The notorious Southgate estate in Runcorn was perhaps one of the wackiest urban developments ever constructed in Britain. Designed by James Stirling, it was (when first constructed) something of a bohemian enclave where people used to boast about living. One of our junior school teachers for example loved to crow about her shiny, modernist cubezone.  

The estate was split into two styles, the maisonette flats aka ‘washing machines’ with their huge circular porthole windows and the cubist, multi-coloured space pods, aka ‘Legoland.’ Southgate was built right next to the ‘Shopping City’ aka the ‘Shoppo’ or ‘the city’ (now called Halton Lea) and connected by long, high bridges. The Shoppo was one of the biggest indoor ‘malls’ of the era and became a playground for us on weekend shoplifting excursions before the town really fractured into ‘Old’ and ‘New’ tribal loyalties in the early 80s. Back in the early days of the ‘new town’ wools and scousers co-existed quite peacefully (mostly) and walking around Southgate was like strolling around MoonBase fucking Alpha.  

When we were watching these estates being built in the early 70s it seemed as if we were living in the kind of future promised to us by Neil Armstrong and Anthony Burgess. At night the apparance of the estate was truly terrifying and our mams would warn us about getting lost in Legoland, as the estate soon degenerated from a place where teachers boasted of living to a dumping ground for various social deviants.


As I got older, various family members and friends moved to the estate and whilst the maisonettes were structurally sound and large compared to those on other estates such as Castlefields and Palacefields, the reputation of Legoland during the 80s preceeded it and the place went downhill as more and more ‘problem’ families and criminals moved in from a ten mile radius.


Southgate and it’s one alehouse, The Merry Monk became notorious as places to score everything from weed to agent orange and the council eventually demolished the estate in the early 90s replacing it with yet another bland ‘Maunders’ deadzone. Not that the problems went away, no the dealers and the divvies just moved across town to Castlefields.

Castlefields estate  

One of my ex-girlfriends had a flat on Castlefields when she was only 17 and I spent many happy hours there listening to The Peaceful Hour or Beswick before risking my life calling a cab from the utterly appalling ‘centre’

During the past few years most of the old ‘new’ estates have been either refurbished or demolished and whilst this is necessary in many cases as the houses were often gerry built death traps little better than the slums they were built to replace, nevertheless it’s sad to see such bold and futuristic architecture being bulldozed. Maybe this is symbolic of the end of the ‘new town’ Utopia, an admission that entire communities cannot be relocated at a whim and built again from scratch.

Whereas I have various convictions relating to old gang turf wars, my daughters’ generation have grown up together and shared the same schools.   They have hybrid scouse/wool accents and don’t see eachother in terms of old tribal hostilities. My daughter’s mates have homes on the new Southgate aka Hallwood Park and the re-developed Castlefields and to be honest, both are nice enough places these days. It’s pointless getting nostalgic about what were grim urban hellholes for many families yet I doubt any architect or town planner would have the balls to create another Legoland these days. The future, it seems, was all a bad dream.


Keeping it Real: A Real Ale Ramble Round Liverpool

 “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them real facts, and beer.” 

 Abraham Lincoln


Setting off onboard the 11.04am train from Preston, Liverpool bound, I was shaking-off the ass-end of 48 hour man-flu but I’ll solider on, coz that’s what type of guy I am when, a belly-full of real-ale, in real-pubs, awaits. Attire for the outing came in the form of, Clarks Reel Deal fur lined boots, Dickies work jeans, Levi’s red tab checked shirt and, a red, Paul & Shark duffel coat that I’d acquired over ten years before in Toronto, Canada, one very chilly February – a day, temperature wise, not to dissimilar to today. The jacket gets an airing once or twice a year; timeless and smart, but practical and casual. The deep, cavernous pockets were laden heavily with Lockets and hankies too.

Enlightening onto Limey station platform, I was greeted with a familiar figure; tight curly perm, buck teeth and ‘tickling stick’ in hand, this being OBE award winner Mr Ken Dodd, but in the form of a life-size bronze statue. It has certainly changed, Lime Street Station, since the times in the early eighties when I paid the city a visit for a spot of shopping or the footy. The welcoming committee back then may have greeted you with a toothy grin but not, “By jove, how tickled we are to see yous…” You may have also clocked a perm or two, though!

