Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Back in Chester!

After a day in Ellesmere Port we're now back moored in Chester - and rather pleased to be here. The boat museum is interesting but the rest of Ellesmere, once a thriving port, is now a sad and sorry place.
I think we'd rate the museum at about seven out of ten. It sprawls across the old dock site, reclaimed from dereliction by volunteers - though sadly not before Telford's magnificent looking warehouses that were its centrepiece were burnt to the ground by vandals.
There's plenty of good stuff to see and some real nuggets of gold tucked away. I loved the old colour film of repairing a wooden narrowboat at Peter Keays yard in the '60s. And the black&white documentary of the building of a huge new lock on the Manchester Ship Canal was beautifully shot by director Lindsay Anderson, later known for sixties and seventies hit movies like 'If'. The monumental soundtrack could have been for Star Wars. "From here the products of British skills and industry were exported all over the world" closed the voiceover as a freighter sailed off into the sunset. Ah those were the days!
But the museum does disappoint in some ways. The knowledgeable canal-ist will already know so much of the basic facts and history. I'd like to have seen more: a photo-gallery on individual canals, say; more on canal restoration; more on the traders and builders. And I'd like to have been able to watch some of the boat restoration that's happening at the Museum. There are plenty of semi-derelict boats to see but the work that is going on to repair and restore others is all happening out of sight.

After the museum we took a short stroll through the broken glass strewn underpass beneath the M53 to see the town itself. What a desperate place: you can't help but feel sorry for people who have to open their front door onto it every day; for kids who grow up there. It's desolate, dreary and dirty. Even a large piece of Soviet-style monumental sculpture work at the head of the main street and another giant glass installation further down can change that. (What is the purpose of this ludicrous public art? The money would be better spent on cans of paint and litter clearance to smarten the place up.)
It is salutary to see where the underclass spend their money: I counted 18 fast food outlets in a mile of main street. Plus four cheque changing/loan arranging/pawn shops, five solicitors, two 'party shops', a couple of tattoo studios, ditto nail bars and pedicure shops, a Polish deli, the inevitable Wetherspoons with its doorway of smoking lunchtime boozers (ironically called The Thomas Telford) and - my favourite - a shop selling pushchairs and hair extensions.
But it's too easy to sneer or lecture: if you live in a place like this and do a grim job (if you have one at all) and some hair extensions will cheer you then why not.

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