It was on Saturday afternoon that I remembered Liverpool Central Station didn’t have stairs. ‘Perhaps things have changed’, I told myself, ‘after all, I haven’t been there for a while.’ I phoned the out of hours customer help line – they were great. However, they confirmed – no stairs. And anyway, Central was temporarily closed. ‘What about Moorfields?’ No, no stairs. ‘Sandhills?’ Shut. The closest station to Liverpool with stairs was Bootle, a few miles out; the man suggested we get a taxi into town from there, but I knew we weren’t going to do that. I put down the phone. That was it then.
Joe can’t use lifts or escalators. It’s just one of those givens in our lives. Like me not being able to go near a horse, (or anyone else who has been near a horse), because I am seriously allergic to them. The family just lives with it, works round it, knows we can’t do certain things because of it. I still don’t exactly know why it is that Joe cannot manage lifts or escalators, and he is not able to articulate it himself, but just like no one would force me onto a horse, we accept there are some things Joe’s autism will not allow him to do. This was a tricky one though – I found myself asking stupidly, ‘Are you sure you couldn’t, just this once?’ He shook his head miserably through his disappointment. The other children looked heartbroken.
We had been planning to get up the following day at 6:30AM to go to Liverpool to see Royal de Luxe’s Giant’s. We had not managed to see them on their two previous visits, though Little Girl Giant and the diver had particularly captured Joe’s imagination; these giants had a connection with the Titanic, a past interest of Joe’s. At the time, we had watched a recording of the Giants’ story over and over, and it was one of the things I didn’t tire of watching with him – they had seemed so incredible. When my friend told me the Giants were coming back, I really wanted to see them for real. I sat down and discussed the idea with everyone at the tea table one night and we decided it was something we all wanted to do, particularly as this was the last time the Giants would ever perform. We agreed we would all pull together to attempt it.
So, in the hope that we could make this trip a success, I schemed for over a month. We had looked at all the options for travelling down and decided to drive to a part of Liverpool I was familiar with, park, then catch the train in (the information websites advised not to drive into Liverpool, and catching the train all the way would have been too restricted by the Sunday timetable). In order that Joe (and the others) knew what to expect, we looked at old footage, and video clips of the new Little Boy Giant. I pointed out the size and mechanics of the Giants, warned of noise levels, made strategies to manage in a crowd, kept the itinerary flexible, pinning down nothing, not even a specific time and place we would meet friends down there. All would depend on the day, on how the family was coping. I judged Joe’s ‘reservoir of resilience’ over the weekends he was home, and as the day grew close, was anxious to see it suddenly waining. He was struggling to cope with a new boy at his school, and I was beginning to worry we might have to cancel. But it was okay; Joe came home on Friday noticeably less stressed, and when the many-times-repeated question came from the children on Saturday morning – “So, are we definitely going?” – I felt finally able to commit and say ‘yes’ with confidence. I was sure as I could be in my preparations. It wasn’t until the Saturday afternoon that I had remembered the lack of stairs.
I felt like giving up; beaten by an escalator. But all that preparation would be wasted and it was the last chance we would ever have. It took until Saturday night, after phone calls to friends and more internet research, to come up with another plan. I had not considered buses as I expected them to be arriving too crowded to fit anyone else in, but there was one bus that actually started where I had planned to drive to, so if we queued, we should be able to make it into town at some point in the day with a hope of seeing something of a Giant. We took a huge deep breath and went for it.
When I had seen the Giants on screen, I had marvelled at how the men and women (Liliputian’s) made the Giants move, at the incredible effort and skill that went into it. I watched how the cranes supported and held the Giant’s aloft, was awed by the mechanics, the logistics, the sheer organisation necessary. But from the second I heard the familiar calls from the operators, and saw Explorer Giant walking into view by the Liver Buildings, I did not see the cranes, the supports, the people hurling themselves off the side of moving vehicles to lift the Giant’s legs. Instead, I felt wonder, a thrill of excitement, and a prickling of a strange emotion – not exactly fear, but there was definitely something unnerving about this other-worldly presence. As the explorer looked around, as he walked, he was so alive. His clothes billowed, his hair moved in the wind, his eyes looked around him, looked at me. He was so close, so tall. I could see the detail in his hands, the way his mouth moved, hear the shouts and music so loudly. Then he had moved past, and realised I had not noticed the crowds or the noise or any Liliputian. The Giant had been real.
My family had an amazing day. We met up with friends, we saw Little Boy Giant sail away through the dock on a huge sandal, caught up with Explorer Giant as he took his siesta, watched as Little Girl Giant appeared as a wonderful surprise. We experienced this spectacle never to be seen again anywhere in the world.
The whole day was full of emotion. It is hard to judge when to stop pushing my family, when my ambition should be reined in. Too often, I have pushed too hard and made a day of unhappy memories and self-recrimination. But this time, partly by planning, partly by the intervention of friends, but also by incredible good luck, we had succeeded. We made amazing memories.
And as I stood by Canning Dock watching as the Giant’s left Liverpool for the last time, I had more than these memories swirling round me. I belong nowhere, but I was born in Liverpool before moving away at the age of 11. I had stood where the giant now stood, a child in her pyjamas, watching a firework display that marked the beginning of the regeneration of the Albert Dock. I had walked behind the dock with Grandparents no longer with us, with my school friends on a trip to the Maritime Museum from which I came home with the rash of German measles, I had taken trips to the Isle of Man and the Wirral from the Pier Head. So many memories welling up. And now this, perhaps the best of all. My family, here and now. We had done it. I heard a man in front of me saying ‘I’m not really sure what is going on, but I find this strangely moving.’ For me, the surging in my chest and the tears I fought back were not inexplicable. Today my family had achieved something monumental together. We watched as the explorer and little girl were craned high above the crowds for the last time, and I knew we had moved a tiny way further along our path. I stood with my husband, children and friends, in the city I was born, filled with emotion as I saw my family’s hopes creep a little higher, lifted on the shoulders of Giants.