Liverpool's Favourite Kiddy Tickler!

First port of call is Doctor Duncan’s: We (fellow members of the Casual Connoisseur forum community) had arranged to meet in here because of its close proximity to the train station and because the pub is owned, and stocks, locally brewed ales by Cains 

The pub is named after William H Duncan, Liverpool’s first Medical Officer, and Britain’s first Chief Medical Officer too. He was also a chief campaigner, many moons ago, for better living conditions for fellow Scousers, round  the time Cains Brewery was established in 1850. Ironically I walked past on my way to the boozer a demo on the steps of St George’s Hall steps due to forthcoming government cuts and redundancies within Liverpool Council workers. Times seemly ‘don’t’ change! I was also meeting a bloke in there from work who’s local is the Green Man – of the Boys from the Black Stuff fame) on Vauxy road for a couple before he did a bit of shopping. A good hour or so was spent sampling pints of Cains Dragon Heart brown ale, Fine Raisin beer and their Bitter. The pub has also over recent years had a refurbishment in Victorian style tiles and fittings, and a real fire installed too. I should have asked the pleasant barmaid if Doc Dunc had left any bumph behind the bar on advice of helping the liver recover the following morning on our way out. 



We moved onto The Ship & Mitre : The lusher is an original 1930’s Art Deco ( ) building but, sadly the insides isn’t. The inside is meant to resemble a ship. Anyway, the ale is the reason for crossing the threshold and what a vast selection they have; they’ve 13 ales on at any given time, a wide range of bottle beers from around the world, hold 4 Beer Festivals a year plus a Belgian and 3 German ones too. I’d a Ringwood’s Westwood Bitter, very nice indeed.


A good brisk walk was then undertaken with only a brief stop for a few ‘tourisit snaps’ before we settle into The Baltic Fleet: Just a hop, skip and jump along from the Albert Docks sits The Baltic Fleet on the Dock Road. The shape of the establishment is pretty unique because it was built to resemble a Mississippi river boat. The pub had quite a few in and we decided on trying a couple of their award winning Wapping (there was no whoppers in the gaff, though) Beers which are brewed in the cellar. Saying that, I wasn’t overly impressed by the bitter and stout that I had – maybe it was me?


The nautical trilogy was completed with a venture into town, where we dropped anchors in a newish bar, The Shipping Forecast : Some of the lads wanted to dine so we grabbed a table to the side of the bar. The conversation flowed, and so did the ale. We’d two pints of Cains Bitter and another, that as slipped my mind, while waiting for the fodder. Only they lost an order ticket for two of the lads so there was a free, drink on the house, for all of us, including those that didn’t partake in dining – nice touch. The place holds record fairs and vintage clothes sales during the day occasionally and also has live bands and DJ’s at nighttimes.                            



After spending the best of nearly an hour and half in The Shipping Forecast, and under a moonlit sky, we crossed town to The Belvedere Arms: This cosy wee Grade II Listed pub is tucked away down Falkner St, near the Anglican Cathedral and is part of a Georgian terrace. With hardly room to swing a cat – why do we use that expression, I’ll never know – we had a swift one before moving on. And once again my memory lets me down on the pints name that I drank. Nice little pub though, and well worth going out of your way to find it while in that part of town.   


The last port of call before I weighed anchor was the famous Peter Kavanagh: Not too far from the Bel’, is the Peter Kavanagh alehouse, that has its own book on its 150 years of history, and its name changes too, on sale from behind the bar. Once inside you’ll find there are displays of customers quirky gifts hanging on the walls, or form the ceiling, including a collection of old wirelesses. I can’t recall that ale I was on, one of the lads ‘got ‘em in’, but it was fine by me – I would have a bigger nose than the puppet in the photo if I did say that I did.   


