In The Shelter In The Middle Of The Roundabout

Penny Lane shelter in the middle of a roundabout and beatles bus Acrylic  Print by Ken Biggs
The Shelter in the middle of the roundabout – Penny Lane, Liverpool, England

On a mid-afternoon in Liverpool, England, in 1982, I checked the tour guide book one last time and broke into a smile. I reverently approached the street as an unwieldy southwestern wind blew from the River Mersey, less than two miles away.

And there it was—the shelter in the middle of a roundabout. 

I promptly skirted across Penny Lane and quickly sat down at the front entrance of the bus shelter, expecting to see a pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray. 

Seven weeks previously, I had begun working as a teacher at an American school in Surrey, 215 miles to the southeast. Now, I was fulfilling a longstanding dream – to visit The Beatles’ home city, Liverpool, England. 

I sat there for twenty minutes as the traffic flowed unsteadily by, and a gaggle of bikers whizzed around the rotary as I took in the scene. Even in the most cinematic of songs that framed both an era and a moment, time had moved on like an unyielding gale from the Mersey. The barber and the fireman with an hourglass were all gone. Still, I felt as if I was “in a play anyway.”

More than a half-century after they recorded their last songs together in Abbey Road Studio B in August 1969, the luminosity of The Beatles’ music beckons as brightly as the North Star. This past year, millions celebrated The Fab Four anew with the release of three astonishing works of art: McCartney 3, 2, 1 – a six-part retrospective on the music of both The Beatles and Wings with both Paul and veteran producer Rick Rubin; The Lyrics – 1956 To The Present – a reflective celebration of the creative life and the musical genius of Sir Paul through 154 of his most meaningful songs; and, of course, Get Back, the mesmerizing six-part documentary by filmmaker Peter Jackson of the recording of the 1969 album previously known as Let It Be.

So why is the world refocusing on The Beatles once again? It’s simple, really. In 2021, we all need their music and message more than ever. After all, the bookends of ignorance and intolerance have framed our times like a bad painting in a rundown motel. Sadly, one of the best-selling bumper stickers in the United States these days proclaims: “Guns Are THE Answer!”

In contrast to such insanity, the most talented and influential group of musicians in the past seventy years declared emphatically that love, not hate, is the answer. Ultimately, The Beatles did not take sides in their art; they referred to people as “we” or “us” – and they continually implied that we are all in this thing called life…together.  

In 2021, the shelter in the middle of the roundabout is no longer a bus terminal but a bistro. Happily, though, the spirit of The Beatles remains with the hundreds of visitors who make the pilgrimage to Liverpool daily. As I did back in 1982, they gaze out onto Penny Lane in wonder, praying that in the end, the love they take will be equal to the love they make.

My fourth and fifth graders and I, 1983

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