Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

Southport v Blackpool: Vlogging With A Vengeance

Southport has been on my Must Visit list for some time. You may recall I visited its pubs, breweries and chippy virtually in pre-season last year – which you can read all about here – so planning this trip was fairly easy. I simply printed off a map of Southport and plotted the pubs, chippy and ground on it. I included opening times so I wouldn’t be foiled by a closed pub.

Woah – what’s that?! British Lawnmower Museum? I looked it up.

Hilda Ogden’s lawnmower?! There was going to be no keeping me away from this place!

I noted that a couple of the pubs were outlying, with a lot of mileage to cover. I had also arranged to meet Steve and Brooksie (of Burton away fame) for lunch in the Hungry Monk at 1pm. This necessitated some quite tight planning. I didn’t really want the museum eating into my drinking time. Therefore I decided to start there, before the pubs opened, before heading down to the first pub shortly after 10am. This was doable.

Working back, to make a 9am arrival in Southport, this necessitated getting the 0703 from Blackpool North. Well, technically the 0724 would have got me in at the same time but that involved an extra connection, which meant (a) extra COVID risk; and (b) extra risk of being late through a missed connection. I could live with getting up 20 minutes earlier.

Lee took the news of this early start surprisingly well. We were travelling separately today because he is not as mental as me was watching his son play football in Blackpool a little later. He had a video to finish off ahead of travelling to the match, so the early start suited him. This was the vlog of our visit to Lincoln City Women v Sheffield last weekend and here is the completed version:

It had been a long time since I had set an alarm, so I set two in case I had forgotten how they worked. One was on my phone (where I appear to have a Do Not Disturb setting activated between certain hours and wondered if this would affect my alarm). The other was on Alexa, who does odd things sometimes, so I don’t trust her entirely.

It turned out I needed neither alarm. Knowing I had to be awake at a certain time, my sleep was restless – and I was wide awake at 5am. I reckoned that to be around 4-5 hours sleep. I got up and hoped my body (which wanted to stay in bed) would catch up with me before too long.

I was too tired to face the music in the shower, so I conducted my morning toilette in silence. What ungodly hour was this? And was I really getting up at this time to go to a lawnmower museum? What was wrong with me, for goodness’ sake?

It turned out I only needed half an hour to get ready, as opposed to the 45 minutes I had factored in, so we were early arriving at the station. I had packed a brolly in my handbag – but had forgotten to bring a drink for the journey. And could we find a shop that was open before 7am? Nope. After a frantic dash around town, I eventually realised there was a half-full bottle of water in the car from our visit to Lincoln last weekend, so I grabbed it, kissed Lee goodbye and headed into the station to start my latest awayday adventure – and my first solo vlogging mission since Wimbledon away in February 2020. In this video I did threaten to stop doing awayday videos in case I was jinxing them. I think there might actually be something in that…

With little else to do but hone our creative craft over the past 16 months, I actually surprised myself with my vlogging tekkers right from the off today. Ooh that will set the scene nicely. Ooh that will be a nice bit of b-roll. I was on it and I was vlogging with a vengeance. I was conscious that I didn’t have a microphone with me but I do find them a bit of a faff and instead focussed on filming little montages Lee could set to music. When I spoke to the camera, I would be sure to do it somewhere quiet.

Blackpool North had changed little in the 15 months since my last commute. Even the man cleaning the floor was still there walking up and down the concourse with his noisy machine. I took a seat by the entrance to Platform 6 and watched Lee’s draft(?) of his latest video. It was at this point I realised I had forgotten another item: my AirPods. Dammit. It was hard to hear over the floor cleaning machine but I got the gist.

I boarded the train and it departed bang on time at 0703. I had the carriage to myself and felt perfectly safe. It was compulsory to wear a mask but this was only a short hop – to Wigan – so it wasn’t too onerous. I removed it frequently to take sips from my bottle of water which, in turn, kept me cool.

I had intended to read on the journey but I was too tired. I focussed instead on the vlog at hand, making observations and filming as appropriate. Travelling/traveloguing/vlogging can be a mindful exercise in itself. I get a lot of joy from spotting bunnies out of a train window and suchlike.

On arrival at Wigan North Western, I had a 40 minute connection time before my train from Wigan Wallgate (practically next door) to Southport. Hmm. A sit-down breakfast could be a bit of a rush, but I had time for a cheeky bacon and egg barm and Earl Grey, right? After struggling to find the exit to the station (I still wasn’t really awake), I turned right down Wallgate and headed for my favourite caff, The Station Cafe. Truth be told, it was still a little early for me to be contemplating food but, with lunch at 1pm and beer from 10am, I knew I really ought to line my stomach. Instead of heading straight in, I paused at the door to consider the menu.