 And this is where I bid my farewells around 8/9ish to the lads and jump into a taxi to Lime St. I didn’t notice Ken Dodd this time though, but I had started seeing Diddy Men. Happiness completed, I climb aboard the train to Gods Town.   I land home totally shattered, and a bit tipsy, to say the least…

Liverpool has a wealth of traditional public houses steeped in history, cliental who are willing to share information and tales of their history and, they serve some cracking ale from their well stocked cellars too. So, if you want a real drink that can’t be replicated in can form, in pleasurable surroundings, you can’t go far wrong if you choose the ‘pool for the day and ale, or two. Real ale is the future, and God save the Great British pub. Also it’s well worth joining CAMRA for news, forthcoming events and, you get your £20 joining fee back in vouchers >    

Your Northern Monkey correspondent, Bill  

Mountaineer – The Real McQueen

The Real McQueen
We like this new LP from Mountaineer not only for it’s lovely chilled Third Reich Rambling grooves but also for the cover art. If you like Prefab Sprout meets Jorge Ben meets Chris Rea meets Ray Mears then this is the music for you!
Here’s the official blurb from our good friends at EPM….
The second LP release on Leng Records is the fourth from German band Mountaineer. Joining Leng label mates such as Cantoma (Phil Mison), Ray Mang, Idjut Boys, Lexx and Mudd on ‘The Real McQueen’ they deliver a subtle blend of summer pop and bossa-folk which comes across like some kind of Brazillian country lounge cocktail bar.Mountaineer started out life as the project of German singer/songwriter and Hamburg-based Henning Wandhoff. His debut album ‘Sunny Day’ saw a limited release but the restrictions of solo recording didn’t provide the creativity he desired and he was soon looking for other musicians to collaborate with. A few years and a number of band member changes later he found his perfect writing and recording partner, Frank Mollena. They are both multi-instrumentalists with Henning playing acoustic guitar, drums, congas, percussion and providing the vocals on ‘The Real McQueen’ and Frank playing bass, keyboards, electric guitar and programming the drum machines. The bands recording line up was completed by Alexander Rischer and they set out to rejuvenate their collective love of the classic LPs from the late 60s and 70s.

Starting with the rolling, gentle breeze of ‘Always Coming Home’, Mountaineer effortlessly mix latino rhythms with subtle pop melodies as main composers Henning Wandhoff and Frank Mollena are accompanied by fellow band mates Alexander Rischer (electric guitar) and Anna Bertermann (vocals) plus Christian Ebert on omnichord.

Next we have the album’s title track with the more uptempo pop vibe of ‘The Real McQueen’ providing a very radio friendly chorus and harmony whilst ‘Come Alena’ sounds like Prefab Sprout chilling on a desert island hammock and ‘Circlemakers’ is pure sunshine filled, laidback bliss – perfect for those lazy, hot summer days.

‘Gush it Gosie’ provides an instrumental interlude that lets the pedal steel guitar of Oliver Stangl shine through and ‘White (I’m Clouds)’ sees further collaboration, this time from Patrick Gobel on drums as the track rides off on a sea of Wurlitzer style organ.

Another instrumental interlude is provided by ‘Always Coming Home (Theme)’ before ‘Golden Chalk’ fills the premise of the three-minute pop song perfectly. ‘Limbo’ slides along on the back of some wonderful backing vocal harmonising whilst ‘Blown Away’ sees Patrick Gobel return on drums giving the track a classic bossnova backing.

Finally ‘When We Love Life’ sees Anna and Henning’s voices sparring in beautiful, poetic motion as the pedal steel guitar adds extra intonation and feeling before ‘Always Coming Home’ makes a final reprise to close the bands second long-playing chapter.

The girl-boy vocals work like a charm over a fantastic band, with stunning lap steel work, easy drums and a whole host of other instruments making for a complex yet easy listening vibe. All twelve tracks leave their mark, yet come together beautifully as a whole. It’s no surprise that Leng would choose artists that suit their sunshine roster and this album is the sound of the first morning you unzip your jacket on the walk to work.

Storm In A Nutshell

Peter Storm is perhaps the ultimate scally label. Since wearing kagools as a fashion statement became de rigeur in the late 70s,  the aesthetic and functional application of waterproof jackets has remained a constant in the classic casual silhouette. Brands come and go but the original look has barely changed in almost 35 years.

The PS revival first kicked in during the early 90s when the scene had more or less played itself out and tried and tested looks and labels were sought out once more in a return to basics. The likes of Berghaus, Henri Lloyd, Helly Hansen, Hilfiger, Murphy and Nye  amongst others have all had their moments with perhaps only Berghaus competing as a perpetual scally favourite.

