Paul Morley describes Liverpool as ‘…An island set in a sea of dreams and nightmares that’s forever taking shape in the imagination, more a mysterious place jutting out into time between the practical, stabilising pull of history and the sweeping, shuffling force of myth’ (in Living, Mersey Minis Volume Two). My journey needs to include a mile or so between Central Station and the Pier Head, so that I’m ready to make an early start for the Wirral on some future Saturday. Perhaps this will be a chance to know the ‘mysterious place’ a little better. It’s hard to plan a way through the streets that might do justice to the multiple-world metropolis alluded to by writers like Morley and Russell, dreamed by Jung as ‘the Pool of Life’. I feel as if soaring through the streets on Pegasus, or spending a faerie-time century following tunnels and culverts beneath the streets to read the secret inscriptions of the City’s builders, would still be a somewhat superficial approach.
So I turn to maps – and find them both essential and inadequate. I have plenty – A-Z maps, Ordnance Survey maps, an 1841 map (reminding me that the view from my rear window is of a hill called ‘Devil’s Wall’), tourist maps, University maps, maps enumerating special items of interest such as pubs with nice beer, ghosts and stories. I could take a rucksack filled with maps if I wished, and no doubt buy several more on the way. However ‘The Map is Not the Territory’, as Count Alfred Korzybski pointed out – even the experiment in cartographic exactitude recounted by Borges was only a partial success:
In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.
(I cannot resist pointing out that the laminated versions available today are great at resisting ‘the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters’.) Linear and sensible as they are, I doubt that maps, or for that matter histories or guidebooks, will ever serve me up Liverpool as a rational package. In some ways, it might be best just to walk and trust, crafting my own fugitive map as I go (and probably arriving back home having missed the Docks altogether.)
Having said that, I’m tempted to use David Cottrell’s ‘The Little Book of Liver Birds‘ as an aide to some provisional routeplanning, and a necessary prompt to do something other than hike from A to B; a prompt to look up and pay attention. The book comprises photographs and descriptions of 100 Liver Birds, which exist in many forms spread across the city, ‘a gazetteer of secret sentinels’. Maybe invoking the ‘authentic Liverpudlian chimera, a Scouse griffin borne from unbridled imagination …a creature of protean forms and composite pieces’ as my guide will enable me to find some kind of meaningful way through this ‘Pool of life’. Worth taking, not a rucksack filled with complete maps, but one partial one, as much mythography as geography.
The pirates would swarm aboard
slashing throats and seizing the maps.
Without maps, all the black pepper, all the slaves,
might as well be thrown into the sea.