This sign made the decision for me. I’m a self-confessed spelling snob. I am learning through diversity training that this is something that I should learn to let go of. But I’m not there yet. I cannot help but think, if an establishment takes such little care of its spellchecking, how much care does it take in preparing its food?

(I’ve just checked and it has a Food Hygiene Rating of 3).

I walked on by. I wasn’t hungry anyway. The disco newsagents next door cheered me up immediately, with its flashing lights and Ma Baker by Boney M blasting out the door.

By now I was grateful for some fresh air – and wasn’t sure I would be allowed any on the station owing to its mask policy – so I continued into town and took a seat on a bench. I found myself facing Spoons, which was already open at 8am, but I had no intention of entering because (a) it was 8am; (b) I’m not a tramp; and (c) I’m boycotting Spoons. Besides, since relocating to Blackpool, we now have two microwaves (one sitting on top of the other), which I often liken to having our own Spoons (without having political views rammed down our throat).

There were a few questionable-looking men prowling the streets this morning and I felt unusually afraid – something I have never encountered in Wigan before. Perhaps this was a little post-lockdown social anxiety? Consequently, I headed to Wallgate Station and took a seat on the deserted platform. Surely I didn’t need my mask on here? In the open air with not a soul in sight? Cue the station announcer:

‘Passengers are reminded that…’

I pulled up my snood.

‘…unless exempt, face coverings should be worn at all times whilst on the station.’

I understand that rules are rules but…well at least this was only for another week. I couldn’t imagine a lengthy rail trip masked up. Imagine having to go into the solitude of a toilet cubicle for a gasp of air…?

The train to Southport was again on time and I landed at 0905. The two-hour journey had cost me £20.40, which seemed reasonable, as train fares go at the moment.

On exiting the station, I immediately pulled down my snood and looked up at the grey sky. Rain was forecast but it was dry for the moment. I pulled out my phone and asked Google to guide me to the British Lawnmower Museum. I practically skipped down Chapel Street, I was that excited. I was free and on an awayday and I could go in pubs and museums and meet friends and go to football and it was brilliant. Little things that I always took for granted before. I was planning on enjoying every minute.

En route, I passed another disturbing sign.

I don’t like the sound of those…

The streets of Southport were all new to me. I must have been here before for a pre-season friendly, but I don’t remember it at all. But within ten minutes I had reached my first destination.

Squee! I found the entrance (via the lawnmower shop next door) and, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared.

‘I’d like a ticket for the museum please.’

The shopkeeper looked puzzled and pointed at a sign next to the entrance.

‘Oh I’ll be long gone by the time they arrive.’

I completed my transaction and was advised to do the upstairs bit first. I passed through the turnstile and gazed around in wonder before spotting the stairs and ascending into lawnmower heaven as this song began to play.

Dear reader, each room was packed full of lawnmowers (celebrity and otherwise) and a magnificent array of lawnmower memorabilia – from snowmen to newspaper articles to lager.

There was way too much memorabilia for me to take it all in on such a short visit – I could have spent all morning here. I had to seek out Hilda Ogden’s lawnmower because that was what I was here for above all else. But where is it? There’s Charles and Diana’s wedding lawnmower. There’s Paul O’Grady’s lawnmower. There’s Richard and Judy’s lawnmower. There’s a donkey-drawn lawnmower. There’s the largest lawnmower in the world. Ah! Here it is.

In answer to the question on everybody’s lips, this was actually the mower owned by Jean Alexander, the actress who played Hilda Ogden because, of course, Hilda didn’t have a lawn on Coronation Street. It’s only the posh new builds across the road that have gardens (and conservatories).

Another highlight for me was the world’s first robot lawnmower, which cost a whopping £1m to build. We have our own robot mower here at LCTV Towers called Morty the Mowbot and he’s part of the family now. It was lovely to meet his ancestors today. Perhaps we’ll take him with us next time.

Much as I really really wanted to – because I was laughing my head off all the way round – I couldn’t stay here all day. As 10am loomed, I completed my entry in the Visitors Book (I love a Visitors Book) and headed out with a cheery ‘thank you’ before continuing on my merry way. I really was skipping down the street now and chuckling to myself too. What an utterly joyful start to the day that was.

En route to pub no. 1 of the day, I spied a butchers with its own butty shop. I approached to have a nose.

‘Can I help you?’