Bergy Paldor Peak Shell Jacket 

However, Peter Storm’s appeal is really due to it’s no frills utilitarian charm. You can pay 600 quid for a fancy GoreTex, shmancy waxy if you want but sometimes a 30 quid windcheater is really all you need. 

I recall djing at one of our first Liverpool bashes in the late 90s wearing a Peter Storm, a pair of vintage Wrangler needle cords and Clarks ‘pastie shoes’ – in the end the basement of Mello Mello got too sweaty and I’d lost three stones by the time we played The Story of The Blues. Peter Storm; designed for climbing Welsh mountains not playing Skids records in a manky cellar! 

Of all the neo-outdoor brands who’ve staked a claim for the rambler chic market, perhaps Paramo are most in tune with that OG Anny Road/Park End ethos. Here’s the Fuera smock in lovely Moss.

Fuera Windproof Smock

Kevin Sampson’s film ‘AwayDays’ ofcourse saw perhaps the biggest revival of Peter Storm or atleast brought the label to the attention of the masses. Yet, even though the look was pretty uniform in those days, I don’t remember an entire mob being decked out in them (with one wool in a sheepy). Still there were many sartorial inaccuracies in the film version of Awaydays that weren’t in the book (what happened to the plum mushys?) and I suppose we should be grateful that what was a very idiosyncratic Merseyside look managed to gain national and even international recognition. 

The Pack wander under Runcorn bridge – there’s no way they’d have lasted longer than 5 minutes once The Dukies spotted em. 


Hey you the Rock Ferry Crew!

Wigg Island – Mersey Paradise!

When we were kids the only thing worth going to Wigg island (aka Wiggsys) for was to rob the stinking effluent that collected on top of the Manny Ship Canal when the Guinness boat came to unload its wares by the Old Quay bridge. Guinness had a large brewery in the town during the 70s and 80s and the tanker would regularly call to replenish the vats. When it did, off we’d trot with wheelbarrows and Alpine pop bottles and scoop up the frothy scum and sediment that seeped from the pipes and drink it in our filthy dens. Yup, that was all we had for fun back when we were nippers!   

Runcorn-Widnes bridge - who needs a second crossing?

Back then Wiggsy’s was little more than a vast dumping ground for all the toxic waste left by the various tanneries that used to follow the path of the canal.  Puritan tannery, Highfield tannery and Camden tannery all provided work for my grandad and his generation although by the 60s the demand for leather fell as cheap synthetic substitutes took over. During the 2nd world war there was also a secret chemical weapons factory sited there known as the ‘Hush Hush’ which was so secret every fucker knew about it. If Fritz ever landed in Runcorn then Saddam’s attack on the Kurds would’ve looked like a Hayes v Harrison rematch.

Situated inbetween the Mersey and the Manchester ship canal, Wiggsy’s could only be reached by swimming over the cut usually by Sandy Cove as we called it, even though it was neither sandy nor a cove or by crossing the Old Quay swing bridge which was guarded by a succession of grizzled guards known for their sexual perversity. 

If you managed to get across then there really wasn’t much there. You could cycle along to Moore or venture out into the cracked, treacherous Mersey mud or go for a swim in the shippy further upstream. The place was after all, a toxic dump and rather than leave it as such the souncil began tarting it up in the 90s and naughties to create a wildlife reserve with zebras, lions, giraffes and hyenas all prowling the vast prairies.

A dead rabbit sunbathing

OK, maybe the odd kezzy or rabbit. Celebrity twitcher Bill Oddie (Professional Oddie, Bill Twitcher?) re-opened the new look Wiggsys back in 2002, and a decade on it’s become quite a nice, tranquil place to watch pitbulls tear eachother apart.

sturdy boots are essential to stop 150 years of toxic waste burning the flesh from your feet.

Steadily more and more wildlife has settled along the Mersey shore and various hides and viewing spots give great views across the river.  Here a flock of Canada geese are scared into flight by a rabid Alaskan malamute whose owner was too busy smoking weed to give a fuck.

                                            ‘Honk! There’s a rabid Alaskan Malamute on the loose!
Back when Saxon queen, Ethelfreda had her fort by the narrowest point between both shores of the Mersey, Viking raiders could be spotted and the order given; “Leg it!” These sculptures of shithouse Saxons pay homage to the Dane appeasers.        

