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The International Writers Magazine:Liverpool

Penny Lane:
Why can't the day trippers just let it be?
Patrick Browne
Penny lane is in my ears and in my eyes everyday. I live there, and always have, beneath an a seldom blue, but admittedly suburban sky.


Penny Lanes fame is useful, because it means I can tell almost anyone exactly where I live and even if they are not from Liverpool they immediately understand where and what it is. Except they don't.

Don't be too taken in by John Lennon's happy-go-lucky vocal melody, the bouncy baseline or the trumpet fanfares. Penny lane could be any road anywhere, it's ordinary. Much like 1984 was famous before it arrived, and would be famous in spite of what occurred during its 12 month existence thanks to Orwell's dystopian prophecy, so too Penny Lane is famous only by virtue of the song.

When I see the magical mystery tour bus rolling passed the bottom of my street, I can only imagine the disappointment all its curious foreigners must feel when they arrive at this quiet mundane corner of the city to have there pictures taken next to the famous sign. Well, more accurately the place where the sign used to be, as due to repeated thefts it's now painted on the wall. This too is not a foolproof, once someone had adapted it to read PENIS LANE. I often wonder if any confused visitors ever had there photo taken that day..... Is it possible that somewhere in a Tokyo apartment, on a bookshelf, in a photo there a photo of a grinning family soaking up the musical folklore of PENIS LANE?

Other attempts at making the area into a tourist attraction have fared less well. The shelter in the middle of the roundabout was turned into the Sergeant Peppers Lonely Heart Club Bistro, which has lay derelict for as long as I can remember, its sign flaking and its windows whitewashed. Behind it the actual bus shelter, where, if the wind is in the right direction you can smell the piss from the abandoned public toilets beneath the bistro.

There no pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray, although incidentally, I was once offered “a suck” by a random stranger there after walking home from a night out. Before you ask, No. It did not feel as if I was in a play, I wasn't anyway....

Of the other places mentioned in the song, the banker in the mac's bank is now a doctors surgery, and only the hairdressers, now named Tony Slevins, survives. Evidentially, much has changed since 1967, maybe we should look back nostalgically to this simpler time, a time when the people who went about their business, and like those in the song stopped and said hello.

Penny Lane This is what Penny Lane is all about. Penny Lane is not a song about a wonderful and magical place, in case you haven't got it yet: it's bland dreary and altogether nondescript. So much so, the Beatles did not wish to return there to film the music video, which they filmed it it London, and cut with archive footage of Penny Lane. After all why would they return there? The whole point of the song about looking back fondly to a place and time you have a happy memory of.

This is the sad irony lost on visitors, as they approach the painted plaque that marks the impersonal spot where for them nothing happened. This is the reason Liverpudlians find the foreign fascination with Penny Lane curious, and pass those posing in front of its sign with a wry and knowing smile.
© Patrick Browne September 2010

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