‘I’m just having a look at your menu. I’ll be passing back through shortly with a long walk ahead of me, so I might pick up a butty on my way back.’

‘Would you like a menu to take away with you?’

‘Ooh yes please.’

‘There’s our number on the bottom. If you give us a call, we can have your butty ready for you for when you come back.’

‘Oh that’s brilliant – thank you so much.’

Ah the people were lovely here too. I skipped away and soon found myself at the first pub of the day: The Barrel House.

There was a nice seating area outside, so I took a seat and waited to be served, such is the continental way we do things post-COVID. I confess I find it all rather civilised and it does remind me of being on hollibobs. I enquired after a drinks menu and was invited inside to take a look at the beer range. And oh my goodness, this is what greeted me.

Please note the dog gallery on the right hand side.

In addition to this Wigan Central-esque bottle library, there were a couple of cask ales.

If you don’t know which one I’m having by now, I sentence you to re-read ten of my previous blogs.

I took my seat back outside and perused the breakfast menu whilst supping my beer. Something about this felt a little bit wrong, but also a bit holibobby.

Once I had decided on my breakfast butty, I sat back and surveyed my surroundings. Sitting outside a new pub, I am never sure whether to sit facing the street or the pub itself. Historically, I have faced the street, to observe what else is in the vicinity; however, in doing so, I have noticed little about the pubs I am visiting. Therefore, on this occasion, I chose to face the pub. And I saw something quite interesting.

Was that Steve McMahon, the former Blackpool manager? Hmm he was in Australia last I heard. I undertook a quick online stalk which revealed (a) he did look like the man at the other table; and (b) he appeared to be located in Southport now. I toyed with the idea of approaching him to appear on the vlog but (a) he had company; (b) he didn’t look in a very good mood and I was slightly scared; and (c) oh he didn’t have company any more – had she just stormed off? Well that resolved that. I supped up and called in my breakfast order.

‘Kellen’s Kitchen?’

‘Hello. Can I order a breakfast butty please?’

‘Yes of course. What can we get you?’

‘Please could I have a Breakfast Muffin?’

This was a ‘sausage pattie with egg and cheese, served on a toasted English muffin’. What’s not to love about that?

Oh this was all rather marvellous. I was still skipping and beaming and chuckling to myself.

As I arrived back at the butchers, I approached the counter to pay for my breakfast.

‘Would you be Jane, by any chance?’

‘How on earth do you know that?’

I was used to being recognised by strangers on my travels owing to my blog and my Twitter (@blackpooljane if you haven’t followed me yet) and my notoriety for having gravy on my fish and chips. But I had only just arrived in Southport. How did the breakfast butty man know who I was already? Had he already seen my tweet of his menu from the bar around the corner just now?

Almost immediately I felt foolish. Of course – I had given my name when I had placed my order over the phone…

The Breakfast Muffin was good company on the first ten minutes of the half-hour walk to the next pub. I managed to eat most of it but was mindful to leave some room for lunch (in around two hours’ time).

The walk was a hot one. I removed my cagoule and carried it most of the way. Was I nearly there yet? And where is there a bin so I can dispose of the rest of this sandwich? Ooh a box of Christian reading material. No, I can’t put it in there. Eventually I located a bin on Lord Street and continued my long walk. I was certainly earning this next beer!

And then – finally – there it was: Bottle Room. Closed. Was it really closed? I had seen that it was up for sale but reopening. The pile of post by the letterbox left me in no doubt. This was a sad sight – and unfortunately a sign of the times. I sighed, turned on my heel and made my way back in the direction of the next pub on the map: Tap and Bottles.

Why are all these new craft beer places called a variation on the same thing? I know it’s clear from the name what they do, but when I’m following Crafty Keg / Keg and Cask / Cask and Tap / Cask / Tap and Bottles / Bottle Room / Bottle Shed on Facebook, how the heck am I supposed to remember which one is where? You say Goat and Tricycle, I say Bournemouth. You say Tut’n’Shive, I say Donny. You say Keg & Craft, I say where was that one again?

Google Maps took me on a very disturbing route to Tap & Bottles, down a huge bin alley that I had only ever seen the like of in a tv series or film where someone gets beaten up. I made sure to film it for my own safety. Are you sure this is right, Google? There’s no way the Google Van has driven down here. After what seemed like an eternity, I emerged in a little arcade. Ah! There it was – the pub that I sought.

‘Why are you filming? You’re not reporting us, are you?’