'Fuck, it's Kirk Douglas and his firm!'


Fiddlers Ferry power station aka 'The Eight Towers'


Fiddler’s Ferry power station on the opposite bank of the Mersey, inbetween Widnes and Warrington provides a dramatic backdrop and has become a landmark every bit as iconic as any castle or cathedral. Infact there are some people who find overlooking Fiddlers to be the perfect scenic picnic spot.

Look at the size of that cooling tower darling!

 To be fair to the council, there’s not much you can do surrounded by so much heavy industry and Wiggsy’s has become one of the only decent spots to spend a winter morning or a summer day in the town with a few miles of pathways providing a gentle enough circuit for walkers, joggers, cyclists and paedophiles. Even the odd swan has made a home here.

I wish this thaw would hurry up my feet are fuckin frozen

With the proposed ‘second crossing’ site being passed for construction nearby, the relative idyll of this spot may not last long as motorway traffic avoids the constantly  congested bridge. But for now, Wiggs Island provides an area of tranquility and peace if you can avoid rabid malamutes, weed addled scals and pervy duck feeders.

Wiggsy's back when leather was king and no-one gave a fuck about industrial waste daddio!

Born In The North, Reside In The North, Ramble In The North Pt1 : Three Mile Cross

There’s nowt better in New Year to blast the cobwebs away, after being sat
on your rump stuffing your face with turkey butties and selection boxes
while supping gallons of real-ale over the festive period, than a long,
brisk walk. Even if it just means on your doorstep, locally, urban rambling
or over hill and dale in the North West countryside. The great outdoors.

Stepping over the threshold from where I live nowadays, Grimsargh,
Lancashire, there has been many a historical happening since the village was
listed in the Domesday Book, and before 1080, within a mile or two of my
humble abode, and even under the foundations of where I sat typing these
notes up! Grimsargh is a semi-rural village to the East of the City of
Preston, whose name is said to deprive from an Old Norse name Grimr, with
‘argh’ added.

Just two minutes away from my base camp, to the right, is Three Mile Cross –
what’s left of the original cross anyway (see above). This medieval stone cross was
erected between AD 1100 & 1600, and is situated 3 miles from Preston as a
guidance for wayfarers trekking from A to B over wild, windswept moors,
probably knee-deep in shite, to help with their whereabouts, years before
maps, compasses and the God send of modern technology that is Sat-Nav. The
cross is logged down in the first nineteenth century Ordnance Survey records
as one of around 500 wayside crosses in Lancashire.

There are only few rood symbols that remain fully intact, but most are
‘headless crosses’ – meaning, they’re missing their heads and arms. And
Three Mile Cross is also severely decapitated with a square foot of the
shaft base protruding from the ground in 2011. But, a new Latin cross carved
out of Longridge – a nearby town and then quarry – stone one was erected in
a socket of the ancient base remnant in 1920 to honour the dead of the Great

Also in the fields behind the cross, a Roman road’s camber can still be made
out under lush green pastures where cattle now graze. When a archaeological
evaluation took place several year ago they found the road was composed of
rounded stones and cobbles with fine gravel acting as a capping with
drainage ditches to both sides. What did the Romans ever do for us, eh?

To my left, you can take a leisurely stroll down a public footpath that
takes you past hedgerows, mature Oak trees and sprawling meadows. This time
of year, the Hawthorn and Holly bushes and the sky above are filled with a
virtuous, variety of birds. From the winter visitors, Fieldfares and
Redwings foraging for berries, to Kestrels and Sparrowhawks hovering with an
eagle eye for their next meal; Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits flirt bush
to bush, Carrion Crows, Magpies and Jays bounce from branch to branch and
squawk; a Pheasant’s hoarse, croaking call can be heard in the distance while
a Robin shows off his redbreast and belts out a rich, warbling, cheerful
winter song. A grey squirrel spirals round and round an old Oak tree trunk
as a rabbit disappears into the undergrowth. I glance to my right, and
there’s three Roe deer no-more than 30 feet away giving me a stare that has
‘look at that loon’ written all over it, before they trot off, rapidly. Sheer

Squint, and in the middle of the photo you can justabout make out the ass-end a Roe deer, doing one. By the time I'd wrenchedme camera out of me parka pocket, and whipped off me hat, Bami had boltedfaster than me whippet after getting a whiff of the stale ale on me breath!

