into bondage. Modern day slavery is under our British noses too: in August 2017 a UK family was convicted of keeping at least 18 people as slaves for around 26 years

Tip: There’s a lot to see in Liverpool but the Museum of Slavery is a must visit, and it’s free. At it’s conjoined with the Merseyside MaritimeMuseum do go and see the exhibition about the work of the Border Agency which plays a big role in identifying trafficked people – as well as tracking the illegal movement of rare animals, ivory, alcohol etc. 

2 Liverpool always seems a long, long way from my home. But once I booked a train ticket I discovered it’s really not far at all, just two hours from Euston station. As this was part of my holiday Nell and I went there via Bangor and all those Welsh tourist resorts.

Tip: Liverpool Lime Street station has baggage storage. It gets full up quickly, especially when the football is on. Solution: get there early, be super polite or pick another time to visit…

3 Liverpool is still in a building frenzy. I last visited about 10 years ago and I doubt I’d be able to recognise that Liverpool from now – although the iconic Liver birds are still atop the Liver Building near the Mersey. It’s a useful landmark if you don’t know the area well, as it’s roughly where you’ll find the Albert Dock.

Tip: Go to the Museum of Liverpool and see pictures of what Liverpool used to look like. Even when the Beatles were playing in The Cavern it was grey and positively run down. 

Classic Liverpool, there's even the Liver Building in the pic.
(c) aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com
4 Zillions of visitors head to the Albert Dock and waterfront area for the festivals, food stalls, galleries and restaurants. A taxi driver told me that three cruise ships had pitched up a week or so ago, each with 1,000 people, but still managed to be absorbed without overwhelming the city. The absolute best part of Liverpool for visitors is the incredible signposting to all the places you might want to go – The Beatles Story, the Tate Liverpool, the Maritime Museum, bus station, train station and shopping streets – and a huge number of traffic free shopping streets. Somehow this doesn’t seem to have put off drivers as they’ve been provided with 4,000+ parking spaces in the city centre. 

Tip: The only downside I came across on my 2-day Liverpool adventure is that different companies won’t accept return or all day rovers on their buses if you’d booked the initial ticket with another bus company.

5 You’ve got to find out something about the Beatles. We booked the Beatles Story (on line to ensure we didn’t have to queue), which is a fantastic exhibition. It’s pricey – but everything else on the docks to look at was free. It’s also valid for 48 hours so if you’ve only made it up to The Yellow Submarine phase you can take a break and then re-visit the following day. Like so many of the places we went to at Liverpool the staff were super-friendly. They also all seemed to have Liverpool accents, which we loved because it made us feel as if we were really travelling. Long live regional distinctions.  By the end of the exhibition I was an unexpected fan of George Harrison (his involvement in Handmade Films helped get my favourite film Withnail & I funded and he had a cameo role in Monty Python). I also learnt that Ringo Starr had narrated Thomas The Tank Engine for TV and that Paul met John Lennon at Woolton Fete; oh yes and that Eleanor Rigby was a real person, dead in a Liverpool Graveyard. 

Tip: The Beatles Story is totally recommended. It’s pricey – but everything else on the docks to look at was free (and pints are cheaper than down south which eased some of the pain). The entry ticket is also valid for 48 hours, so if you’ve only made it up to The Yellow Submarine phase you can take a break and then re-visit the following day.

6 On a two-day break we also had time to visit the Tate Liverpool and the Walker Art Gallery, both with fantastic art displays in huge, beautiful buildings. I particularly loved the Walker Art Gallery as it reveals much about how Liverpool tradesmen saw themselves and it’s also been curated to make clear why this picture is here in this Liverpool gallery. 

Nicky's godchildren Nell and Max (with Zimbabwe flag) pose in Liverpool.
(c) aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com
Summing up: in 2008 Liverpool was nominated as a European cultural capital, alongside Stavanger, Norway and it has the bonus of having several city centre areas designated as World Heritage sites. It’s an old city and a busy one with a long industrial record which has kept its pride thanks to the Mersey Beat (especially the Beatles). Slavery was a hideous part of its history, but one - as the Liverpool museums make clear - that wasn’t very obvious thanks to the dirty work of shipping people across the Middle Passage so many miles from where the ship originally set sail, or returned home. We know more now and it is important not just to see the historical evidence, but to understand why that’s created an imbalance of power between the status quo and black African and Caribbean-heritage families here in the UK.

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There are many heroes who made efforts to bring slavery to an end from Wilberforce to Plimsoll, but it is quite shocking to learn how the slave owners were the ones to get compensation when their “property” was begrudgingly freed. In a just world it would have been the people given their freedom who’d have been offered additional financial compensation to help them find their feet. But it isn’t a just world, still.

In today's Liverpool the obvious signs of great wealth (fabulous public architecture for example), and the people able to have fun without watching their wallets, are never far from the homeless or families in very rundown homes. It's not slavery, of course, but it ought to make us all think about ways we as individuals can help the people who have a great need.  

Nicky, my sailing friend  who was the reason we all went to Liverpool in August has set up a fundraising page to raise money for Migrants Organise, which works with refugees. If you'd like to donate that would be fantastic, here's the link. Thank you.