Already flustered, I muttered something about the scary alley and took a seat as the gaffer scurried back into the bar. I wasn’t in a particular hurry for my drink – it was just nice to have a sit down. But when he hadn’t emerged to take my order after ten minutes, I began to wonder what exactly it was he was up to in there. A scary sign (complete with exclamation mark) was quite firm that I was to remain in my seat and not enter the bar. I then saw another sign confirming an opening time of noon – and it was only twenty to. Well I had no intention of moving after that long walk, so I resolved to sit and wait patiently for the pub to open. It wasn’t as if I had never done this before…

At length, the pub opened and I was presented with a menu.

‘Can I have two-thirds of the cherry pie pastry sour please?’

‘Yes. That one’s five pounds, not four pounds.’

‘That’s fine, thank you.’

Dear reader, this beer did not disappoint. I savoured every drop while I kept an eye out for my lunch party, as I could see the entrance to the next pub from where I was sitting.

I reluctantly drained my glass and headed over to The Hungry Monk to find our reserved table.

Ordering a beer here proved tricky. The beer list had looked good online, but the beers the waitress was listing did not sound exciting and, no, I wasn’t allowed to approach the bar to survey the pump clips but oh here’s a drinks menu. Hmm that didn’t look massively exciting but there was something called a Dark Night, which sounded promising. I conducted some online research and discovered that this was a mild brewed by Southport Brewery. Things were looking up. Oh, sorry – we’ve got none of that left. By the time I was told this, my friends had arrived, so I just ordered a Bombardier (I think) because that was what Steve was having.

I wasn’t hungry at all – and indeed was suffering with a little indigestion after my breakfast on the move – so perused the light bites on the food menu. Hmm the duck pancakes sounded nice. But I never can resist a curry on a menu, so went for this instead. I figured if I had it with rice – as opposed to the half and half I would have had if hungry – I should be able to manage most of it. It was delivered with chips, so I reluctantly sent it back (I couldn’t face chips at this point) and, as if by magic, it arrived back with rice within minutes. The curry had a familiar but unidentifiable flavour and it was very tasty.

We got Swizzels with the bill, which I’ve only just remembered, so I’m going to retrieve them from my bag and eat them now…

Of course now it was time to walk the half hour to the ground, there was a monsoon outside. We had planned on walking, but Brooksie had driven here, so offered to drive us to the ground in his new car. The only trouble was, he couldn’t remember where he had parked it… We headed out in the torrential rain and I quickly found myself lagging behind because (a) I had stopped to film a dalek in the shopping centre; and (b) my Skechers had absolutely no grip on the wet, smooth paving stones. I made ground on the odd gravelly bit before the others stopped as Brooksie realised we were heading in completely the wrong direction, as we had exited the pub by a different door.

We finally parked up at the ground at 1501, by which time the rain was at least easing. I shot through the turnstiles and straight into the Ladies (which were about twice as roomy as those at Squires Gate) before heading onto the terrace behind the goal to find Lee.

‘He’s looking for you.’

‘Oh right. Whereabouts is he?’

‘He went that way.’

The man pointed in the direction of the hundreds of away fans on the terrace.

‘Oh…er…thanks…’

Fortunately Lee was striding purposefully in my direction and we took our place together at the front of the terrace.

The pitch was beautiful – Lee had learned that it was utilised by Everton U23s and thus they obtained support from the Premier League club. However the freak downpour had flooded one corner of the pitch and huge swishes of water shot up every time the ball was played over there. It made for quite the visual spectacle. I swear at one point I saw a player pick up the ball and throw it back into play – as if he was taking a throw-in, but within the field of play. It is because of this sort of thing – and the 11 subs at half time – that I love pre-season friendlies.

Southport had a good few chances but looked rusty in front of goal. Blackpool looked particularly strong – with some sexy moves – at the beginning of the second half. We played the game out with ten men following an injury to Kevin Stewart but still ran out comfortable 2-0 winners, the goals coming from Demi Mitchell and Shayne Lavery.

The drive home was smooth and the evening spent ADHDing on TV. We watched the latest instalment of America’s Got Talent (our Saturday night viewing of choice). Then we were going to watch the next episode of Clarkson’s Farm (very good) but ended up watching Who Wants to Be A Millionaire (hosted by Clarkson) followed by It’s Clarkson On TV, which was a sort of It’ll Be Alright On The Night / Harry Hill’s TV Burp kind of thing. I had to check to see if Jeremy Clarkson was getting divorced or something to try and figure out exactly why he is working so hard at the moment.

And that, dear reader, was the first epic awayday of the season. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read, please like, share, tell your friends.

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