Now you might be thinking this a scene that could have been plucked from the
flick Bambi? I can assure you it isn’t, coz I’ve not long walked past the
left over’s and feathers of a female Mallard duck that some sly fox had had
for supper last night!

A bunch of Mallard ducks looking rather pissed off that their pond hadfroze. Well, things could be worse, just like what happened to their matelast night.

Twenty minutes later I’ve arrived at my destination: After the Romans had
left Blighty, the Celtic influence prevailed; boatloads of Norwegians and
Viking Norsemen, from Scandinavia, sailed across the North Sea in the early
part of the tenth century to our fair shores, possibly via Northern Ireland
or the Isle of Man on their jollies, before landing on North of England
beaches. No doubt with a bit of lumber and pillaging on the way. Some of
them then dodged the Spivs selling snide sunglasses and sticky toffee apples
on Blackpool’s Golden Mile and set up camp near the River Ribble, not too for
a Anglo Saxon gaff, Brockholes. The two seemingly kept themselves to
themselves and co-existed – it’s nice to be nice.

The Norsemen knocked up shed-like-huts, ploughed the fallowed land and
planted crops. Without going round the houses to explain Old Norse, Danish
and Saxon meanings of the aforementioned, the name of Grimsargh for their
settlement had been established. Also, the only boozer in the village to
this day is called The Plough – and it severs some might fine real ales too.

Proud of our local Scandinavian heritage, Vikings have been hewn in oldstone, farmers gateposts.

And, like I mentioned earlier, the very ground beneath me saw some action on
17th August 1648: During The Second English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell lead
the supporters of Parliament, the Roundheads through Grimsargh, to ‘ave it’
with the Royalist Cavaliers, who were on King Charles 1st side, and under
the command of the Duke of Hamilton. There are reports of fisty cuffs taking
place in the village as Olly and his army bore down on the enemy at
Walton-le-Dale, a couple of miles south of Preston, where it ‘kicked-off’
BIG TIME, at The Battle of Preston. (For more defined and documented details
of The Battle of Preston, checkout this website > )

I can view where the battle took place from a back bedroom window through
binoculars while stood on a wardrobe. But, like I say, there’s nowt like
getting out there and filling your lungs with fresh air. And, you may
stumble on a whole new world on your doorstep that you didn’t know does/had
existed too…


Thanks to Bill a typical ‘Northern Monkey’ for this piece. Hopefully we’ll have more from Bill throughout the year.

Ice Ice Baby


From the Cod Wars of the 70s through to the recent bank crisis and the volcanic ash cloud debacle, the British media seem to have a major downer on the people of Iceland. Like all things to do with the British media, this hostility always stems from their own vested interests in supporting the rich and powerful who lost money via industrial fishing, high interest bank scams and air transportation. Those pesky Icelanders always wanting to catch fish in their own waters, make money off the back of greedy British hedge fund investors and bring our entire airport system to a halt with their selfish volcanoes. Who do they think they are?

Now, I’ve never been to Iceland but I’ve got a soft spot for any nation who pisses off The Daily Mail brigade. And Bjork’s boss too! Infact proportionate to its tiny population, Iceland’s produced some of the best music of the past few decades with everyone from Gus Gus to Sigur Ros and the Sugarcubes to Mum creating some of the most atmospheric and interesting soundscapes since Eno was a tadpole.

boss kagool Jonsi, shame about the hat!

Iceland became a kind of anti-Ibiza during the late 90s when the likes Damon Albarn bored everyone with their romanticised and rather patronising pronouncements on the simple charms of Reykjavik town centre on a Friday night, where the ale costs 30 quid a bottle and puffin burgers come wrapped in mouldy shark blubber but hey, the girls are soooo pretty and the landscape is soooooo beeyooteefull. They’re so simple and charming those Icelandic folk, like the Irish but less aggressive. It almost put me off the place the good.

Yes, it’s become a tourist cliche up there with sailing down the Norwegian fjords but so what? Maybe if I ever get to save up enough pennies to visit the place I’d get to do a trek like this one from Skogar to Thorsmork as detailed in ‘Walk’ the Ramblers website.