I meant to stroll, drift and dream the city around me. In fact I rushed, like a droplet in a torrent, following any green man crossing chance, snatching blurry pictures in the evening light.
Liverpool’s outdoor spaces didn’t feel like places to linger, more like places to move. I first came here nearly 20 years ago, for the opening of the Tate. I was in a rush then, but not so much that I didn’t get an impression – of a city on a large scale, a European city. I’ve been rushing through it ever since, always finding myself outside some giant ‘Building’ …
I did stand still long enough to grab a picture of St Georges Hall. Back in 1885, a meeting of philanthropists founded Edge Hill Training College, the precursor of the institution where I now work. (Earlier that day I took a picture of the newest part of the Campus, so in a way I’d staked out the two extremes of Edge Hill history.) The original college, aiming to educate ‘a better class of schoolmistress’, is now a university, expanding and evolving, traceable to that moment in 1885, now with eight years of my own history bound into it. The campus buildings, described by Toby Litt as having a little bit of the atmosphere of J. G. Ballard, coexist with grounds that were landscaped as a horticultural experiment in the 1930s. Steel and glass curves and grids overlook rock gardens, old roses and played-out orchards; the trees show the height reached by each species in a three-score-and-ten span. The destruction wrought by the creation of the new buildings opens up fresh vistas on long-neglected spaces; different eras mingle and cross-fertilise – as long as people walk around, look and breathe – the kind of thing I was trying to do in Liverpool.
I suppose one drive to keep moving whilst walking through cities such as Liverpool is an urge not to get embroiled in conversation with strangers – people on slower time, wanting things. On this trip I could have spoken to a Gouranga person, a shabbily-dressed man approaching me with a question, a Big Issue salesman. I did speak to a guy in a wheelchair, wanting to swap a stack of two-pences for silver to use in a phone box (to report a broken collarbone), and a kid in a hoody wanting directions – so I’m not completely misanthropic. However I doubt this journey will be full of encounters with amusing tramps, interviews with village elders or discussions with local historians. (I wrote the ‘Why?‘ page today, coming to the conclusion that this is an exercise in self-portraiture.)
The practical details of the walk: I ran an errand to News from Nowhere bookshop (delivering a poster for a series of public lectures on the ethics of torture, which was received with unfeasible delight); bought a Wonder Woman comic in Forbidden Planet; looked at Lent books in the window of the Pauline bookshop (a much loved place with customer-care empowered nuns); cut through an alley to Renshaw Street (where schoolgirls were pouring drink into an innocent-looking container); skirted St Geoges Hall; had a beer in Doctor Duncans…
…zig-zagged though Tithebarn and Water Streets, had another beer in the Lion (a pint of Banks’s, from Wolverhampton, a future destination: earlier that day they finished a barrel of ‘Sussex Gold’ from Arundel; had I arrived earlier, I could have sketched out the whole journey in beer form); peered up at Exchange Station/Mercury Court (huge and white, like a cliff); reached the docks and located the ferry office for future reference.
The plan to spot Liver Birds was totally abandoned, but the most famous ones were hard to miss (on the Royal Liver Building.) Again the sense of everything gigantic. Like Edge Hill, older and newer coexist and are interwoven. Buildings witness to times dominated by trade (then), leisure and lifestyle (now); they stand there, just sort of existing, massively, with the Mersey flowing past.
So that was it – Liverpool passed through, a logical start for another wander established.
I finished up near Central Station in the Globe. The last time I was in here was also a Thursday, when it was so empty that I sat in the corner texting (desperate for human company after all it seems.) This time it was a riot, a kaleidoscope of people, drinking, singing – even dancing. The barmaid was serving drinks like a stoker fueling a desperately speeding engine. Once again, ‘I Walk the Line’ came on the pub tannoy at the end of the walk – Johnny Cash becoming the journey’s patron saint.
I’ll hold back on the urban paramythology. Except to say: there could be the starting point for a new Tarot deck in the places I went: Mercury, the Doctor, the Exchange, Nowhere, Forbidden, the Globe, Lion, Ferry, Station – accompanied with minor suits of Beer Glasses, Regeneration Builders’ Hoardings, Two-pence Pieces and Purple Bins Behind Restaurants.
Distance travelled: about a mile
February 7th 2008